Sunday, December 8, 2013

Menu: Bulk Chicken Make Ahead

Next week, I have a busy schedule and won't be home until later in the afternoon. With this in mind, I've planned ahead and decided to try batch cooking on Sunday. I'm transforming a few recipes into make-aheads, and will be utilizing the freezer to get things ready. Also, there's a lot of chicken happening here and everything is fairly low-carb. Briefly, here's what's going to happen for the Sunday prep:

  1. Put 1 cup chicken stock into bag labeled CBC #2 and freeze immediately.
  2. Cook 1 pound of bacon in the oven
  3. Chop all vegetables, herbs, 1 pound of chicken, and squeeze 1 cup of lemon juice and zest.
  4. Sear 1 lb chicken and prepare cream sauce for Chicken Bacon Chowder (CBC).
  5. Chop chicken and bacon, add to cream sauce. Put in CBC bag #1 and freeze.
  6. Mix and whisk marinade for Very Greek Grilled Chicken. Add to bag with chicken. Freeze.
  7. Prepare butter sauce for Carrabba's Chicken Bryan. Store in a ramekin in the fridge. Place two chicken breasts in small bag and keep in fridge.
  8. Mix curry sauce for Crock Pot Chicken Curry. Add to bag with chopped chicken. Put vegetables in a separate bag and keep in veg drawer in the fridge.
  9. In a CBC bag #2, add the CBC vegetables, and butter on top of frozen chicken stock. Freeze. Hopefully this will keep the vegetables a bit less mushy.
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  • from, Carrabba's Chicken Bryan
    • New! If you've never had this dish, it's definitely worth making a trip to Carrabba's
      Image Credit: member
      restaurant to try it out. Yes, it takes advantage of the goat cheese and sun-dried tomato craze that started about a decade ago, but wow, it's so delicious. Supposedly, this is original recipe the restaurant shared with a newspaper. I plan to make the butter sauce ahead of time, then grill the chicken fresh for dinner. 
    • How I'll cook it: Our mini indoor grill only takes about 2 minutes to heat up and 12 minutes to cook a full breast of chicken. While the chicken is grilling, all I'll need to do is gently warm the butter sauce and cut two medallions of the goat cheese. I'll easily have time for a side salad.
    • Verdict: This was a nice meal as a make ahead, but the sauce separated when I reheated, even though I was excessively gentle with it. Regardless, all the flavors were there and this was quite edible.
  • Peace +Love + Low Carb's Chicken Bacon Crock Pot Chowder
    • New! This is the most step-heavy recipe. Crock Pots are great because the idea that you
      Image Credit: Peace + Love + Low Carb
      can just toss everything in and walk off, then come back to delicious hot food is a wonderful fantasy. From my own experience, I've rarely been wowed by crock pot meals. Meat is often over cooked, seasoning is too bland. I'm not even sure what the advantage to a crock pot meal is when you have 5 steps before you get to leave it alone. I just might skip the crock pot and make this a normal stove top stew instead.
    • How I'll cook it: Because this requires two bags, one with frozen veggies, I want to make this pretty early in the week so the veggies don't get ruined. The day before I want to cook this, CBC bag #1 (the cream sauce) will go into the fridge to thaw. Once cooking, I'll start by adding CBC bag #2 (veggies, butter, broth) into the pot. When warmed and almost simmering, I'll add CBC bag #1 and cook till finished.
    • Verdict: This worked really well as a make ahead. The soup was super yummy and hearty and lasted for a few days. Would make it again fresh or as a make-ahead.
  • Kalyn's Kitchen Very Greek Grilled Chicken
    • New! I love a good marinade! I've never worked with "Greek Seasoning" before, so I
      Image Credit: Kalyn's Kitchen
      had to buy a bottle of it for this recipe. Scouting around online for the spice blend ingredients, I found a ton of variation. The primary player seems to be oregano which can be such a nice flavor. This marinade seems to play off the oregano with lemon and olive oil. So it should be lovely.
    • How I'll cook it: Whisk together all the marinade ingredients, slash chicken breasts, put together in bag and freeze. The day before I want to cook this, I'll pop it into the fridge. At dinner, I'll simply grill the chicken. Plenty of time again to make a side salad!
    • Verdict: I should have been more thoughtful. Letting chicken sit in that much acid for that long was bound to dry it out. The flavors were really nice, but the chicken was tough. Next time, make the marinade ahead, but don't put the chicken in. If possible, only marinate for 20-40 minutes before cooking.
  • Stupid Easy Paleo's Crock Pot Chicken Curry
    • New! I love Indian spice flavors. I've even started sneaking cardamom pods into my tea along with a bit of honey. Curries can be so lovely
      Image Credit: Easy Stupid Paleo
      and complex, but as much as I love eating Indian food, I'm not experienced cooking it. My best results have sadly come from a pouch for instant butter chicken. I have some amazing spice blends from The Spice House, which includes a hot curry blend. To speed things up with this bulk cooking experiment, I'm going to use the blend instead of the spices in the recipe.
    • How I'll cook it: Whisk together liquids (though I'm thinking of reducing the water to 1/2 cup due to comments left by other readers) and 3 tablespoons of curry blend. Add chopped chicken and freeze. In a separate bag, add veggies and store in the fridge till needed. Day before cooking, the freezer bag goes into the fridge to thaw. When I'm ready to cook, I'll dump both bags into the pot and walk away!
    • Never got to make it.

Sweet Tooth

  • Autumn Makes & Does' Gingerbread Plum Clafouti
    • New! Both of us love clafoutis. They're notoriously easy to put together and yield a
      Image Credit: Autumn
      Makes & Does
      wonderful texture and flavor punch. The only substitution I'll be making is for the brown rice flour with all-purpose flour. Other than that, I look forward to a creamy, spicy fruit treat. This is not a part of my make-ahead menu. Clafoutis only take about 10 minutes to throw together, so whenever we feel like we want a dessert treat, that's the night I'll make it.
    • Verdict: We couldn't find plums anywhere! This will go back into the menu rotation in the future.


  • Back in Texas, a favorite holiday excursion was to visit Dickens on the Strand, in Galveston. Carolers, Christmas treats and baubles, silly events, and a fun, slightly chilly outing. This year I found out about the Distillery District's Christmas Market and can't wait to go. It will be a first for the husband! We're hoping to go with a group of friends. I'm looking forward to some lovely treats, hearing more obnoxious Christmas music, and maybe picking up one more ornament for our tiny tree!
  • This coming Friday is my birthday. For the previous years of my life, I have either been taking finals, writing finals, or proctoring finals. (Ah, the life of a teacher.) This year will be the first time none of the above finally applies to me. I don't want to throw a big party this year, so I've decided to have a tiny outing at the now famous Snakes and Lattes on Bloor. If you've never been, make sure you show up at least one hour before you think you might want to play. Because of their awesome pricing, people stay for a long time and it's hard to get a seat. They don't take reservations either. I'm hoping we can play a few different games, including Tsuro, Dominion, Betrayal at House on the Hill, and Dixit. I'll begrudgingly agree to play a round of Cards Against Humanity (but honestly, I just don't find it that funny.) Are you watching TableTop yet?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Upcoming: Sweet Molasses Showdown

In preparation to create Pfeffernusse cookies, one unusual (i.e. not a kitchen staple) ingredient I needed was molasses. My mother always had a jar in the back of the baking cupboard, but it didn't come out much. My father will occasionally spread it straight on bread, but only on special occasions. After purchasing my molasses, a giant jar of it, and having been lured in by Starbuck's improved Gingerbread Latte with Molasses topping (o.m.g.) I decided I should use up the jar over the next two months. Tis the season for spicy goodies.

For this showdown, I have two cookies, two desserts, and two bread-like items. Each pairing will face off against each other, and a total victor will be decided at the end. The "winner" is totally personally subjective, but is based upon overall flavor, ease of making, and desire to make again. Stay tuned for the final results! In the future, I may attempt a savory molasses showdown as well, because unf... Cajun Molasses Ribs? Molasses Grilled Pork? *drool*

Dishes for this showdown:

Kitchen Riff's Pfeffernusse Cookies
Image Credit: Kitchen Riff

Autumn Makes & Does' Gingerbread Plum Clafouti
Image Credit: Autumn Makes & Does

Cbsop's Brown Soda Bread with Molasses
Image Credit: Cbsop

Oxmoor House's Gingerbread Scones with Lemon Glaze
Image Credit: Oxmoor House

Grandma's Molasses' Hermit Cookies
Image Credit: Grandma's Molasses

The Kitchn's Dark Molasses Gingerbread Cake

Image Credit: The Kitchn

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Menu: December Chill

Being an American living in Canada, I've found myself in a surprising number of conversations with strangers in grocery stores about food items and holidays. In October, when I realized that Thanksgiving was coming up, I read about it and thought about planning a small Canadian Thanksgiving for our friends. While doing my weekly grocery shopping in the Maple Leaf Gardens Loblaw's, a woman came up to me and asked me when Thanksgiving would be this year. For the briefest of moments, I thought I was on some version of Leno's Tonight Show, where they seek out ignorant street people and ask them basic questions about life and government. I felt pretty proud when I answered the question!
So patriotic ...

Last month, while shopping about in Walmart, (something I plan to stop due to their atrocious attitude towards worker pay and rights) a woman came up to me and just started talking about lemon pie mix, talking rather conspiratorially about how the brand name was slightly different and how this was NOT the Canadian brand, but the American brand, which was just fine for Americans, but what an outrage to sell it to Canadians! Personally, I had no clue. My family has never been big on lemon pie, nor making pie from packages. Mom always cooked from scratch, so I tend to as well. When I confessed to the woman that I didn't know anything about this brand naming switch, she chatted a bit more then headed off. While I was picking up our weekly chocolate rations, the woman found me again, to let me know that she had spoken with a manager and confirmed that the pie mix was the inferior American brand.

I still knew nothing about the pie brands. But I nodded and smiled and after she left, wondered what it was about me that causes people to come up to me and talk specifically about very Canadian things. I've been told I have a non-Canadian accent. I guess my Texan comes through sometimes, which is a surprise to me since I'm not from East (redneck slur) or West (cowboy drawl) Texas. The husband decided it was just that I seemed like an approachable person. Still, I'm waiting for someone to pop out with a camera and announce that I've been on CTV's Quiz an American! or something.

Our first snow storm proper happened on the night of the 26th! And I had run out of cat food for the morning. Queue the clutzy Texan stumbling through morning icy sidewalks in heavy winter gear first thing in the morning, even before coffee. I think I slipped at least four times and realized I was terrified of barely sloping surfaces. On my way back, I realized that walking on the snow covered grass would speed things up. Texans love snow, but dread being outside in it for anything more than gleeful pointing. This will certainly be an interesting first winter.


  • Betty Crocker's Sausage n' Apple Cheddar Biscuit Bake
  • Image credit: Betty Crocker
    • New! Apple season is past its prime, but we're still finding a few good snacking and baking apples up here. I really wanted something hearty, something one dish, something not dinnery for dinner. This kind of looks like baked dumplings casserole, and both of us love a good breakfast scramble. A somewhat carby treat, but hopefully satisfying for a cold night. No substitutions planned, although we'll probably half the recipe.
    • Final Verdict: I really liked that this was all came out of the oven in one dish, but to be fair, this was quite a mess to make. Saute pan, mixing bowl, cheese grater, casserole dish. The biscuit topping was nice, but the dish didn't really come together. Neither of us felt like it was a dish that made sense. The sausage didn't match with the apple (and there was just way too much apple, and I only used three instead of four!), the texture of the egg was almost hidden. I'd rather make a proper quiche next time.
  • Linda's Low Carb Spinach Lasagna
    • Spinach Lasagna with Sausage and Beef
    • No, this dish isn't fast to put together. Most lasagnas aren't. But it's not difficult either. Typically I make the alternate version which requires sausage, but this week we need to save a bit of coin, so I'll be making do with freezer deals (stocked up on spinach and cream cheese when it was on sale). However, this meal is super satisfying. Friends who have had it, who are not low-carb eaters, have always said they didn't miss the noodles at all. Personally, I find Linda's recipes to be under seasoned, so I always add in fresh ingredients (real onion and garlic) and use the best cheese I can afford. No green canned crap please. It really, truly makes a difference.
  • I Breathe I'm Hungry's Corned Beef and Cabbage Meatballs
    • New! For a while, after moving up here, meatballs were my go to dish. Especially when I had extras knocking around in the freezer. Throw stuff in a bowl, mash and roll? Yeah, I have time for that. I've tried a few other meatball recipes, including bacon and brie stuffed meatballs. Extravagant, but not excellent. My last foray into Cabbagetown* was a disappointing experience with Savoy cabbage rolls. The cabbage never cooked down properly. Hopefully this recipe will be different!
      *Yup, that's a pun for fellow Torontonians.
  • Food Wishes' Salad Lyonnaise
  • Image credit: Food Wishes
    • New! Salads like this often don't get the credit they deserve for being full meals. But how can it not be? A fully, properly emulsified dressing, a perfectly poached egg, thoughtfully balanced ingredients? After a week of meaty casseroles and meatballs, this will be a welcome lift. Plus, any excuse to eat good, freshly prepared French food is a plus in my book.

Sweet Tooth

Image credit: Pastry Affair
  • Pastry Affair's Black Tea and Honey Buttercream Cake
    • New! Oh, I have wanted to make this for so long. The husband loves tea more than coffee, and I have a secret love affair with honey. So much so, I want to care for a few hives in the future. I have trouble imagining the flavor this cake will produce, but I expect it to be softly-spicy. Gentle and satisfying.
    • Final Verdict: I didn't have cake flour, which I think affected the final texture a great deal. Although I accounted for this, the cake still didn't have the moistness I wanted using all-purpose. Regardless, the flavor of the tea really came through in the cake and as I predicted, resulted in a very gentle flavor. The honey buttercream was a smidge too sweet, so next time I would add a bit more salt. Overall, I really liked this.


  • Lunch at La Tortilleria in Kensington Market during Saturday errands. The last time we stopped at this restaurant, it was a late Saturday evening, and we were both starving. Faced with unpleasant fast food and food court options, we took up the recommendation of a friend and tried it out (different location). Husband got a mix of tacos, but because I read the menu carefully, I found Los Campechanos. Corn tortillas stuffed with steak, chorizo, cilantro and onion. Oh yes. Served with salsa verde and fresh guacamole, this plate is an absolute steal at $9. Looking at a long day ahead, after we finished gathering nuts and spices, we both ordered a plate of Los Campechanos and analysed an episode of The Simpsons.