Saturday, January 23, 2010

Smoked Chicken Tortellini

Tonight I used the other half of the chopped shredded chicken I roasted earlier in the week and dug up a recipe a friend from Australia sent me several years ago. I did make some minor changes to her recipe, and I'll list her's first then mine.

Original recipe:
1 Lge Brown Onion
3-4 Tbs Seeded (wholegrain) Mustard
1/2 cup white wine (optional)
600ml Cream
1 whole smoked chicken
500gm Tortellini pasta, Cooked

In a large pan,fry the onion in the oil, when transparent add mustard and wine, simmer for about 3 minutes.
Add cream to this and reduce till slightly thickend.
Tear the chicken into pieces and add to the cream mixture.
Add the cooked pasta and heat through.If the dish needs thickening simmer for a few minutes!

Great served with crusty herb bread

Modified Recipe:
1/2 large sweet onion (softball size) (or 1  yellow onion), chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, chopped

3-4 Tbs Coarse ground mustard
1/2-1 cup white wine
Olive oil
1 1/2 pints cream
1/2 roasted chicken shredded and chopped
2 tsp cornstarch

2  bags frozen tortellini (3 might be a better amount with the amount of sauce)

While water is coming to a boil for tortellini:

Cook chopped onion in large frying pan until translucent and starting to brown, add garlic and saute another minute.  Add mustard and wine, simmer for a few minutes. Add cream and cook over medium heat until just coming to a boil. Add chicken and bring just to a boil again. Begin cooking tortellini according to package directions (a sign that the tortellini is done cooking is when it begins to float). Add cornstarch to cream sauce, mix thoroughly and reduce heat to low and let simmer while tortellini is cooking. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Salsa Verde Enchilada Casserole

Okay, so here is the first dish that I am making with the roasted chicken I made yesterday. It's very simple, very yummy and can be changed up depending upon what you have on hand. This time I didn't have black beans on hand so they were omitted, but usually I do have a can.

2 jars of salsa verde
2-3 cups shredded and chopped chicken (or pork)
2-3 cups chopped veggies (can include onion, tomato, bell pepper, or anything else you have like zucchini, the sky is the limit here)
1 can rinsed black beans
2-3 cups shredded cheese (Monterrey jack or cheddar, or both!)
18 corn tortillas

Preheat oven to 350 while prepping casserole. In a rectangular baking dish, cover bottom of pan with 1/2 jar salsa. Layer with 6 tortillas to cover (I usually tear in half to make them fit well), cover with half the meat, veggies and black beans, pour on 1/2 jar salsa, then sprinkle 1/3 of cheese. Repeat. Finally layer with remaining 6 tortillas, last 1/2 jar of salsa and remaining cheese. Cover with oil coated aluminum and bake for 45 minutes. Remove foil and bake uncovered an additional 15 minutes. Let cool at least 15 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Roasting Poultry

A friend asked me yesterday for a recipe regarding how I roast poultry. I treat my turkeys and chickens relatively the same way, although I do have some variations in how I actually cook them.

First I brine the birds. I stick the bird in a large stock pot, cover it with water, add half a cup of salt (most recipes call for a cup, but my husband and I find it too salty that way), and let the bird sit in the fridge for a minimum of 6-8 hours, but never more than 24 hours.

Next I drain the bird, rinse it and remove the giblets. I stuff the bird with red onion and grapefruit wedges. A turkey can hold about half a grapefruit and half an onion, whereas a chicken can hold a quarter of each. I rub olive oil on the skin of each and season with poultry seasoning, salt and pepper.

Now here is where I begin to treat the birds differently. Since I only cook turkey once a year, I massage an entire stick of room temperature butter under the skin. Since I roast on average two chickens a month, I eliminate this step in the name of fat and calories. I do have to admit though that omitting the butter does make a huge difference in flavor, but the chicken is still very good without it.

When it comes to cooking the turkey, I use either a roaster or the oven, preheating either to 500 and cooking the bird for 30-45 minutes, then turning down the heat to 350 and cooking the bird until it is done. Important note is do not open the oven door until you are ready to check the bird at the end of the cooking time. Patience, little grasshopper.

For the chicken, I use my crock pot. My husband and I do not eat the skin, and cooking in the crock pot does not brown the skin, so if you like to eat the skin, I would recommend cooking in the oven (at 325 for 45 to 60 minutes if thawed). Now, for cooking in the crock pot, the meat comes out so juicy and tender it falls right off the bone and is perfect for deboning and shredding the meat to use in other dishes. I crumple up 4 pieces of aluminum foil and place in the center of the crock pot then place the bird breast side down on top of the foil. I cook on high for 4 to 6 hours if thawed, and a minimum of 6 hours if frozen. If I'm lazy and don't feel like brining and thawing the bird first to stuff, then I rinse and toss in the crockpot frozen, it just doesn't have quite as much flavor as a specially pampered bird. You'll see the bird coming apart through the lid when it's done.

After removing the birds, carving the meat or deboning, I save the drippings for making gravy or stock. I simply place in a mason jar, let cool and put in the freezer until I am ready to use. 

**A tip for anyone who doesn't care about the skin or wants to ensure juicy breast meat is to cook either bird breast side down.

Monday, January 18, 2010

More Prepping the Bed

So over the past two days I have been prepping the onion bed. It was much, much easier than I ever anticipated. The ground is soft from the drizzle/rain we had during the end of last week, and the soil is very rich, so on Sunday evening I took a shovel and garden claw and loosened the soil in about 30 minutes. This afternoon I spent about two hours with a hand rake and pulled up all the weeds. I really enjoyed doing it too, the weather was perfect and warm at 70 degrees. Tomorrow I will be planting the Texas Sweets.

In the kitchen I have started a few pots of bell pepper seeds and a few pots of the Red Creole onions. Over the next couple of months I will build a second bed and then plant those in the end of March or first of April.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Germinating Seeds

I was looking for the temperatures at which onion and pepper seeds germinate and found this awesome graph that has it all laid out. The top of the grid is the soil temperature, and in the grid is the percentage of germination at that temperature with the number of days until the seedling emerges.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Killing Ants

Tony's Uncle Stan is an insect god. He has written the bible on tarantula care and been studying and teaching about insects for decades. The last time he was in for a visit, my MIL (Uncle Stan's sister) and I were telling him about all the problems we have with fire ants here in North Texas. He had a very simple solution for us that is environmentally friendly. Hot, soapy water. Simply fill a bucket with a couple gallons of hot tap water, add a small amount of dish soap, mix thoroughly, and pour over the mound. Insects have a waxy coating on their bodies to protect them from dehydration. The soapy water dissolves this waxy layer and kills them. In my experience, one bucket is enough to kill a small mound. Some of the monster size mounds we have here though require multiple applications. I just check back each day and continue to add a bucket until all traces of the ants are gone. After a year of trying this method, the best part is I have yet to find the ants returning to each treated area!

Preparing the Garden Bed

I got my onion seeds in the mail today along with a free packet of bell pepper seeds. I'm nervous starting onions from actual seeds vs using seed onions that have already been started. When I swung by the feed store to get our two-week supply of dog food and some corn meal gluten for the sand burrs, the guy working told me that they just got onions in, so I picked up a bunch of 60 Texas Sweet for $1.60. I'm going to prepare the bed to plant the Texas Sweet this month, then start the Red Creole onions indoors to plant at the end of March.

The Red Creole seeds can germinate in cool weather; however, the bell pepper seeds need warmer temps. I am trying to do this frugally, so I want to try to germinate them without buying a warming pad. Our oven is gas with a pilot lite, so it is always warm, which makes me think maybe I can store them in there and leave myself a note on the oven handle that they are there...

As for starting the bed, I've been trying to figure out the easiest way to do it without hurting myself. I pull muscles easily and have had problems with my hips since I was a kid, so tonight in googling tips for preparing the bed, it looks like stripping the sod with a spade is going to be the easiest. After mowing or weed-eating down the grass and weeds, the area needs to be watered (which it is raining, so the day after it stops should make it easy), then use the spade to precut the area into smaller squares, slide the spade under and flip the sod up. I'm sure it's easier said than done, but this seems like it will be MUCH easier than hand tilling.

After removing the sod, the area will be filled with some compost and manure, then I can plant the Texas Sweet.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Prepping for onions

With all the talk of GMO foods and the constant inflation of our money supply, I have a serious desire to start growing our own produce. I've dabbled with gardening in the past, mostly ornamentals, but I have tried my hand at vegetables, fruits and herbs in the past with minor success. I usually plant everything in my flower beds around the house or in pots, and I have no problem getting seeds to germinate, but once the plant has developed and becomes more hardy, I tend to lose things in June when the temperatures start to rise above 90.

At Christmas I sat down and talked to my mother-in-law about starting a real vegetable garden especially now that she is retiring hers. She recommended starting small with something like 3' x 3', and that I'm welcome to take her cinder blocks to use as a border.

Then last week when I stopped by the local feed store to get dog food, a couple of local old timers were hanging out to chat and keep out of the cold, so I asked for their advice. As a newbie gardener, what would be an easy crop to grow? Overwhelmingly, they responded "onions".

In Texas, onions are planted in January and are considered a short day crop since the amount of sunlight required for bulb development is less than required for long day varieties, and the length of daylight in the south has less variation than lengths in the north.

Over the next couple of weeks I will be prepping the garden area. I started a compost pile a couple of years ago and have just let it set while I continue to add materials on top, so I will be checking the lower layers for soil to add to the vegetable bed. I will also head down to my mother-in-law's to take some of the cinder blocks off her hands and also get some horse manure for a fertilizer. Once I have the materials, I will need to pick a spot for the garden, and I am thinking the northwest corner of the yard will be best since it has the most direct sunlight available. We do have a problem with stickers (sand burrs), so this is something else I need to tackle and will be a good blog entry.

Since I didn't plan for this sooner, I'm hoping the ground will be nutrient rich enough without my having fertilized it in the fall. I should have weeded the area and applied a high phosphorus (10-20-10) fertilizer. Instead, I'm planning to have hubby do a controlled burn of the grass in the area (since the sand burrs and other weeds are so out of control) to kill the weeds, then I'll till the area by hand and mix the soil with some of the compost soil. The soil on our property is a mixture of sand and clay, so it should do well on it's own to support the onions, but given I've never planted anything like this before I think the compost soil will only help things further.

As for the onions I will be planting, here is what I ordered:

Friday, January 8, 2010

Sweet Potato Cassarole

I found it! Growing up I never liked my mom's sweet potato cassarole. She dumped a can of pineapple chunks in with a can of yams then topped it with mini marshmallows and baked until the marshmallows were burned. Back around 1999 or 2000, the credit union I worked at had a holiday spread for the employees. One of my co-workers brought her family's sweet potato cassarole and I fell in love. The lady gave me the recipe and I have made it every year since receiving rave reviews and many requests for the recipe. So here it is:

Boil and mash potatoes then add:
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup butter

1 cup pecans
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 stick butter
(I also add 1/2 coconut)

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

There is no quantity listed for the sweet potatoes, and I have used a couple pounds of raw potatoes I have peeled, diced and cooked myself, or used a large can of  yams and drained and rinsed before cooking. Then I bake in a square baking dish. Eyeball the potatoes and use what you would need in the square dish.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


My sage never germinated and sprouted. I read the seeds are sometimes only good for a couple of years and who knows how long they have been in my fridge. This winter has been so cold it has been difficult keeping any one room warm enough to support germination, so I will wait until spring or look into getting a seed warming mat (aka a heating pad).

One thing I am trying to do this winter is pull up all the dead weeds from the flower beds and put down a weed blocking paper and mulch. I'm still trying to decide what I will plant in them- either I'll give up on flowers and plant Buford Holly or I may try some flowers and herbs again.