Chicken and Zucchini Noodle Caprese

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This dish is made with sautéed bite-sized chicken thighs and grape tomatoes cooked with spiralized zucchini, fresh mozzarella and basil. Do I have your attention yet? It’s obviously low-carb as well. This comes together in a little over 30 minutes and is delicious.

You are familiar with most of the ingredients, right? The spiralized zucchini is somewhat new, at least to me. Why, yes, you can buy a machine to spiral cut the zucchini. But honestly, do you need something else to fit into the back of a cabinet? I’m looking at you breadmaker and panini grill. Most grocery stores have many diferent spiralized veggies. They cost way too much, but they are convenient and fun! I especially love the riced veggies, like sweet potatoes. But that’s a conversation for another day. Those bad boys play in the freezer until you need them. The spiralized veggies have a much shorter shelf life so buy them when you will be using them.

Let’s make dinner!

16 ounce package of spiral cut zucchini

1/2-1 lb skinless, boneless chicken breast or thighs, cut in 1/2 inch cubes

kosher salt

pepper

1/4 tsp. dried oregano

olive oil

3 garlic cloves chopped

1 onion, cut in thin slices

3/4 lb grape tomatoes, cut in half

pinch crushed red pepper flakes

1 tbsp. chopped fresh basil

1 package of spiralized zucchini

2 oz. fresh mini mozzarella balls, cut in half

You can play around with the portion of ingredients. If you don’t like garlic, you can omit it. Same goes for the mozzarella. I strongly suggest you use all the ingredients. If you don’t have crushed red pepper flakes, don’t sweat it. I like a little more chicken. I don’t like to use part of a package and put the rest in the freezer. It will never be used. It just gets pushed to the back until a power outage and then it gets tossed.

Before you start heating pans and getting out serving dishes, cut up the chicken. It takes longer than you think. Put it in a bowl and set it aside. Same for your onions and garlic. You can wait on the mozzarella if you don’t want to dirty another bowl. That is added at the very end.

Season the chicken with 1/2 tsp salt, pepper and oregano. I confess to using Lawry’s seasoned salt more often than regular salt and pepper.

The recipe calls for a non-stick pan. I don’t like them. I have a couple of heavy bottomed pans that I prefer. Any pan can be used, just watch the heat. Heat the pan before you add the oil. Toss a sprinkle or two of water in the hot pan. If the water rolls, and evaporates, it’s ready for the oil. I don’t measure my olive oil but you need enough to lightly coat the pan. Let the olive oil heat up before you add the chicken. It takes a couple of seconds. Add the chicken and cook. Let it sit for a couple of minutes to brown. If you keep stirring, the chicken won’t have the wonderful brown color. Just watch to make sure it doesn’t burn. You can lower or raise the heat as needed. You can cook in batches if you are using more chicken. I often double the recipe for my family. Stir it to cook on all sides. When it’s no longer pink inside, put cooked chicken in a clean bowl.

I love cooked onions. The original recipe called for only garlic. I think the onion adds another dimension. Add more oil to your pan and add the onions. I cut my peeled onion in half from root to top, and then cut thin slices If the bottom of the pan has browned from the chicken, just cook the onions on a lower heat, adding a little more olive oil. This brown will add to “sauce” the liquid from the zucchini and tomatoes. When the onions are soft, add the garlic and stir for 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly. You want them to release some liquid so the garlic doesn’t burn. If there isn’t much liquid being released you can add the zucchini right away. If you think you need more oil, add a little. Add the package of zucchini and raise the heat. Break the zucchini up with a spoon or fork. Stir it occasionally so it all cooks evenly. The zucchini does cook down. This should take anywhere from 5-10 minutes. Add the crushed pepper flakes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. When the zucchini is cooked, add the chicken back in to the skillet and finish cooking. Add the basil. Let those flavors meld together. Add the mozzarella when you’re ready to serve. To add some carbs just call the spiral cut zucchini, zucchini noodles. You’re welcome.

Enjoy!

Here is the original recipe.

Laugh with me along the mental and physical journey, of the joys of joint surgery.

 

Congratulations! You’ve been hurting long enough. Admitting you have a problem and moving forward to a fix is scary. We’ve all brushed off pain, now and again. When physical pain consumes you, it’s time. No one can tell you when it’s time. You just know. Pain is fatiguing. Pain is psychological. Pain can take over your life.

Before acceptance, you try to disguise your pain, your need for joint replacement, from others. I could make a career of hiding pain. “Accepting the Oscar…..”. At some point, there is no hiding. Strangers start to even notice. You’re not as clever as you think. I’ve become attuned to observing peoples’ replacement needs. It’s like “Name that Tune” for me. In one step, I can tell what joint strangers need to have replaced. Knee. Knee. Hip. Then I guess their careers. It’s good to keep busy.

You’ve chatted up your friends for doctor recommendations. You’ve paid attention to all the commercials and ads. You weigh your options. After an acceptable period of mourning your defeat, you make an appointment. All is good. You’re fine now. Calm again…. until the day of the appointment.

The doctor’s appointment went as well as it could. The doctor secretly wonders what took you so long. The staff gives you the happy nods when you schedule your surgery, as they hand you paperwork.  Now to share the news with others.

You check your work and social calendars. You mentally change the date around holidays, birthday, work projects. But, you decide, the date actually works! Your family is nervous happy. Your friends and neighbors offer their thoughts, prayers, and help. You feel the need to justify the surgery with every sharing. “It’s genetics.” “It’s from an old sports injury.” “It’s not my fault!”

You go to the pre-surgery education class. Yes. You must be educated. Here’s the one thing you should walk away with. Do not watch the YouTube video of your surgery. You’ll never sleep again. You’ll have trouble sleeping anyways, you don’t need more. You listen. You peruse the paperwork. Pay heed to the need to poop. Miralax is magic. You doubt some of the suggested items. Trust me. You will need some of these things, like the flower needs the rain. (Name that tune!) Antibacterial wash? Clean sheets? Loose clothing?  Grabbing tools? Their experience predates your needs. You are advised to make sure your loved one has the passwords to your accounts. Bills should be paid to date. More worry lines form in your forehead.

You go the pre-surgery medical appointment. You meet a team of people that will ask questions (over and over), perform some tests, and ask you questions, again. This is tiresome. They are at the gathering-information-stage. You are at the sick-of-this-shit stage. Can I hear an “Amen?” The world starts a countdown to your surgery.

It’s a week before the BIG DAY. Everyone treats it like a vacation. You convince yourself you need this time off from work.  You plan on catching up on so much. Movies. Books. Magazines. It won’t happen. You’ve been instructed what you can and cannot do, take, drink, or eat before the surgery. “How will I make it?” you think.

You arrive at the hospital, early in the morning as directed. You’re nervous, excited and just plain damn tired. You are in the pre-surgery room getting prepped. The hospital gown is handed to you. You succumb to this last step. Shits real now.  It’s too late to turn back now!

Your surgery was a success! Then why do you feel so crappy? Anesthesia my dear! You groggily await your family. They are nervous but rejoice at the sight of you lying in wait. The visit is quick. They will meet up with you in your room in an hour, or so. Suddenly, they are unabashedly hungry. They hurriedly leave, relieved you’re alive.

Your room! You are so happy to be here, for now. It will soon feel like a prison for the endlessly seeming stay of 3 days. You are not prepared for the parade of medical staff checking your vital signs, asking if you have any questions. “Can I go home now?” is not what they mean. You laugh when told that physical therapy will be up soon to get you moving. They mean it. Really. You scoff at the PT when you are told, before you are released, you must be able to go up and down stairs. Unimaginable that this swollen, stapled mess will ever move again. Beg the nurses for Miralax. You are bound to be constipated. (See what I did there?) They aren’t kidding in the commercial, it’s the science of going!

Have your visitors bring you coffee and palatable foods.  Coffee never tastes good in plastic mugs. You will not be served haute cuisine. Bless the hospital food workers. They try. There’s nothing better than a smuggled salami sandwich. HGTV will become your best friend and your worst enemy. Even at your weakest, you will have the strength to mock the “open-concept-couple”. Or those aghast, their children should have to share a bathroom. Oh, yeah. Bring it on. You will find yourself shouting at them. And then the nurses come in, to join your comical rants.

You accomplish small miracles each hour of your captivity, sitting on the edge of the hospital bed. Washing your face has never felt so good. You can only dream of a hot shower and clean hair. Reality hits you. TED stockings are a four-week sentence, unless you want a blood clot! Pro-tip: save the plastic bag they’re in. You can slip it over your toes, to make pulling up the socks a little easier. It won’t be easy, just easier. Oh, you will hate them.

You made it up and down the stairs. The physical therapist is releasing you. You are going home! You, and your amazing swelled legs, are squeezed into a car. Hospital slippers adorn your puffy feet. It’s still glorious to be getting out of the hospital and into fresh air!

As you pull up to your home, your first of many fearful thoughts flash in your mind. “How am I going to get in?” Stairs. Lot of stairs. You can do this! “Up with the good, down with the bad” you chant. Now, it’s time to show what you’re made of. Your ride pulls the crutches from the trunk. You sit, plotting. The door opens. Fresh air fills your lungs. You look at your legs and wonder how are you going to move them towards the house. You do it! You’re in! Find a comfortable chair. Look around. All the wonderful squeaks, creaks and groans serenade you. The coffee tastes better. Food is glorious. You crawl carefully onto your bed. Peace. Followed by boredom.

“Boredom?” As the anesthetics wear off, you’ll be restless and have trouble sleeping.  You  are tired of just sitting. You want to feel better, be better. Hunger will elude you. You’re uncomfortable. Recording your meds is tedious. Your staples are sore. TED stockings should be used as an instrument of torture. No one told you there was a mental/emotional side to healing, along with the physical. Put plans in place to keep your mind busy. First your mind, then your body. Your recovery should not be a marathon of HGTV. Give yourself a week and then get mentally active. This comes before physical activity. Listen to music. Sing along. Those lyrics will come back to you.  Enjoy the beauty of online shopping. Hello Amazon! Converse with your family. Write letters to your friends. Don’t bore them with details. Talk about what you can do together in a few weeks. Listen to books on CD or online. Take an online class. This is the perfect time to learn something new. Craft away. Finish a project you started. Write down all the promises to yourself, to use this experience as a second chance. You want to live life to its fullest. You cannot measure improvements by days with joint replacement surgery. You measure by weeks. Every week you will make successive progress. You’re going to be fine in a few weeks. You’ll get over your fear of falling. Wait. What? The world will become one of steps and opportunities to fall. It won’t last once you regain your confidence and feel in control again.Who knew?

If you have any concerns, always rely on your resources. Your visiting nurse, physical therapist and your surgeon. You have a team to support you, to answer your questions. Please ask them! Surgery is serious! Remember to do your physical therapy. It’s very important to do the exercises. Surgery replaces the joint, but now you have to work everything else. The ability to bend and straighten have never been so important.

You’ve got the grit to get through this. Use your tenacity to make the changes that need to be made. Just keep moving forward with your goals, small or large. You’re going to be great! This isn’t a defeat, it’s a new opportunity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Because I said orzo……

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Mediterranean Orzo Salad

It’s cookout time, which means the endless search for sides has begun. I love my mayo, but sometimes you want something different. I searched the internet for an orzo salad similar to one at a local grocery store. I don’t go there often since they moved things around, including staff. It’s not like home any more. My photo is a little fuzzy because I was dizzy at the thought of sampling….a little more. For any orzo salad, it’s about colors and flavors. The dressing for this recipe makes it special. With the saltiness of the feta and the Kalamata olives, you need some balance, some sweetness. The lemon juice and honey are the perfect harmony of sweet and salty. I used it on a regular green salad the next day. It’s different. It’s fresh tasting. It’s new and improved……it’s got lemon!!! (old marketing major joke…..add lemon for more shelf space).

Enough yapping, let’s make some orzo salad!

12 ounces orzo pasta, cooked, drained and cooled

1 cup red grape or cherry tomatoes, halved

1 cup yellow grape or cherry tomatoes, halved

1 cup Kalamata olives, halved

1 7-ounce package Feta cheese, crumbled

1 cup chopped green onions

1 cup chickpeas, rinsed and drained

1/2 whole red onion, diced-or as much or as little as  you want!

3 tbsp. fresh parsley, minced

1 cucumber peeled and diced

Dressing/vinaigrette

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

1 tsp. honey

1/2 cup olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Let me just warn you. A whole box of orzo, is A LOT OF ORZO. You may want to reduce it to half of a box, for your first go around. It’s more than plenty, as a side, for 4 or 5 people. You may have noticed there is a lot of mincing and chopping. Get some cereal bowls for the veggies, and get busy. Turn on some tunes to make it less tedious. It’s worth the work. You will admire all the bright colors that will become a delicious salad. If you don’t like some of the ingredients, exclude them, change them, do what you’d like. It’s your salad. Pro tip for the cucumber. After you peel it, slice the cuke lengthwise. Use a teaspoon to scrape out the seeds, and toss them. Then you chop the cucumber. This prevents your salad from getting watery. Place the orzo and other ingredients in a big bowl. Give them a stir.                                                                                                                                         Whatever you do, do not omit the dressing. Whisk the vinegar, lemon juice, and honey in a small bowl. Whisk the olive oil in gradually. You can also put it in a glass canning jar and shake…or stir. Season with salt and pepper. Honestly, the only thing I measured was the red wine vinegar. I guesstimated the lemon juice and honey. Get a spoon and taste. Isn’t it great? Lemon and honey! This can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and chill if making ahead. Drizzle the dressing over the exquisitely minced veggies and feta. Feta is bettah! (I’ve been waiting for 500 or so words to say that!) Mix it together. Stand back and admire your work. If you are reducing the salad by half, reduce the dressing too. If you have any left over, try it on a regular green salad, to fancy it up.

Enjoy!

Easy Tomato Soup

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It’s Memorial Day weekend, and the weather is not cooperating. Damp and cold is the forecast. I predict there is soup in your future. I stumbled upon this Ina Garten recipe, using my time oh, so wisely. I choked down many bowls of the canned soup, not-to-be-named, in my day. The aftertaste is what I remember, and not in a good way. Ina is correct when she says its easy, except for the grilled cheese croutons. She lost me on that one. I’d rather just have a grilled cheese. I adapted her recipe by using my immersion blender to make it creamy, and I cooked the orzo in the soup. I like my soup thicker otherwise I tend to wear it on my shirts. My problem, not yours. I also did not want to spend the money on saffron threads. I needed 00 flour more than saffron. Shoutout to Amazon for that Sunday delivery! Instead of chicken stock I used vegetable stock because I had it in my closet pantry.

Let’s make some tomato soup!

Ingredients

3 tbsp. “good” olive oil

3 cups yellow onions, chopped (2 onions)

1 tbsp. minced garlic, (3 cloves)

4 cups of vegetable or chicken stock (store-bought is perfect)

1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

Kosher salt and pepper, to taste

3/4 cup uncooked orzo or other small pasta

1/2 cup heavy cream

In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook over a medium-low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown. I like to sprinkle a little salt over my onions when I saute them,Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Stir in the stock, tomatoes, 1 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. pepper. Bring the soup to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. To make this creamy, use an immersion blender. You can leave it a little chunky, or cream it up. Your choice.

Add your uncooked pasta to the soup. I suggest the orzo, but ditalini worked great too. Let the pasta cook until it’s soft. I don’t like my pasta a la dente, (GASP), especially in a creamy soup. This may take about 12 minutes depending on your pasta. Cooking the pasta in the soup makes it thick and soup spoon worthy.

Once the pasta is to your desired texture, stir in the cream. Please do not omit it. This is the game changer. Look, it’s so pretty! Let it simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring to blend it into the tomato mixture. You now have a creamy, thick tomato soup, that was, indeed, easy. Season it with salt and pepper, to taste.

Now go make yourself a grilled cheese sandwich and put on some long sleeves for goodness sake!

Breakfast of Champions?

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It’s another holiday weekend, and I have decided to broaden my food experiences. No, I do not plan on eating kale. I’m talking about trying another breakfast casserole. I have company for three mornings this weekend. I needed one more breakfast that will feed a table of people, without much prep work. I found the recipe for Baked Cream Cheese French Toast Casserole. It was delicious! Anything that I can prepare the day before, is my kind of dish. I don’t mind turning the oven on in the morning when it’s going to be near 90 degrees,  You have the rest of the day to cool off the kitchen. This recipe has some of my favorite ingredients – eggs, challah bread, and cinnamon. How can that be wrong?

Custard Ingredients

8 large eggs

2 1/4 cups whole milk

3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

2/3 cup packed light brown sugar

2 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Main Ingredient

1 (12-14 ounce) loaf french bread, sourdough bread, or challah (my preference)

Cream Cheese Mixture

8 ounces brick-style cream cheese, softened to room temperature – use full fat

1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

2 tbsp. confectioner’s sugar

Streusel Topping

1/3 cup packed light brown sugar

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

6 tbsp. butter, cold and cubed

Don’t panic. It may appear to be many steps, but it’s not. It’s a custard with bread, a cream cheese filling, and a topping. You cube the bread earlier in the day, so it can get stale. Right? This is the one time you want stale bread. This is all assembled the night before. You don’t add the topping until you bake it. Make the streusel the night before, put it in a container, and pop it into the fridge next to the casserole. You don’t want to forget it. If you have company, it’s easy to get distracted.

Grease a 9 X 13 pan with butter of nonstick spray. Slice the bread into 1-inch cubes. Don’t get a ruler, just eyeball it. Spread half of the cubes into the prepared baking pan. You’re going to add the cream cheese mixture on top of the bread. The original directions call for a hand mixer. I am not looking for more things to take out, put away or wash. I use a fork to soften and mix cream cheese. Those fork tines are mighty mighty. I just mash away at the cream cheese, adding the vanilla extract and confectioner’s sugar. Done. Drop spoonfuls (or forkfuls?) of cream cheese mixture on top of the first layer of cubed bread. Layer the remains bread cubes on top of the cream cheese. Set aside.

Whisk the eggs, milk, cinnamon, brown sugar, and vanilla extract together until no brown sugar lumps remain. This could count as a cardio workout if the brown sugar isn’t soft. Pour over the bread. Make sure you pour it all over the bread, and not in one spot. It needs to hit every tiny piece of bread. We are looking to soak the bread people. The bread has transformed from stale cubes to wet cubes. I won’t use the word “moist”. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and stick in the fridge for 3 hours or overnight. Overnight is best.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove pan from fridge.

Sprinkle the streusel topping all over the pan. You make the streusel by whisking together the brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon together in a bowl. Cut the cubed butter into this mixture. You can use two forks, a pastry blender or your hands. I like to make it ahead of time, so it can harden. Then you can crumble the topping onto the bread mixture.

Bake uncovered for 45-55 minutes or until golden brown on top.

You can serve this with maple syrup and/or sift confectioner’s sugar over the top.

Enjoy!

 

Vinaigrette dans un pot

Vinaigrette in jar

 

Everything sounds better in French, especially a vinaigrette in a jar, right? Why buy bottled dressings when you can make your own? Hey. We’ve all been there. Everyone likes a specific salad dressing. Ranch dressing was a big hit in my house. Who knew it was a pizza dip too? Amazing. Often those dressings sat on the fridge shelf, counting their expiration days away. Blech. Sometimes I forgot to check those dates. Sorry kids! Why is it when you buy a lot of something, the kids decide they no longer like it. WHY?

Here’s another question. Do you have 5 minutes? Then you can make a delicious vinaigrette for the week. You can use this for a lunch or a diner. For lunches, I like to put the vinaigrette on the bottom of a container and top it with chopped vegetables and beans. You add the lettuce and protein on the top so it doesn’t get soggy. Give it a good shake and lunch is ready!

There will be three commands. Mince, pour, and shake. Let’s make some vinaigrette.

 

1 16-ounce (or so) glass jar

2 tsp. minced garlic or shallots

2 tbsp. Dijon mustard

½ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. pepper

¼ cup red wine vinegar

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

Remove lid from clean jar. That’s very important. Place the garlic or shallots, Dijon mustard, salt, pepper and vinegar in the jar. Can you follow these complicated directions? Should I write slower? Give the lidded jar a shake. That’s right, put the lid on tight. Now, you can add the olive oil and really shake it. This will become a creamy, dreamy vinaigrette. It’s magic. The olive oil emulsifies when you shake it. If you want to make less dressing, remember that you use 4 times the oil for vinegar, so you can reduce the proportions. Use more or less garlic and seasoning. Always taste it and add accordingly. I like to use a glass jar as it cleans well, with no garlic odor or oily residue. Store this in the fridge for about a week.

Here is a video of Jacques Pepin making this vinaigrette. He’s much more entertaining than moi.
Enjoy!

 

 

For the love of Strawberries

fullsizeoutput_20bWe go through a lot of strawberries. Hubs is sent to work with fruit to accompany his lunch. This time of year it’s strawberries and blueberries. In the cooler months it’s homemade applesauce. I’ve found there are two ways to keep strawberries fresh and not rot in the plastic container. Either you roast them (I KNOW!), or wash them with a vinegar-water bath. I put one cup of vinegar in a bowl with three cups of cold water. I pull out any that are already rotting. I let the berries sit in the vinegar-water bath, as I slosh them around gently.  The vinegar kills the spores and bacteria. After about 5 minutes I drain and rinse the berries. I put them on a paper-toweled line baking sheet. Pat them dry and let them air dry on the counter for a bit. I wash and line the plastic container with a paper towel and put the strawberries back in the container and put into the fridge. It really does work.  Don’t worry, there is no vinegar flavor, as long as you rinse them well.

My new way of “preserving” these delicious nuggets is to roast them. They are amazing. I put them over store-bought meringue cookies. I ran out of time to make my own meringues. I should have bought some Brigham’s vanilla ice cream. They would be so wonderful on top of ice cream. Sigh.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Cut one pound of strawberries into quarters, if they are large, or halves if they are smaller. In a medium-sized bowl, toss the strawberries with a scant 1/2 cup of granulated sugar. Each time I’ve made these, they have come out differently. I used a heaping 1/2 cup of sugar with very ripe berries. I kept adding strawberries because it was too sweet. This led to the strawberries bubbling up and leaking under the parchment paper. There was a delicious gooey mess to scrape off the pan. The second time the berries were smaller and not as ripe. I used a 1/4 cup of sugar, and lined the pan with foil and parchment paper. The berries weren’t as juicy and could have used a little more sugar. This is why I suggest a scant 1/2 cup.  Nothing ever turns out like they show online!

Arrange the strawberries in an even layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment, and if you are not daring, aluminum foil.

Bake for about 15-20 minutes. The berries will release a beautiful red juice. Cool  slightly and then transfer to a container. Cool to room temperature and then refrigerate in a covered container.

Enjoy!