Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Jambalaya Hungarian Style

Serve over some authentic basmati rice 
Cooking after work sometimes, at best, can be tedious.  For two days I’ve put it off but I had various items thawed out for outdoor grilling that never happened (someone else volunteered, and that never came to be).  Specifically it was beer brats and boneless chicken breast.   Baking/indoor grilling just sounded too boring.  So I decided to quickly (at 9 PM) to throw some items together and make sort of a jambalaya (no shellfish due to my son’s allergies and for some reason I’m repulsed by shrimp that I used to love).  The season for slow cooking (and fast thinking in the kitchen) has begun.    Originally I was planning on using my Dutch oven for this, but then I would have to stay up past 11:30 PM (I had an early meeting the next day, but then I ended up staying up late anyways).

This ‘recipe’ (I don’t really measure anything) is very flexible.  The convenience and ease is just too good to pass up.  I used brats because that’s what I had; you can also use the more expected Andouille sausage.  Although the brats are SO tender, I would do this again.

This is a very important step-stir fry the spices for 30-60 seconds,
don't just throw the spices into a liquid

You can see how well the spices work their way into
the meat and vegetables

Cook on low for 6.5 hours

Ingredient guide:

Cooking Oil to coat pan (about 3 tbsp)
2 onions-sliced and cut in half
4 cloves of garlic peeled and left whole
3 cloves of garlic chopped
28 oz. organic diced tomatoes
Splash of hot sauce
1 tsp. Asian chili paste
½ tsp. cayenne pepper
2 -3 tbsp. authentic Hungarian paprika (not hot)-the quality of the paprika has a major impact on the flavor
2 bay leaves
½ tsp. caraway seeds
½ tsp. thyme
½  tsp. Italian seasoning
1/4 – ½ tsp. red pepper flakes
5 beer brats (Klements in this one)
1 lb of boneless chicken breast, diced (cut across against the grain)
6 -7 yellow potatoes peeled and diced
¾ cup organic chicken stock
1 tsp. salt
Parsley or cilantro to top off the dish at the end right before serving

I never just throw in ingredients before cooking in the crockpot.  Frying the meat before hand seals the juices in.   Vegetables fried before hand also taste better.  Also, spices need to ‘roast’ for about 30 seconds to maximize their flavor.  I don’t throw spices into a dish either.  Instead, at the end, I throw in the spices (especially spices like paprika, cumin, coriander) and stir fry them with the meat/vegetables for about 30 seconds. 

1.     Fry onions for about 5 minutes
2.     Add chopped (about 3-4 cuts per sausage) raw brats along with garlic cloves and stir fry about 3-4 minutes
3.     Add diced chicken and stir fry about 5 minutes
4.     Add diced potatoes
5.     Add spices (except bay leaf) and stir fry for 30-60 seconds (on medium high)
6.     Add organic diced tomatoes, stir
7.     Add chili paste and about 1 tsp. (+) of hot sauce
8.     Add chicken stock
9.     Stir well and put in crock pot and add bay leaves and salt.

(again, I have an insert that can be used on stove top as well)

Cook on low for about 6.5 hours.  If you use a Dutch oven, bake for about 2 hours on 350.

I created this dish ‘on the fly’ so the amounts are estimates.

Cool and refrigerate (if it’s ready in the morning).  I also removed some of the grease (top layer).

If there are is only one takeaway from this recipe-stir fry your spices for about 30 seconds, do not just throw them into the liquid.

The second take away is that I still haven’t managed to turn myself into a morning person, so more creative dishes emerge after 9 PM.

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Cooking, Writing, and Surviving

Autumn is the right time for some contemplation

For those who are familiar with The Walking Dead, when the Governor was asked by his new partner “What are you doing?” He replied,  “Surviving.”  A great line from the series.

But since we are not living in the midst of a zombie apocalypse, we can probably do a little more than just survive, but are we?

As I was looking for an item in the basement, I came across some old letters written by me when I was 18 and some letters I received.  I was somewhat surprised by the great quality of the writing, the intensity, tight writing styles as well as the precision to express feelings, barriers and other daily life events.  The letters (from me and others) didn’t have “I miss you, got to go, brb, ttyl” .  Instead the sentences captured exactly the sentiments felt at the time along with the realities.   One built, strengthened  and forged relationships with such letters.  No, these letters weren’t written in the 1800s; they were contemporary and modern.  I felt a sense of loss that I no longer write like that.  As I lost the knowledge of some languages (Russian and German), I have lost the ability to express myself that way, for whatever purpose.

This blog was initially inspired by my need to advocate some healthier food options and share some techniques to achieve such meals.   Cooking is somewhat of a dying art.  People want quick instant food, processed food.  Cooking is too hard, too time consuming and to many, just not worth it.  Creating is too hard.

Many also communicate in the same fashion as they consume their food.  Quick fragmented texts or chats that mundanely list what the person did that day.  Gtg, ttyl and such forms of expression have zero impact on a relationship.  

Robots can write better than some humans.   Some great writing still exists (books, some TV shows, movie scripts, plays), but, like cooking, it is not a frequent activity in a typical home.  Surviving?  As bad processed food, the inability to expressively write will also lead to an unhealthy state.

Cooking and writing should not only be ‘spectator sports.’   Instead, they are necessary components of surviving. 

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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Ignorance Is Not Bliss

Recently on Facebook someone asked a general question about an ingredient and if it was safe for a gluten free dessert.  Gluten is not something we’re avoiding here, but there was a time when my son was off of the top 8 allergens, not for fun, but for survival.

Back to the social media post-I was taking a brief break from work, mechanically scrolling through my newsfeed (iPhone) when I came across this simple question.  A well intended question about an ingredient – such consideration is not so common.  I clicked on comments to see what people were saying about ingredients.  Given my interests and lifestyle, food related posts are more relevant for me than political ones (I don’t click on those).  I’ve mentored parents on how to manage food allergies and Eosinophilic Esophagitis, so yes; this was the one I chose to click on for the two-minute morning distraction.  Some comments were very helpful and informative.  But some were pretty ignorant and insulting.  Yes, ignorance for the ignorant may be bliss, but not for the ones they are subjecting to their ignorance.  And ignorance around food allergies,  I cannot ignore.

I have dedicated a significant part of my life to ensuring that my son can eat real food and have a decent quality of life and not be the kid who  gets to watch others eat seemingly fun food while he eats nothing or boring food.  I’ve rushed hot dairy free chocolate milk to poetry parties in grade school, so he can feel normal.  I’ve worked with parents to make sure that the food arrangement for parties has the treats I brought are positioned right so my son and all kids can eat it (after I was up until 2 AM baking it), just so he can feel ‘normal.’  Although we are down to ‘just a few’ food allergens now (nuts, peanuts and shellfish), I have not forgotten how it was for him to live without dairy, soy, wheat, eggs (and I don’t even consume dairy).  I have not forgotten watching him watch other kids celebrate every accomplishment in the classroom with pizza and ice cream, neither which he could have.  And now I was reading comments that some people are pretending to be allergic or sensitive and how glad this commenter was not to be a waiter anymore and have to deal with such things.  Well, I too am very glad that he’s not in the food business anymore because his ignorance combined with his compassion would have either killed someone or made someone very sick.

Yes, some people say they are allergic (scene in Sex and the City where Carrie says she’s allergic to parsley so they don’t use it as a garnish) and they aren’t.  But there are many who are dealt GI issues and consequently this impacts their quality of life.  They cannot carelessly order off a menu without giving a ‘speech’ to the waiter and asking about ingredients.  They can’t carelessly buy food at the grocery store because they have to read every ingredient listing, often returning the item because of a ‘contains’ or ‘may contain’ statement.  They can’t be as careless as some people are with ignorance. 

There are also people who chose not to ingest certain foods either for ethical or health reasons.  Why should these people be attacked and put down?   Yet those that chose to eat garbage daily and consequently lead to higher health insurance premiums for me are bragging on social media about how unhealthy they are and how we ultimately die anyways.  Yes, we ultimately die, but now I have higher health insurance premiums because of the consistent bad choices they make. 

Unfortunately ignorance is not too uncommon.  Awareness and education is a start, but not all humans are trainable.  Let’s just hope they don’t end up killing someone.  But for sure they will negatively impact someone’s quality of life.

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