Check-in

Dear Blog and Readers,

I have not forgotten nor forsaken you. Though I have been absent for a couple weeks, its not for lack of desire, simply from lack of bandwidth. You see, instead of making a mere refinement to my routine, I upturned the apple cart and took my career into a new direction. Well, it was more like a return to an old direction, but it’s a new direction nonetheless. Anyways, this has required a lot of focus and writing and social media content creation on subjects new or recently unpracticed. It has been awesome. It has been crazy. Sometimes it has been a little overwhelming, but it’s also exhilarating. It has also meant that my posts here have simply not occurred.

Rest assured, my writing will continue. My thoughts on improving my own life bit by bit will continue and hopefully sometimes they will be helpful or encouraging to you as maybe-possibly-I-really-hope they have been before. Lyz has continued to write a whole bunch of Foodie Friday posts on cooking which totally rock. My intermittent pep talks of the usually non-culinary variety will resume shortly.

I hope you’re all well and that spring is finally coming to your neck of the woods.

“See” ya again next week,
Anthea

Foodie Friday: Chicken Paprikash

I discovered Chicken Paprikash in my Better Homes & Garden cookbook from about the year 1998 or so.  I made it a few times and enjoyed it, but when I got a new BHG cookbook a few years later, the recipe wasn’t included, and I kinda forgot about it.

But when one of my food bloggers, No Recipes guy Marc, posted a recipe for the stuff (right here), I was sold.  I have probably made it approximately one billion times since then.  It’s inexpensive, made with basic, readily available ingredients, relatively easy, and delicious.  Like, really delicious.

So you start with some chicken.  You can use any chicken you want, but legs/thighs are the best, and cheaper to boot.

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Then you chop up some onion, or slice it into wedges – whatever floats your boat:

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Heat up some high-heat-compatible fat in a skillet (I’m using bacon grease here):

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Season your chicken with salt and pepper, and toss it in, skin-side down.  Let it sizzle for a while, 3-4 minutes if you can.  You want the skin to get nice and brown.

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I am not quite so patient, but we’ve got a bit of browning going on.  Let the bottom side cook for a while, too.

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Then take the chicken out and set it aside. Throw your onions into the hot skillet and keep them moving until they’re starting to get translucent.  (The recipe I generally use now also includes a green or Anaheim pepper at this point, but I hardly ever have peppers lying around my house, and so I usually omit them.  It’s still delicious.)

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Then throw in your paprika.  Like, a lot of it.  A quarter-cup is not crazy, even though it seems crazy.  Give it a minute to get hot and sizzly and smell awesome.

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Then add in a bit of chicken stock – less than you might think – and stir that up.  Make sure you get all the tasty browned bits up from the bottom of the skillet, and get all your paprika dissolved/distributed.  Then add your browned chicken back in.

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Let that come up to a boil, then turn down the heat and let it simmer.  It’ll be perfectly edible in 30-40 minutes; it’ll be divine after an hour or more.  Check it periodically to make sure the liquid hasn’t all wandered off – you want a bit left (but not much).  You might turn over the chicken once, too.

In the meantime, think about what you’d like to serve this luscious silky sauce and tender chicken over.  Rice is fine; egg noodles are fine.  Marc included in his post a recipe for dumplings, and I have fallen head over heels for it – I make these *all the time* these days.  It’s completely manageable for one person to do both the paprikash and the dumplings, but it’s also handy to divide up the work if you have a second person around.

You need one cup of flour, two eggs, and a few tablespoons of yogurt, buttermilk, milk, or even water if you’re in a pinch:

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Mix the eggs into the flour, and then add your third ingredient (milk, yogurt, creme fraiche, buttermilk, whatever) until it comes together into a dough.  This one came out a bit stickier than I preferred, but it doesn’t really matter.

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Boil some nicely-salted water (it should take like seawater).  I just use two forks to scrape blobs of the dumpling dough into my boiling water.  They’re done when they float, and you can just scoop them out with a slotted spoon.

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You might scowl at the imperfect shapes of these dumplings, but they’re actually the best thing ever.  All the folds and bumps and lumps are absolutely perfect for catching the sauce from the paprikash.  So while Marc suggests using some piece of kitchen equipment that I don’t own, I don’t think I would even if I owned it – these just come out so much better this way.

So, after an hour or so, your paprikash will look more or less like this:

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Your onions most likely will not magically convert from chopped squares to sliced wedges; I’m using photos from two different makings of this dish (within the last two weeks), which should tell you everything you need to know about how awesome it is.

Now you get to make the sauce wonderful.  Mix a few tablespoons of flour into a half-cup (or more) of sour cream or yogurt.  Then, you do what’s called “tempering” the dairy mix.  Dip into the beautiful red liquid in your skillet and dump a few tablespoons into the dairy bowl.  Stir that in.  Repeat this until your dairy is warm to the touch – mine ended up using almost a half-cup of the cooking liquid, although I may have used an inordinate amount of sour cream…

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Dump that into your skillet and stir it in.  It’ll be beautiful.

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And it’ll eventually end up looking about like this:

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Which you can then serve over your dumplings, where their imperfect shape will be absolutely perfect for the sauce.

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And if the lighting in your dining room sucks, like mine, the lovely red color will totally not show up in the photograph, but trust me, it’s still lovely. And even if it weren’t, who cares because it’s delicious.

This chicken was so tender that the bones just slid out of it, and the meat all but melted in your mouth.  The onions are like silk in the rich, creamy sauce over hearty, satisfying dumplings.

Did I mention that this is great winter food?  Yeah.  Totally.

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Foodie Friday: Accidental Heat

First, an apology: today’s post has no photos.

To be totally honest, I wasn’t planning to post anything today.  My spouse has taken over much of the cooking in the house lately, and this means that I’m taking even fewer photos than usual.  I came home exhausted from work, remembered that I had failed to post anything for today, and decided that the world wouldn’t end if I didn’t tell you all about meatloaf.

But then this very interesting thing happened with my meatloaf, and it was so interesting that I had to tell you all about it.

Now, you probably know that I”m not a big fan of spicy food (at least, you are if you happened upon my rant about spicy food in this post).  So I don’t generally make it.

At least, not on purpose.

So here I am, throwing together a meatloaf for dinner.  (I looooove meatloaf.  My mom has the best recipe and I use it all the time.)  I have a package of bulk sausage from a discount bundle from my local butcher shop, which I slice open and hurl a hunk of into my bowl.  As I’m moving on, I notice the edge of the package has written “wild country” on it.  And I think to myself, “Huh, I wonder what that’s about. Wild boar? Particularly interesting seasoning?”

And I give it zero additional thoughts as I make the rest of dinner – or at least, until I pull the meatloaf out of the microwave (ok, I’m putting this recipe below because now you must think I’m crazy) and go to pour off the fat to make gravy.  And I see all these little red flecks, and I think, “Wow, that sausage must have a lot of hot pepper in it, because I didn’t put anything else in it that would have anything like that.”

And I give it zero more thoughts, because I’m making gravy and mashed potatoes and roasting some broccoli – or at least, until I sit down at the table with my plate of meatloaf and fixins, and see again those little red flecks.  And I go, “Huh.  Wild country sausage, I get it.  I hope I can eat this.”

Well, as it turns out, it was delicious.  It was also fiery and painful, but armed with a giant pile of roasted broccoli, a mound of mashed potatoes, and a glass of water, I make my way through with more enjoyment than pain.

But here’s the really interesting part.  I finished my meatloaf, and then my broccoli, and move on to finish my mashed potatoes and gravy.  All of a sudden, I’m on fire again.  I think to myself “What on earth??  Are my potatoes somehow spicy?”

And then I got it.  Capsaicin, the stuff that makes hot foods hot, is oil-soluable.  Said gravy was made with the fat poured off from my awesome, accidentally spicy meatloaf.  Some of the capsaicin from the meatloaf had snuck into the gravy, giving it this long, slow burn that was hardly noticeable at first, but built up over time.

If you are a fan of spicy food, then you would have freaking loved this gravy.  I would never have thought to make spicy gravy (because I would never make spicy anything, because I don’t like causing myself pain. Spoilers: I also don’t beat myself with sticks.) – but I also don’t recall ever seeing spicy gravy offered or proposed anywhere. So if you like spicy stuff, I’d totally recommend it.  A sausage gravy for biscuits made with this stuff would be awesome.

So there you have it.  Accidentally spicy meatloaf and gravy.  The highlight of my night.

And if you’re interested in making your own, here you go.

Mix together about a half pound each of raw ground beef and sausage, add an egg, a small pile of breadcrumbs (1/2cup or so, enough to hold it together, fresh are a bit better than dry), a good squirt of ketchup, a few good shakes of Worcestershire, a big pinch of salt, a splash of milk, and a chopped onion. Get over yourself and just use your hands.

Shape it into a ring (yes, leave a hole in the middle) in a microwave-safe container, and put stuff on top if you want (ketchup, BBQ sauce, bacon, tonkatsu sauce, nothing, whatever).  Cover with a lid or waxed paper, and cook for 3 rounds of 7 minutes at 70% power, turning it about half a turn between each round.  (You can also do this in the oven; leave it uncovered, cook at 350 or so for 30-45 minutes; you can make a more traditional loaf shape if you do it this way.)

Pour off the fat when it’s done (careful, hot!) and use that to make gravy (or discard, if you’re a heretical person who doesn’t like gravy).  This is great to eat fresh out of the [microwave] oven, but it also makes great leftovers for future meals or meatloaf sandwiches.

But it’s not very photogenic, so don’t get your hopes up for beauty.  Let’s pretend that’s why I don’t have any pictures, ok?

Foodie Friday: Appetizers for Dinner!


I’ve been posting some things lately that have been some amount of work – either they take some prep and then go in the oven for a while, or they take a bunch of prep, or they take ongoing maintenance.

Not today.

Today, I bring you stupidly easy food.  Not only is this stupidly easy and equally fast, it really hits the spot.  You see, I’m a huge fan of appetizers: the menu of mouthwatering savory bits at a restaurant is sooo tempting.  But I can’t actually eat *that* much food, and I know that if I succumb to the appetizer, I won’t have room for my full entree (or worse, dessert!!)  So, tempting as they are, I hardly ever order them.

But.  I am also firmly of the mindset that these delicious treats shouldn’t be relegated to the hated “tempt-me-but-ruin-my-meal” section of the menu.  So it’s not terribly uncommon for me to make appetizer-type dishes for my main course.

Last night, that manifested as these wonderful chorizo-stuffed mushrooms.  I had a small package, about half a pound, of bulk chorizo from my wonderful local butcher shop, and having never made anything with chorizo before, I went Googling for recipes to use it in.

I used this recipe from A Spicy Perspective (odd, given my last post) as my basis – although I was absolutely stunned to discover that said blog was marketing these as appetizers – for Thanksgiving!  Talk about a time when I don’t want to ruin my appetite!!

Anyway, I’ve probably spent more time telling you about these than I spent making them.  It’s pretty straightforward.  Brown your bulk chorizo:

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If your chorizo comes in links, just slice open the casings and squish it out.

Clean your mushrooms and pop all the stems off.  Lay them on a baking sheet (I like to line mine with parchment paper) with the open side up:

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You want decent-sized mushrooms for this. The small ones were a little hard to stuff. This is a mix of cremini (baby bella) and regular white button mushrooms. Portobellas would probably be good too, although messy.

Take a half a block of cream cheese (or more; I ended up using the whole block, and while we’re at it I used the lower-fat Neufchatel) and some thyme.  You could use other spices or seasonings here, but I stuck to the original recipe:

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Mix in your browned, drained chorizo:

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Apply the filling to your mushrooms:

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And cover with some kind of cheese that will get all melty and browned.  I used some shredded manchego, but you could use mozzarella, parmesan, panela, monterey jack, cheddar, whatever.  The manchego was baller.

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Put it in a 400° oven for 15-20 minutes until it’s all melty and browned:

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I used the time they were in the oven to toss some simple salads so I had something green in my dinner.  But don’t let these little guys fool you: they are filling!  My spouse and I together were able to finish maybe half of these guys – the rest had to go back in the fridge for lunch today (not that I’m complaining).  But this totally fits with my narrative of “Who on earth would make these as an appetizer for Thanksgiving??”

Also, I think I spent maybe 10 minutes making dinner tonight.  These were stupidly easy.  And delicious.  You should make some.

That One Box

Today’s blog is about something that I’ve been carrying around with myself for a while: That One Box. You know the box, the one that sits in the back of your closet or in your basement? It hangs around and comes with your move after move, never being opened, yet somehow filled with “valuable” possessions that must be kept.

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That One Box in process

For me, That One Box came in the form of three boxes that I literally packed at some point at the end of grad school in 2009 and came with me from Texas to Illinois and back to Texas without ever being opened or completely sorted through. The craziest thing about this is I moved back to Texas with only what I could fit in my car and still I chose to bring those three boxes with me.

I’ve been in a brief time of transition in my life, and so I decided to tackle That One Box last weekend. You guys, it feels so good to have it done! Yeah, a large percentage of it was junk, but I also found sweet cards and handwritten letters from years ago. I found notes from classes that I’d like to reference and classes I’d rather forget. But most of all, knowing that space in my closet is clear and I’ve cut down on the clutter is a great.

Do you have That One Box hanging around? Consider this my personal encouragement to you to take a bit of time and sort through it. I bet ya it will be worth it.