Holy Bejeezus, did you Easterners get hit with winter assholery or what? I kept seeing bits and pieces on the news and that looked like Mother Nature’s wrath at its finest (or worst, if you know what I mean). I felt a little guilty, because while New York and Boston lay snowbound, it was sunny and in the mid-60’s in Colorado. Granted, it was windy as heck, but it was warm. So warm, in fact, that we broke a record high for February. One day it reached 72 degrees, which is freakishly warm for winter in these parts.

While I was happy not to be shoveling white stuff last week, I have to admit: I absolutely loathe the wind. It makes me feel ferocious and stabby. Our house backs up to the mountains, so there’s really no protection from the wind, so when it’s blustery, it’s blustery in a big way. Our barbecue grill goes flying around the backyard and crashes into the patio furniture, wreaking havoc and making a terrific racket.

Even Mozzy, who is almost always happy to frolic outdoors, is not impressed by the gale-force gusts we get at our house. His ears spin around like propellors and it annoys the heck out of him (although it is a comical sight). He comes hustling inside after just a few minutes of that noise.

It might sound silly to crave soup when the weather isn’t chilly, but I found myself craving it anyways. I think it’s because those winds kicked up wicked allergies, so I was sneezing and sniffling like someone with a nasty virus. Yet another reason I’m not a fan of the wind.

I saw this recipe for slow-cooker chicken and vegetable soup in a recent issue of Cooking Light magazine and had marked it as something to try when the weather was bitingly cold and I needed comforting. Turns out, I needed to make it when fighting a serious case of wind-induced rage. No matter the reason, this soup is worth making because it is, indeed, comforting.

Chock-full of vegetables, potatoes and tender chicken, it’s a hug in a bowl. I was actually surprised how much I loved this soup, because when it comes to chicken soups, I’m firmly on Team Noodle vs Team Potato. My starch of choice for soup is almost always pasta–egg noodles, orzo, rice noodles, small shell-shaped pasta…I love them all. But somehow, potatoes just felt right in this recipe. Heartier and more substantial than a noodle soup.

You know what else is to love? It makes a potful, so you can eat off it for days if you have a small family (or a family like ours, where children eschew soup in all forms). It’s a snap to make, since the slow-cooker does all the work after you chop the vegetables, and the use of bone-in chicken thighs really enriches the broth with incredible flavor. Plus, there’s *ahem* bacon in it. Bacon is magic, pure and simple.

So whether you’re freezing your arse off or feeling grouchy or simply needing something nourishing to sustain you, I encourage you to get out your slow cooker and start chopping. I guarantee you’ll feel better once you tuck into that first bowl.

 

 

Slow Cooker Chicken, Potato and Vegetable Soup

serves 6

slightly adapted from Cooking Light

 

4 center-cut bacon slices

1 1/2 pounds bone-in chicken thighs, skinned

2 teaspoons salt-free garlic and herb seasoning blend, like Mrs. Dash

2 cups thinly sliced leek

1 cup sliced carrot

1 cup celery, diced

5 cups low-sodium chicken stock, divided

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

5 fresh thyme sprigs, tied together with string

12 oz. small baby potatoes, halved or small yukon gold potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces

3 cups coarsely chopped baby spinach

 

Cook bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon from pan, reserving 1 teaspoon drippings in the skillet. Set bacon aside and crumble.

Sprinkle chicken with the seasoning blend. Add chicken to bacon drippings in the skillet and brown over medium heat, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to the slow cooker, reserving the drippings in the skillet.

Add the leek, celery and carrot to the skillet and cook for about 5 minutes. Stir in 1 cup chicken broth and scrape the bottom of the skillet to remove any browned bits.

Transfer leek mixture to the slow cooker. Add remaining 4 cups stock, salt, pepper and thyme sprigs to the slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 2 hours.

Add the potatoes, stir, and cover. Cook 2 more hours or until potatoes are tender.

Remove the chicken from the slow cooker with tongs or a slotted spoon. Discard thyme bundle. Cool chicken slightly, then cut/shred into bite-sized pieces. Discard bones.

Return chicken to the slow cooker to warm through. Add spinach and stir until it wilts.

If desired, serve with the reserved crumbled bacon on the top.

 

 

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I’ve written about Valentine’s Day a few times in the past in this space. I think if you like sweet Valentine stories, you should definitely check out this one.

I think it’s one of my favorite stories I’ve ever written about my daughters, and I’m happy to report that the girls still love each other mightily, even though there’s not the blind devotion that came with the tiny years. These days, there’s a lot more good-natured teasing and busting of the chops, but it’s done with love.

Example: This week, Miss M. had her 5th grade parent-teacher conference, which went well. Her conferences always do. Miss M. is an old soul and a stickler for following the rules and teachers, naturally, love her to bits. She was that way at the tender ago of five, and has not changed with age. Heck, she was probably more mature at five than I was at nineteen. Not proud of this on my end, but whatever.

When we came home from parent-teacher conferences, Miss D. was at the kitchen counter, working on her Chemistry homework. She looked up from her papers and grinned wickedly.

“Let me guess,” she said. “Another totally crappy and disastrous parent-teacher conference.”

“Absolute shitshow,” I said, scanning the mail in my hand. “Your sister is off-task and evil and a complete moron.”

“Total idiot, right?” Daphne said, shaking her head. And then the laughter and the dogpile and the pulling of ears and the tickling.

That’s our family for you. Our unofficial motto is: If we don’t tease you to death, we hate you.

If you detest Valentine’s day or need a little sour with your sweet, you might want to check out my sentiments in this one.

Those of us with small children (or even rather grown ones) know that the face of Valentine’s Day has changed over time. It’s just not the romantic affair it used to be.

Unless, of course, romance has never really been on your relationship radar, because you are attached to a curmudgeon/the least romantic person in the universe. According to my husband, that curmudgeon is me. Remember when he gave me Hell about it in this guest post?

So yeah, not the perfect spokesperson for Valentine’s Day. Hmph.

I guess my point is, I’ve written about love, romance (or lack thereof), devotion and February 14th for a few years now, so you probably don’t need more words about the holiday.

What I hope you do need is some encouragement to do something loving for anyone you love in your life, not just your romantic partner. Why should love be only spread as thin as romance? Love takes so many wonderful forms, so I encourage you to celebrate all facets of the whole loving business. Give a little extra sugar to the parents in your life (if you are lucky enough to still have them around), treat your friend to a latte, give flowers to a dedicated teacher or your yoga instructor, buy your best co-worker a craft cocktail, ply your children with a piece of quality chocolate, cook a much-beloved meal for those you want to feed well.

We’ve had some pretty hard and negative times these last few months (Jesus fuck, I know I feel it), so wouldn’t it be nice to spread a little sweetness around this Tuesday?

I think it’s kind of genius that Valentine’s Day falls on a Tuesday this year, because it gets you out of any kind of excessive spectacle. You can get away with a card and a heartfelt gesture of some sort, and I think that’s the true spirit of the holiday, anyways. Who needs a giant teddy bear, a dozen roses and 2 pounds of chocolate? That sounds ridiculous when you’re over the age of, I don’t know, fourteen?

Then again, people are free to celebrate as they wish, so if giant teddy bears are your thing, who am I to say? I guess my point is: honor the loved ones in your life.

Now, if you were going to honor me, because I just assume that everyone would wish to, you should make this. As I’ve mentioned before, there are two kinds of people in this world: chocolate people and citrus people. I am firmly on Team Citrus. This panna cotta channels my favorite pie–Key Lime–and looks so pretty when topped with a few other beautiful things like crumbled cookies, luscious berries and fresh whipped cream. It’s just the thing I want to eat when I want to be spoiled and frankly, I did. It was absolutely delightful. I shared it with my girls, who also loved it, and that made me happy. It doubly made me happy because it tasted decadent but was actually a fairly light dessert. The one person¬† I didn’t share it with?¬† My husband, because he is on Team Chocolate.

Don’t worry, baby. I haven’t forgotten about you. Yours is coming.

 

 

 

Key Lime Panna Cotta

serves 4

from Cooking Light

 

1/2 cup half and half

1/2 cup low-fat sweetened condensed milk (I could only find regular or fat-free, so I used regular)

2 tablespoons grated lime zest

1/4 teaspoon salt, divided

1 cup 2% milk, divided

1 1/4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin

2 tablespoons lime juice or key lime juice, divided

cooking spray

1 1/2 tablespoons honey

1 teaspoon butter

1 low fat or regular graham cracker sheet, crushed

 

Combine first three ingredients and 1/8 teaspoon salt in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let stand 30 minutes.

Pour 1/4 cup milk into a medium bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over and let stand 10 minutes.

Over medium high heat, bring lime zest mixture to a simmer; whisk into the gelatin mixture. Add the remaining 3/4 cup milk and whisk. Drain mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a medium bowl. Discard solids.

Stir in 1 tablespoon lime juice. Divide mixture among 4 (4-ounce) ramekins that have been lightly coated with cooking spray. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Combine remaining tablespoon lime juice and honey. Melt butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add crumbs and remaining 1/8 tablespoon salt. Cook about a minute or until lightly toasted. Cool.

To serve, loosen the edges of the panna cotta with a sharp knife and invert onto plates. Drizzle each with honey mixture and a sprinkle of crumbs. Top with berries and whipped cream, if desired.

 

 

 

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Last week, we had a freak ice storm that left roads and sidewalks so slick that even walking to the mailbox was a dangerous endeavor. Colorado gets plenty of snow in the winter, but an ice storm is rare. Snowstorms are an inconvenience, but ice storms? Downright scary. For two days, I couldn’t walk the dog without being paralyzed by fear (and feeling like I needed ice skates), and poor Mozzy didn’t understand why I wouldn’t indulge him in his 4 walks a day. He moped around the house and whined at the door and drove me nearly to madness with his restless pacing. I felt bad for the dude, but not bad enough to risk a cracked tailbone or a shattered wrist. He had to settle for quick trips to the backyard and man, he wasn’t feelin’ it.

In order to distract myself from my needy little wreck of a dog, I spent a lot of time in the kitchen. Plus, I was pretty much land-locked, so what else was there to do? Over the course of two days, I made a big pot of soup, braised a pork shoulder for green chile, knocked out two kinds of muffins and, as a special treat for my husband, made a pan of his favorite chicken parmesan.

Before you start praising me for my wifely devotion, realize that this chicken parm was actually his reward for braving the ice and cold to walk Mozz-man in the evenings. He’s far more sure-footed and less accident prone than I am, so the walking duties went to him. The least I could do was warm him up with some saucy, gooey, comfort food.

My husband and I both love chicken parmesan–we could happily eat it once a week–but truth be told, I don’t make it that often. That’s because chicken parmesan is kind of a pain in the ass to make, and it messes up the kitchen, to boot. All of that pounding of the chicken and the dunking of cutlets in flour, then egg, then seasoned breadcrumbs. It dirties a lot of dishes and smears up the countertops. The end result is so worth it, but it’s not exactly the easiest or the quickest dish to prepare.

It’s been well documented that I’m a lazy slob, so I guess it’s not surprising that a dinner of chicken parm is an occasional treat. Usually when I make it, I use gobs of fresh mozzarella on top of the finished dish, but all I had in the refrigerator was a paltry 1/2 cup of pre-shredded mozzarella, and there was no way in HELL I was slipping and sliding my way to the grocery store in that weather, so our finished dish looks a little stingy in the cheese department. Oh well, no matter. It was still delicious on a freezy cold night. I told myself that I was doing myself a favor; a girl who goes two days without her regular 3-mile daily walks is probably better off going light on the cheese.

Make this the next time you have some time on your hands or have a parm-loving person you’d like to spoil. It would be the perfect way to show devotion to your favorite valentine, if you were so inclined. You did know Valentine’s Day is coming up, right? Who needs chocolate when you have chicken parmesan? Heavy on the cheese this time, just because.

 

 

 

Hubby’s Favorite Chicken Parm

serves 4

 

4 boneless, skinless breast halves, pounded 1/4-inch thick

1 cup flour

salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 large eggs, beaten

1 1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs

3/4 teaspoon dried oregano

pinch cayenne (or red pepper flakes) and pinch garlic powder

1 tablespoon oil + 1 tablespoon butter (you may need more)

slices of mozzarella cheese (you can use regular or fresh or even the shredded–whatever you’ve got on hand)

your favorite marinara sauce

fresh basil leaves, torn

 

Preheat oven to 350.

Combine flour with a couple of pinches salt and a few grinds of pepper in a large, shallow plate. In another large, shallow plate, beat the eggs. In a third shallow plate, mix the panko with the oregano, cayenne and garlic powder.

Dunk a chicken breast in the seasoned flour to coat and shake to remove excess. Dunk chicken in the egg wash and coat both sides. Dip the chicken in the panko mixture and coat heavily, pressing slightly to adhere. Repeat process with remaining chicken.

Heat the oil and the butter in a large, non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add 2 chicken breasts to the pan and cook until coating is lightly brown and crisp, about 3 minutes. Flip and cook on the other side 3 minutes more. Transfer chicken to a rack that’s been coated with cooking spray and placed on a cookie sheet.

If necessary, add more oil/butter to skillet and repeat with remaining two chicken breasts.

Place mozzarella slices over chicken. Bake for ten minutes. Serve on a bed of warm marinara sauce, topped with fresh basil, passing extra marinara sauce on the side, if desired.

 

 

 

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