Creole Okra with Chicken and Tomatoes

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I don’t really know that much about southern food except that I like it a lot, and whenever I’m down south (I’m talking the southern US states here) I eat as much of it as I can. This dish started because I found okra at a good price at the grocery store and is more Creole-inspired than actually authentic (because again I don’t know much). It is adapted from something I found on The Kitchn. I doubled the amounts, prepared half this recipe in the pan and then chucked half of it in the freezer for later, like the clever person that I am†. Not that this recipe isn’t dead simple. I’m just lazy.

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I accompanied this one-dish meal with another dish: steamed beet greens.

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Preheat your oven to 400°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Zest 1 lemon.

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Gather your spices. Creole spice blends tend to run to mixtures of the following, so make one to suit your own taste (this one is about 1 teaspoon of each): onion powder, garlic powder, oregano, thyme, parsley, smoked paprika, salt, pepper, cayenne. The recipe I was looking at didn’t use creole spices; instead it called for a bit of cumin and coriander. So I just used everything. Set that aside for a few minutes.

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Start with your okra, about 1lb, and slice the tops off before cutting it in half lengthwise. Apparently people either love or hate okra, because it’s a bit slimy. I am ambivalent so far.

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Lay that on your baking sheet and sprinkle with about 1 cup (canned/drained/rinsed) black-eyed peas.

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Next, slice up a small white onion.

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Sprinkle that onto the pan, together with a few cloves crushed or minced garlic.

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Give that a good drizzle with some nice olive oil.

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Now here’s where I kind of diverged from the recipe. This dish is a good meal all in itself as a vegetarian option, but I feed boys (boys who are not vegetarians) so I had to chuck some meat in here somehow. In a large bowl, I threw 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs together with a 14oz can of diced tomatoes and your lemon zest.

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Then I chucked in all those lovely spices and gave it a good mixing.

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Spread the chicken and tomatoes evenly across the top of your peas and okra and shove it in the oven for about an hour. Give it a stir once or twice to make sure everything is browning evenly.

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We served ours over rice with the beet greens and it was pretty good. The Pie thought the okra was a little slimy (#1 reason why many people dislike it) but I thought it was pretty good!

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If you plan to freeze this recipe for later, I would recommend freezing it in two parts: in one bag goes the okra, peas, garlic, rice, and oil, and in the second bag goes the tomatoes, chicken, and spices. It just seems like a logical thing to do to tenderize the meat and prevent the peas and okra from getting too soggy.

Slow Cooker Texas Beef Chili

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Do you hate beans but like chili? Do you like beans but also like chili that’s a little different? Do you like chili? If you answered yes to any of the previous questions then this chili is for you. It’s beanless and beefy and incredibly satisfying, which is good because though it may be spring SOMEWHERE, in Ottawa we’ve had some major flooding and on Monday it stopped raining enough to SNOW. ALL. DAY. So we kind of need something cockle-warming. This chili is adapted from one my parents found on the internet and printed out and that I stole off their fridge in Florida and smuggled across the border.

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Start with 2lbs cubed beef chuck or stewing beef, and huck that in a non-stick skillet on high to sear all the sides. Chuck the browned beef into a large slow-cooker pot.

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Next, add in 2 tablespoons Worcestershire (“wooster”) sauce, 1 cup beef broth, a 28oz can of diced tomatoes, and 2 tablespoons tomato paste. Now, the recipe did not say to drain the tomatoes so I didn’t and I found my chili ended up a bit on the watery side (I also added twice as many tomatoes as the recipe asked for). I thickened the sauce with some cornstarch later on and it turned out super awesome, but I’ll leave it to your discretion to either drain the tomatoes or use a smaller can.

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Dice up the following: 1 white onion, 2 red bell peppers, 2 large carrots, 2 celery stalks, and a couple large green chilis. I used Anaheim chilis because they are huge and not too hot and I wanted to be able to feed this to LongJohn. Gather as well 1 tablespoon chili powder, 2 teaspoons cumin, 2 teaspoons paprika (ours is smoked), 1 teaspoon onion powder, 2 teaspoons garlic powder, and 1 teaspoon salt. Chuck all that in the slow cooker.

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Don’t forget to give it a bit of a stir.

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Cook that sucker on low for 8-12 hours, or on high for about 6.

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Before serving, juice 1 lime and add the juice to the mix.

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Serve garnished with either grated cheddar cheese, sour cream, or chopped cilantro (or all of the above, who are we kidding?).

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Wingin’ It Wednesday: Tomato Mint Salad

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LongJohn’s Nana, Mrs. Nice, has been coming into town to spend some time with him once a week so that I can do things that necessitate the use of both hands (in fact, she’s here right now so that I can use both hands to type this post – yay for Mrs. Nice, and grandparents everywhere!).

When she was here last I whipped up this salad of things that were in my fridge: normally when I make a tomato salad with feta I use balsamic vinegar and fresh basil but I didn’t have either of those so I went with a little twist, and I hope you like it.

Start with some tomatoes, naturally. I’m using grape tomatoes here but you can use whatever you have.

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Then, finely chop up an onion. This is a shallot. A red onion would also be nice.

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Nice and small. We want the IDEA of onion rather than holy-wow-there’s-a-lotta-onion-in-this.

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Grab some mint. I grew this monstrosity from three stalks I got out of a box at the grocery store.

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Crumble up some nice firm feta cheese.

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Assemble!

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I made a dressing out of grapeseed oil, honey, and a bit of lemon juice, and drizzled it over the whole shebang.

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It was lovely!

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Melon Mojitos!

It’s been HOT here in Ottawa. Very hot, like with heat warnings at least half of every week. Fusselette has been in town on furlough from her job up in Northern Ontario and she brought down with her a small pot of pineapple mint, which I’d never heard of before.

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And when in possession of mint in the hot summer, one must make mojitos. Obviously. And these ones were just a wee twist on the classic.

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Grab a couple glasses and scoop a few balls of watermelon into each one. You can use cubes if you don’t have a melon baller. You’re just gonna squish ’em anyway. Slice up some lime wedges and add them in as well.

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Yes, those are key limes. Just wait for the post where I deal with them. Add some mint leaves (pineapple mint!) to the glass as well. I also added an extra splash of lime juice because of my wee limes.

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Use a muddler (or in my case, my trusty spurtle) and mush those up. LongJohn helped, as you can see.

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Let them sit for a few minutes so the juices can meddle with each other.

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I added in a few more balls of melon, then 2 ounces of white rum.
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Top that up with club soda.

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Garnish with more mint and enjoy in the summer sun!

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(More) Meals en Masse: Beef Stroganoff

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I know, it seems like this is all I’m doing these days. Well it’s kind of all I have time for in the evenings now, and I kind of want to get as much of it done as I can before I start to get REALLY tired. This Martha Stewart Stroganoff (adapted for lazy busy people) is almost as good as it would be if you made it by searing the meat and cooking it in a Dutch oven, and it takes way less time to put together. The amounts below will make a meal that serves six; I doubled the recipe and then divided it into three, cooking one and freezing two, and it perfectly sated the Pie and myself for dinner and provided a hefty lunch for us both the next day.

Start by chopping up 1 large onion. Chop it as coarsely or finely as you prefer. This is your jam, man.

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Grab as well 1 lb white mushrooms. You can cut them in half if you like but I was extra lazy and bought the pre-sliced mushrooms. Because I’m an adult and this is my house and I totally can do whatever I want (the novelty has not worn off yet – I don’t think it ever will).

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Grab yourself 2lbs good quality stewing beef. Mmm beef. The original recipe calls for you to take 2lbs chuck and slice it 1/2″ thick and 3″ long but who got time for that?

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Pitch all that into a 5-6 quart slow-cooker pot and dust liberally with coarse salt and black pepper.

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The other batches I chucked in freezer bags and I’m hoping the mushrooms will come out of it okay. Fingers crossed. If it doesn’t work out I’m sure that the Pie and I will be too sleep-deprived to notice.

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Cook your beef for 8 hours on low (or 6 hours on high), until everything is nice and brown and you have all this awesome juice. Scoop out about 1 cup of that awesome juice and pour it into a wee pot on your stove.

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Grab 2 tablespoons cornstarch and blend it with 2 tablespoons water.

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Pour that cornstarch mixture into the cooking juice and bring that to a boil.

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Let it cook for a few minutes until it gets nice and thick.

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While that’s going on, cook up a batch of egg noodles. I feel like this particular dish is what egg noodles were made for. If you wanna go gluten-free on this one, you may have to find alternative noodles.

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Turn the slow-cooker off (or leave it on warm) and return the thickened juice to the pot. Tip in as well 1/2 cup sour cream and 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard (this version I use has tarragon in it and it’s AMAZING). Give that a solid stirring.

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Serve over your cooked egg noodles with fresh dill, if you have it (I didn’t).

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A hunk of nice bread to sop up the extra sauce won’t go amiss, either.

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Meals en Masse: Beef Lasagna

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In preparation for the fact that in two months my life is about to get turned upside down and I won’t have any time or energy to do much, I’m trying to make it a little easier on myself. At least once a week I’m trying to prepare a meal that I can do in triplicate, where we eat one version and store the other two in the freezer. This week I made up a hearty lasagna to feed Papa John and Mrs. Nice, and the other two went into the freezer for some night this summer when we’re willing to brave the heat to get our pasta fix.

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Of course I never measure anything when I make lasagna, but I’ll try to give you some approximations here for a triplicate recipe if you’re interested in trying it for yourself (and feeling very smug later when you realize you have two giant lasagnas sitting in your freezer).

First I mixed up the cheese layer, which was 2 750g tubs of cottage cheese (you can use ricotta if you prefer, but if you’re buying in this amount the cottage cheese is way cheaper), 3 rectangular packages of chopped frozen spinach, thawed and drained, the equivalent of 2 heads minced garlic (or however much you prefer), and a smattering of freshly ground salt and pepper.

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Creamy cheesy goodness.

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Then you can chop up your veg. I like to choose vegetables that add substance to the lasagna without competing with individual flavours, so mushrooms (8-10), eggplant (1), and zucchini (2 small) are favourites of mine, together with sweet red peppers (2) to boost the colour.

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Next, a giant sweet onion gets chopped up and added to a large stock pot with a few tablespoons olive oil and a knob of butter.

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Once those are soft and fragrant, break up your ground meat with your fingers and tip it in. This is about 2kg extra lean ground beef. If you use medium ground you’ll probably want to drain the fat off once it’s cooked.

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When it IS cooked, tip in your veg and let those soften. Add in some of your favourite spices, like oregano and basil.

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Next, about 3 jars tomato sauce.

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Let that simmer down for a little bit.

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Grate up about 2 large bricks mozzarella. When in doubt, err on the side of too much cheese. Always.

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Now get your stuff organized for assembly. you’ll also need 2-3 boxes uncooked oven-ready lasagna noodles. Be smart and spray your pasta dishes before you use them. The glass one is the one I’m making right away, but the disposable aluminum pans are for the freezer – I don’t own enough Pyrex to put them all in the freezer at the same time. Plus the aluminum ones make great frozen tasty gifts for those of your friends who are in a similar situation to myself. HINT, HINT.

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Layer on some noodles, flat in the bottom, then a generous helping of tomato sauce. You’re aiming for about 1/6th of your sauce for each pan.

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More noodles, and then divide your cheese evenly between your three pans.

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More noodles. I ran out of noodles at this point because I only had two boxes, so I had to run out and get more. And it was cold. Hooray for expectant mother parking spots.

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Finally add in the rest of your sauce and smother it lovingly in cheese.

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The ready-made version can be cooked in about 45-60 minutes at 350°F.

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I’m putting in this same photo again so you can see how saucy and liquidy the sauce is, despite its thickness – that extra liquid means the noodles will cook through properly without drying out the dish.

The others need to be wrapped well and frozen. I recommend thawing them before cooking, and they’ll probably take about twice as long to cook through because they won’t already be nice and warm. Enjoy!

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Starting Seeds!

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If you live in a northern climate you’re probably starting to hope that spring is just around the corner. In Canada, it’ll fool you. This past weekend I sat outside on our back step in just a tshirt and absorbed the sun into my pasty, pasty skin. But there’s still the threat of frost and so planting season around here begins quite late.

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You can, however, start your seeds inside 6-8 weeks before you plant them outside, and so you start with sturdy little seedlings that are more likely to survive some of the colder spring days.

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Use a potting soil that suits your needs – there are all different kinds.

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Just remember to keep the pots moist (but not dripping) and in a place that gets some decent sun – I’m trying to keep mine all on the same side of the house as where they’ll be planted, in case that helps.

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This mint I bought from the grocery store when I was making the Brazilian Lemonade – it will just root itself in a glass of water after about a week. Mint grows everywhere, and is really hard to kill.

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And when they get bigger I’m putting them in these fancy little holders – the height means that I don’t have to negotiate with my giant belly in order to weed them and I’m hoping it will help to deter the bunnies … WE SHALL SEE!