Three Recipes That Have Changed My Life

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As many of you know, cooking is not my favorite thing. This has not always been the case. In fact, there was a time in my life when I used to love cooking. That era was when I had the time to cook what I wanted and then actually sit down to eat and enjoy what I’d prepared. That era, my friends, ended nearly 9 years ago on October 27, 2010 (Also known as the day my first baby was born).

Somehow, though, I am still expected to cook 3 meals and 5,463 snacks every. Single. Day. That’s a lot of cooking for someone who has lost the joy of cooking.

But there is hope! I have a few go-to recipes that have changed my life. I rotate my favorite recipes with such precision that my family knows what day of the month it is purely by what is served on our dinner table. It’s a survival mechanism, and it works.

My criteria for an outstanding recipe are:
1. It is easy to make. We’re talking, so easy I can make this dish while simultaneously helping a kid with homework, assisting a preschooler to build a Duplo city, and breaking up a sibling fight.
2. Is it tasty enough that either:
A) at least 60% of my family will eat it.
Or
B) it’s so delicious that I won’t mind a bit if I have to eat the whole thing myself.

That’s it. I’m pretty easy to please (Motherhood has lowered my standards by a not-insufficient amount).

When I was thinking about what recipes I wanted to share with you here today, I was reminded of one of my favorite shows–Master Chef (I have no problem at all watching other people struggle in the kitchen.). For the grand finale of Master Chef the competitors must prepare a 3-course meal: appetizer, entree, and dessert.

So that is precisely what I will do for you today, my friends. Although I will be presenting 3 courses worth of recipes, I would not necessarily recommend eating them all together at the same meal. It would be a weird combo of foods, but I suppose anything is possible. Free country and everything.

And, since this is a free country, I’m going to start with my favorite course first: Dessert.

5-Minute Chocolate Mug Cake
AKA The Most Dangerous Cake Recipe In The World
Cake is by far my favorite meal of the day, so it’s only fitting that I would highlight a cake recipe for my dessert course.

Ingredients

  • 4 Tablespoons flour
  • 4 Tablespoons sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons cocoa powder (Get the good stuff here, folks. No off-brand Kroger Cocoa or similar rubbish. We’re looking for something along the lines of Ghiradelli or Godiva–go big or go home!).
  • 1 egg
  • 3 Tablespoons milk
  • 3 Tablespoons oil (vegetable, canola, whatevs…as long as it’s the edible kind of oil)
  • 3 Tablespoons chocolate chips (Optional. JK. Chocolate chips are never optional. If you want to succeed at life, definitely always add chocolate chips.)
  • A small splash of vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. Get a big ‘ol coffee mug. Make sure it is microwaveable. Otherwise you’ll make sparks in your kitchen, and I’m not talking about what you and your husband do after you put the kids to bed.
  2. Add dry ingredients to the mug and mix well.
  3. Add the egg and beat it like you’re Mike Tyson in the boxing ring.
  4. Pour in the milk and oil and mix well.
  5. Add chocolate chips. Now add a little extra. You’ll thank me later.
  6. Put your mug in the microwave and microwave for 2 minutes 30 seconds – 3 minutes. This is not an exact science. Well, maybe it is. But when I’m cooking chocolate cake in a mug in my microwave I don’t want to mess with the math of microwave watts and the volume of my mug or any of that mumbo-jumbo. Just watch your cake and take it out when it looks done-ish. If you like your cake moist, take it out earlier. If you like it really well-done and dry so you kill all of the salmonella or whatever, cook it longer.
  7. The cake might rise over the top of the mug while it’s cooking. DO NOT BE ALARMED! This, like toddler tantrums in a grocery store, is an expected part of life.
  8. Unless you enjoy the sensation of molten lava on your palette, allow your cake to cool a little bit before you dig in.
  9. EAT!!! Supposedly this dessert is meant to share, but I’ve never tested that theory.

Moving on, now. I’m rather enjoying the excitement of presenting these courses out of order, so let’s do something really crazy!

May I present Course 2: Appetizer

Pan-Roasted Vegetables
Seriously? Roasted vegetables as an appetizer?! Yes, vegetables are an appetizer. Just look in the “Starters” section of any fancy-by-millenial-standards restaurant and I guarantee you’ll find fried brussels sprouts. Roasted is just the healthier version of fried, and I’m oh-so-healthy (as indicated by Course 1 above). But seriously. These things are highly addictive and I almost always eat the whole pan myself.

Ingredients:

  • One big handful per person of a hearty vegetable (Broccoli, Asparagus, Brussels Sprouts, green beans, Potatoes, Carrots)
  • Olive Oil (the big jug from Costco works just fine)
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Finishing pizzazz (Varies depending on the veggie and the mood you’re in. Includes but is not limited to: squeeze of fresh lemon juice, balsamic glaze, honey, parmesan cheese, crumbled bacon)

Instructions

  • Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
  • While your oven is getting ready to work some magic transforming bland produce into heavenly bites, rinse and pat dry your veggies.
  • Spread out your veggies on a large baking sheet with enough room between them so nobody is touching or passing along any cooties.
  • Douse the whole thing with Olive Oil. Don’t be too stingy here. We want enough oil that the veggies won’t get a sunburn, but they don’t need to swim in the stuff either.
  • Use your fingers to massage the oil into your veggies the same way (you wish) your husband would massage your back after you’ve had a long day of caring for his offspring.
  • Sprinkle some salt and pepper fairy dust all over those veggies.
  • Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes. I use a very scientific method to determine when this dish is done. Jab a fork in one of the veggies after 10-15 minutes and if it’s hard as a rock, then it’s not done. If the fork goes in the way I would want my fork to go in when I’m eating it, then it’s done. If the vegetable is black like burnt vegetables, it is over done.
  • As soon as you take the tray out of the oven, spread some pizzaaz. My favorite combos are: broccoli + lemon juice + parmesan cheese, brussels sprouts + balsamic glaze, carrots + honey, green beans + bacon
  • Watch as your children refuse to touch the green stuff while you gorge yourself on a farmer’s market’s worth of vegetables in one sitting.

And, finally, the main event (or, in our case, the main course).

Panang Curry with Chicken, 3 Stars
Jon makes fun of me because any time we go out to eat I order the exact same thing. As in, if we go to restaurant X, I 100% will be ordering entreé Y. What can I say–I know what I like, and I like what I know. Thai food is my absolute favorite, and every time we eat at any Thai restaurant I order the Panang Curry with Chicken, 3 Stars. And since I can’t go to eat every day I have learned how to make a darn good copycat of my own.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, thinly sliced
  • A splash of vegetable oil
  • Panang Curry Paste (Just buy the good stuff on Amazon and save yourself a trip to a grocery store that probably won’t have it anyway).
  • 1 can coconut milk (Not coconut creme, that’s for your piña coladas…which, coincidentally, would go quite well with this dish…)
  • 1-2 Tablespoons peanut butter (Unless you’re allergic to peanuts, in which case I bid you adieu.)
  • 1-2 Tablespoons brown sugar (Or, if you’re not a sugar addict like me, 0 Tablespoons of brown sugar)
  • 1-2 Tablespoons fish sauce (Ewwww! Right?! I hate fish more than probably anyone else on the planet, so trust me when I say that this stuff will not make your curry taste like the ocean. It adds salty flavor, that’s it. Start with just a splash in your curry if you don’t trust it, and see what you think. Again, Amazon to the rescue.)
  • (optional) 1-2 teaspoons lime leaf powder (I don’t think this stuff is totally necessary, but it does taste good and it makes me feel fancy when I see lime leaf powder in my spice cabinet).
  • 1/2 red bell pepper thinly sliced
  • 1/2 green bell pepper thinly sliced
  • 1 small handful of frozen haricot vert (Fancy words for the skinny green beans)
  • 1/2 cup fresh diced pineapple if you have it (Really, you don’t need to buy a whole pineapple for this recipe just so you can throw a few chunks into your curry.)
  • For serving: Cooked rice

Instructions

  • In a wok (1st choice) or large pan (2nd choice), brown your chicken in the vegetable oil. If you’re going to be saving out some of the chicken to feed plain to your picky children, then make sure it’s cooked throughly. Or, if you’re adding the whole batch of chicken directly to your curry, you can even just skip this step entirely.
  • Remove chicken from the pan.
  • In the same pan add the curry paste (Hint: more = SPICIER! 3 stars–medium/hot–is about 1-2 Tablespoons of curry paste. Start by adding just a bit and then add more if you want it spicier), coconut milk, peanut butter, brown sugar, and fish sauce, and lime leaf powder. Heat on medium until you get a nice simmer going and everything melts together.
  • Add the chicken (if you didn’t already cook the chicken, simmer for about 20 minutes until the chicken is totally cooked through). Now would be a good time to make that piña colada. This is also a good time for you to prepare your picky kids’ not-curry dinners.
  • Add whatever veggies you want to use and simmer for another 5 minutes, until your veggies are softened but not mushy.
  • Serve over cooked rice.

That’s it! Three of the simplest and most delicious courses of food you’ll ever prepare. I hope I’ve un-inspired you to cook this week and always. Enjoy creating in your own kitchen (and if all else fails, there’s always Grub Hub!).

Mom’s “Famous” Zucchini Soup Recipe

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My mom has an incredible garden that we fondly refer to as “Nana’s Secret Garden”. I don’t have a garden myself (nor should I with my two “brown thumbs”), but my boys love playing in her garden and eating fruit, berries and veggies (literally) off the vine. This time of year Nana’s Secret Garden is bursting with zucchini, some the size of my small children. It was from this prolific garden that my mom was inspired to create this recipe for zucchini soup. This soup is one of my favorite end-of-summer treats–it is creamy with a fresh, vibrant taste. In fact, this soup is so good that it was published in Sunset Magazine–which, basically, makes this soup famous. At least to me. And it really does deserve to be famous.

Well, I was at the grocery store yesterday trying to figure out what I’m going to feed my family this week (somehow it’s still a mystery to me. Every. Single. Week. You’d think that after years of cooking every single day I’d know what to make for dinner but, alas, I still wander the grocery store looking for inspiration, week after week). This week, my store had courgettes on sale–only I didn’t know what courgettes were. I have learned that there are many different names for things here in Ireland. As it turns out, courgettes are none other than the humble zucchini. And you know what that means? I get my zucchini soup, even though I’m thousands of miles away from Nana’s Secret Garden.

So here is my mom’s award winning recipe for zucchini soup. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

zucchini-soup-su-637683-lCurried Zucchini Soup

1 large zucchini (or courgette!)
1 large onion
1 head of garlic, peeled and separated into cloves
1 quart of chicken or vegetable stock
1 can coconut milk
1 can evaporated milk
1 Tablespoon curry powder
salt and pepper to taste
*instant mashed potatoes for thickening

In a large stock pot, sautee coarsely chopped vegetables and 1 cup of stock until the vegetables are soft. Working in small batches, puree the mixture in a blender, adding more stock to liquefy as necessary. Return vegetable puree to pot and add curry powder, salt and pepper. Simmer the mixture and add coconut milk and evaporated milk. Add more stock if necessary or, to thicken, add instant mashed potatoes.

*Since the zucchini come in many different sizes, you’ll probably need to adjust the amounts of stock and seasoning you use. Sometimes I also like to add some fresh herbs like basil at the very end of the cooking. This soup also freezes well for a taste of summer in later months.

…And, if you have LOTS of zucchini to use up, here are a few of my other favorite zucchini recipes:

Zucchini Fritters
Zucchini and Corn Tacos
Zucchini Bread
Roasted Zucchini and Tomato Pasta
Zucchini “Noodles”
Zucchini and Rosemary Frittata  

Sweet Curried Chicken Recipe and This Week’s Menu

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When I was doing my student teaching I wrote a bio for my class so they could get to know me. And, me being me, I wrote half of the bio about how much I love cooking and eating. One sweet first grader brought me in a recipe card the next day. On it, he had written down one of his favorite family recipes (OK, his mom had actually written it, but he was so proud handing it over to me that he may as well have penned it himself). The recipe was for what he called “yellow chicken”–baked chicken with a sweet curry sauce. Now, 8 years later, that little first grader is now a teenager–and his favorite family recipe is now one of my favorite family recipes. I love this recipe because it’s quick to throw together and it’s a real crowd-pleaser. I’ve made this chicken dozens of times and it’s still just as delicious as the first time I made it. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

Zach’s Yellow Chicken (Sweet Curried Chicken)

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
4 Tablespoons butter
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1 Tablespoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
*Optional* Cooked rice and roasted veggies for serving

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Put the chicken breasts into an 8-inch square baking dish. In a small saucepan, combine the butter, honey, mustard, curry powder and salt; cook over medium heat, stirring until the mixture begins to bubble. Pour the curry sauce over the chicken breasts and bake until cooked through (about 30 minutes).

We like to serve the chicken over cooked rice. I also like to make a pan of roasted veggies to put in the oven at the same time as the chicken: wash, rinse, peel and chop into small pieces whatever veggies you desire (potatoes, carrots, squash, onions, and yams all work great). Toss the veggies with some olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and put the pan of veggies in the oven at the same time as the chicken. They should all be done at about the same time (just poke the veggies with a fork to see if they are soft). One more thing: the sauce is insane. I usually make a double batch of the sauce because I basically douse my entire plate in the stuff.

What I’m Cooking This Week
-Sweet Curried Chicken (recipe above)
-Grilled tri-tip and mashed potatoes
-Steak stir fry (using leftover tri-tip)
-Crockpot chicken Taco soup
-Fried rice and potstickers