Monday, April 23, 2012

2012: Hannah's junior prom

My beautiful daughter enjoyed prom on Saturday; her family had a terrific time seeing her and her handsome date all dolled up. I sure do love this beautiful girl!!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Barbecue chicken soup

For all the recipes I post on this blog, the truth is this: It's rare that I cook from a specific recipe. Almost always I improvise something on the fly, based on my preferences and what I have on hand. Like many of my recipes, I came up with this dish after pulling things together from the cabinet and freezer.

But this soup, with tender chicken, plenty of veggies, and smokiness from some added barbecue sauce, is a keeper! If you love Brunswick stew, you will want to try this one, too. Most cooks probably have these ingredients on hand at any time, so consider this dish when you need a new recipe and you don't want to go to the store.

Barbecue chicken soup

3 chicken breasts, diced
16 ounce bag frozen, mixed vegetables
2 chicken bouillon cubes
1 quart water
¼ cup barbecue sauce
½ teaspoon crushed basil
Salt and pepper

In a medium skillet, brown the chicken pieces in oil. Place the chicken in a 6-quart slow cooker.  Add the remaining ingredients and stir well to combine. Cook on low for 8 hours.
This dish had a great flavor, thanks to the barbecue sauce and the crushed basil. I grew fresh basil last summer, and then dried the leaves for use all winter. Be sure to plant some basil this year, so you can enjoy it fresh all summer (and so you can dry the leaves when the weather turns cold.) Here’s how to harvest and dry basil, step by step.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Spinach: The incredible shrinking vegetable

I grew up watching Popeye fight with Bluto, romance Olive Oyl, and (YUCK) eat spinach from a can. Don’t get me wrong – I love spinach, but canned spinach is a crime against vegetables. How canned spinach gave Popeye such pep is beyond me. The best spinach is always fresh; in a pinch (or a cooked recipe) frozen spinach will do. I would have to be starving to death to eat the canned stuff.

On Easter, I brought home an enormous bag of fresh spinach from my parents’ garden. My dad picked the leaves on Sunday morning in Norfolk and I was putting the bag in our fridge in Bristol by dinnertime. We have had spinach salad and sautéed spinach all week. Spinach is high in fiber, a terrific source of iron, and contains antioxidants that protect eyes from cataracts and macular degeneration. Spinach commonly contains pesticides -- bugs, moths and other critters love it, too. Eat spinach you have grown yourself or that you know was not treated with pesticides.

Wash spinach is a large basin with plenty of water. The leaves tend to be sandy, so wash in at least two changes of water. If you have a salad spinner, this is a great contraption for drying the leaves. Spinach shrinks dramatically when cooked, so be sure to prep plenty. An interesting fact: Spinach is native to central and southwestern Asia.

Here is a simple and delicious method I love that make great use of fresh spinach.

Sautéed spinach
1 teaspoon oil or butter
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
Salt and pepper
2 quarts fresh spinach, washed and torn in pieces

Heat the oil or butter over medium heat, in a large sauté pan. Add the chopped garlic. Once the pan is hot, add the spinach. If there is more spinach than pan, wait a minute or two until the spinach wilts and add more. You don’t have to cook spinach to death. Just warm it until it wilts, add salt and pepper and serve. Serves 3-4 (or one hungry husband who loves spinach!)