Monday, September 29, 2014

Being Thankful

Being Thankful on Food Therapy

As I head into the second month of school, I am finding it harder and harder not to be swept away in the chaos of our every day.  The summer days moved more slowly and there seemed to be more time to spend with my family.  I had looked forward to the first days of school because I thought it would give me some breathing space and quiet time to collect my thoughts and become "normal" again.  Instead, it seems as if the days rush by in a blur as I wake up to dark skies in the morning, rush everyone out of the house, curse the fact that I'm never going to keep up with the laundry or be able to keep food in the house long enough.

Being Thankful on Food Therapy

The afternoons are filled with three kids coming home at different times with different needs and different amounts of attention.  Logan wants to go somewhere/anywhere. Madison needs help with homework, only she doesn't want to do it when I have the time to help. Aidan just wants to eat, know what time practice is, and then skip out of the house to see his friends.  In between, there is dinner to prepare before leaving for soccer practice because it's too late to put together when we get home.

My brain is on overload and the words out of my mouth have begun to sound like manic crazy lady talk.  I know there is an intelligent woman somewhere in there.  Only, she appears to be caught in the ever-spinning tornado that rolls through the house in the middle of the afternoon.  There are times I hate the way I sound, the hysterical ear-splitting yells to get homework done, clean your room, why can't you pick up the clothes or clean the dried up toothpaste in the sink. I get sick of my own nagging.

There are also times when, for an hour or so, life seems to slow down, and I can relish the simple moments with my family.  As I look back at the past week, I wasn't at my best, and I had more bad moments than good.  Yet, what I keep telling myself is to stop looking at the times I could have handled a situation better and instead to focus on the good moments during the week.

My first instance came last Monday.  When Aidan was little, about the age Logan is now, he was home with me while his sister was in school.  He absolutely loved every moment we had together. He was my shopping buddy and my lunch buddy.  He never begged for anything and would clap in the produce section at the sight of broccoli as if it were a bag of chocolate covered raisins.  We'd talk about the colors, the types of fruits, sampling what we could. As a fifth grade boy, those days have long passed, and I can barely get him to go out to get ice cream, let alone actually shop in the grocery store with me.

These days I typically have three children in tow, and it is rare for me to have just one child at a time.  Usually, they are battling to be heard, to have a question answered, or arguing over what to do and where to go. Well, Monday was my chance to have Aidan, the ever-suffering middle child, all to myself because of an early dentist appointment.  We finished right when school was starting. I could have taken him back to school right away, which is my typical always-follow-the-rules way.  However, I was near Whole Foods and decided that we should go together and get a few things before heading back home toward school.  Of course, he was all for it only because it meant getting to school even later.


We entered Whole Foods and his eyes widened at all of the beautiful food around us.  He was grabbing things that we had to try, asking me if I'd ever had this or that.  He went crazy for the ready-made sandwiches, soups, and breads.  I looked at him and his wonderful eye for taste and food and thought this is my child.  I didn't know if he felt the same connection I did and truly got how special this moment was for me, how it took me back to an earlier time when it always was the two of us in the morning.  And, do you know as he said goodnight to me that night, he told me how he really liked spending the morning with me and asked when we could do it again because "it was so much fun." Sigh...be still my motherly heart.

My second instance came from my sweet Logan.  Logan is very different from Aidan.  When Aidan was his age, he wanted to be wherever I was.  In contrast, Logan is ready to hit the pavement running as far from me as he can get.  As we approach the school every morning, he has taken to letting go of my hand so that his friends don't seem him holding hands with his mom. He's only four! Yet, there are days as much as he wants to move into his own place and set his own rules that he also comes to Mommy for some cuddle time.  After a long afternoon and busy schedule after school, I was cleaning up the kitchen and preparing to cook dinner.  (Yes, I clean the kitchen before cooking. I create my own work.  Don't judge.)  Logan came into the kitchen with his favorite blanket in his mouth and wrapped his arms around my hips.  He snuggled his head onto my legs and then looked up to ask if I had time to cuddle with him on the couch.  I looked at the clock and knew, I just knew, I really couldn't afford to spare any time, but I also knew that I needed to make the time for this moment. I don't get asked for cuddles much any more, certainly not from the older ones.
These kind of days are fleeting. Before you know it, I will have more time than I know what to do with and there will be no young ones around for me to sit with and just ask for my time.  So, I dropped what I was doing and we sat on the couch rubbing each other's arms and leaning into one another.  It was worth every lost minute I gave.

And, finally, my third instance came over the weekend.  Aidan was out for the night with a friend and we had had a busy day with the whole family.  Usually, everyone is in bed around 9 or 9:30 and Gary and I have time to spend together.  This Saturday, while it was late, we decided to watch Captain America 2 with Madison and Logan.  So, the four of us piled into the bed along with the two dogs.  Gary and I were on the ends and Madison and Logan were snuggled together in the middle.  It didn't take long for Logan to pass out.  Madison lasted longer but not all the way through. Gary and I just looked at each other and smiled.  They looked so peaceful and sweet, young and innocent.  Madison had fallen asleep reaching to touch Logan's hand.  Sigh...again.

The week might not have been perfect, in fact far from it.  Hectic as usual.  I was batty as usual.  Yet, at this moment I choose to focus and reflect on those times that were special and beautiful.  Those are the times I want to savor and look back on.  They weren't major moments that happened in our lives, but they are the times that we will hopefully all look back on years from now as the good times we've shared as a family.  And, the simple beauty will always outshine the every day.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Chicken Pot Pie

Chicken Pot Pie
I have decided that taking a "good" picture of one of the best homemade meals is practically impossible.  Chicken pot pie is one of my favorite dishes to eat and is a definite winner in my household among even the most finicky eaters.  Aesthetically speaking, however, it doesn't yield the prettiest of pictures.

Chicken Pot Pie
When I was growing up, I actually grew to hate chicken pot pie.  My mom can attest to this.  Back in the olden days, meaning before microwaves, it was about the only thing we could prepare ourselves on nights when my mom was teaching late.  Preheat the oven, take out the Swanson's pot pies from their blue boxes, puncture the crust several time with your fork, put it in the oven, and wait.  I think, for kids, we did a much better job at the waiting bit than kids today. We really had no choice. Those tiny individual pies had to cook at least 40 minutes before they were just brown enough on top and cooked through.  For a while I did love those little bubbly pies and the almost burnt rims that I saved for my last bites.  Eat the middle first and work your way to the outside.  Yet, after consuming so many pot pies over the course of a year, I came to dread those frozen boxes.

Chicken Pot Pie from Food Therapy
Yet, times have changed and so have my cooking abilities.  I have learned to make pot pies from scratch, and today I wouldn't have it any other way.  The recipe I use was adapted from The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond.  With a few changes here and there, I have made it my own.  And, with a few shortcuts, it's easy as...well, pie.

Chicken Pot Pie from Food Therapy
For this recipe, I roasted a small chicken during the day.  Don't feel the need to do the same.  You could just as easily buy a rotisserie chicken already cooked from your grocery store or you could buy a mix of chicken breasts and dark meat and roast them in the oven at a quicker speed.  The key is to use fresh meat because it really adds to the richness of the chicken/vegetable mixture.

Chopped Chicken

Chicken Pot Pie from Food Therapy
Pretty veggies
I have made it in the past using my own crust, which is great if you happen to have pie crusts stored up in your freezer. We all do, right? In this version, I used a frozen crust from Trader Joe's, and I don't think you really could tell the difference.  You only need one crust to go on top.  If you'd like, you can do one on the bottom and one on top.  However, you will need to pre-bake the bottom crust before adding the filling.  Otherwise, you will end up with a soggy crust.

Pie filling before pie dough is added
The filling is simple, and the longest part is actually chopping all of those beautiful vegetables.  Pictures of chopped vegetables do come out beautifully.  The more colors the better. In my pot pie, I found multi-colored carrots that really add a great texture to the look of the pie: purples, yellows, and oranges.  Celery and peas add some green and chopped potatoes add some white to the mixture.

What are those!? Carrots. Aren't they pretty?
What really adds to the taste in this particular recipe is the combined flavors of a cup of white wine and chopped shallots.  I prefer shallots over onions because they really add a richness without all of the acidity of plain onions once they are cooked and then combined with the white wine. They just plain go together.

The filling can be made ahead of time and refrigerated until ready to use.  You could also make the entire thing and then freeze the pie for another day.

For a print-friendly version of the recipe, click https://sites.google.com/site/chickenpotpiefoodtherapy/.

Adapted from The Pioneer Woman: Ree Drummond

Ingredients:
1 3-4 pound whole chicken
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 cup of water

3 carrots, peeled and finely diced
3 stalks of celery, finely diced
2 shallots, finely diced
2 small russet potatoes, unpeeled, diced into small pieces
1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas (if frozen, thaw ahead of time)

4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups free-range chicken broth
1 cup dry, white wine
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Salt
Pepper

1 refrigerated pie crust


Directions:

For the chicken:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Rinse chicken and pat dry.  Place in roaster pan, lining the bottom of the pan with aluminum foil for easy clean up.  Season with salt and pepper. I like to add a stalk of celery, one carrot, and one lemon in the cavity, but it isn't necessary for this dish.  It does slightly flavor the chicken if you want to add it.

Pour one cup of water into the bottom of the roasting pan for moisture.  Cover the chicken lightly with foil.  Bake for 35 minutes, covered.  Remove foil and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes until chicken is browned.  Remove from oven and allow chicken to cool down before handling.

Once cool enough, remove the chicken meat from the bones and chop into smallish pieces, about 1-inch chunks.

For the filling:
In a stockpot, melt your butter over medium heat.  Add the carrots, celery, shallots, and potatoes. Season with a little salt and pepper. Continue cooking the vegetables over medium heat until they soften and the shallots are translucent, stirring continually for about 10 minutes.  Add in the chopped chicken and peas.

Sprinkle the flour and dried thyme over the vegetable/chicken mixture and stir gently to mix it in and coat the vegetables.
 Slowly add in the broth, stirring to mix it in with the flour.  Then, add in the wine, still stirring.  Cook the mixture for a couple of minutes to make sure the flour and liquids are well-mixed.  Pour in the heavy cream and turn the temperature to low.  Continue stirring and cooking over low heat until the gravy has thickened, about 5 minutes.

Pie Assembly:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Prepare a 9-inch deep pie dish by spraying with a little cooking spray.  Pour the chicken/vegetable mixture into the pie dish.  Place your pie dough over top of the mixture and crimp any way you like.  Work fast, however, because the heat from the filling will soften the dough fast.  Place the pie onto a cookie sheet just in case it bubbles over while baking.  Then cut slits into the top of the pie crust for easy breathing.

Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until your crust is browned according to your picky standards.  Cool for 10 minutes before dishing it out.

Note:  If you would like to freeze the pot pie, prepare everything as listed above.  However, allow the vegetable/chicken mixture to cool before adding it to the pie dish.  Place the dough on top, cover the pie with plastic wrap or foil, and place in the freezer.  You can bake it at 375 degrees straight from the freezer.  Just remove the foil or wrap and bake for 45 minutes, just like the good old days!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Mushroom Risotto with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Peas

Mushroom Risotto with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Peas from Food Therapy

It's somewhat embarrassing to tell you that my culinary experiences began in my college years.  Yes, I've been cooking on my own since I was about 10, but my repertoire was limited to chicken dinners and casseroles, brownies and cookies, and the odd family favorites like cheese grits.  This all changed when I began college in New York City.  I can tell you all about the different foods and restaurants I was introduced to, from Korean to Indian to the best Chinese food I have EVER eaten, but I'll save that for another time.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Blueberry Muffins

Blueberry Muffins from Food Therapy

One of my favorite smells in all of cooking is the combination of freshly brewed coffee and blueberry muffins baking in the morning.  When my brother and I were kids, it wasn't unusual on the weekend to wake up to that glorious smell as we came down the stairs.  My mom loved to make us our special muffin breakfast, complete with strawberries or peaches and whipped cream.  Those were the days when I could easily eat 2 to 3 muffins at a time and a little fruit and a whole lot of fresh whipped cream without even thinking twice. Of course, I'm not a 13-year-old girl anymore.  Indulging with no regard for calories aside, I'd probably make myself sick if I ate like I used to.