Growing up, Sunday supper meant pot roast. It was wonderful. My mother often did it in the crock pot and slow cooked it while we were at church. When we came home, our noses were filled with the tantalizing scent of vinegar and onions, carrots, and potatoes. It was always tender and flavorful. We gathered around the family table for almost every meal. My dad always sat at the head of the table, my mother next to him. The family cat on his other side. She was smart to sit out of sight from my mother because it enabled my dad to sneak small pieces of fat to our sweet kitty. None of us kids ever ratted him out because our beautiful kitty was, as my dad once in a very great while called her, the queen.
Although this is not a traditional beef pot roast, my apricot pork tenderloin is also quite deserving of a place at the Sunday dinner table. It always receives rave reviews, which are especially sweet since it is effortless for even a novice cook to prepare. Do not fuss over it. The key is to keep it simple. Although I have given a guideline for spices to use, I always change it slightly each time I make it. You ought to use the flavors you already have in your spice cupboard and pantry. If you don’t have fresh garlic or onion, etc, then do not hesitate to use powdered alternatives. Your favorite (or most accessible) spices plus one jar of apricot jam are all you need for such a non-judgmental piece of meat.
4-5 lbs pork tenderloin
1 onion, chopped
4 tablespoons minced garlic
Salt, pepper, paprika, thyme, rosemary, turmeric, etc.
One 16-18 ounce jar apricot preserves/jam
Put a generous drizzle of olive oil into your slow cooker and place tenderloin into it. Sprinkle an even coating of your favorite herbs and spices onto the meat. Sprinkle onion and garlic over and around it. Lastly, spoon the whole jar of apricot jam on top. Place the lid on your slow cooker and go about your day until it is done. Serve with mashed potatoes and your favorite choice of vegetables. The meat turns out moist and the juices are delicious served over the potatoes.
Look, I get it. This is also a cheat because it is cooking, not baking. But you need this! It’s worth it. I justify it because it is good to have healthy foods to savor in the midst of the sugary goodness I keep promoting throughout this series. Oh, and this is a perfect use for the green tops of the scallions which I suggested you to save when you made your party cheeseballs.
Last month one of my sweeties had a relapse of strep throat. I’m constantly commuting with 5 kids in tow, errands and activities to and fro. My sweet husband took over dinner and enabled me to pick up my muffin’s Rx in peace, and he told me to buy myself a treat while I was out. (I had been dealing with a bad case of post partum depression for the first time in my life, and it was healthy for my well being to steal a moment away from the chaos. We will discuss more on the topic of PPD at a later time because it is an extremely incredibly important topic that needs to be acknowledged in our society more than it is.)
Well, next door to the pharmacy is my favorite grocery store. They are a (mostly) healthy minded grocer. One of my favorite things is that they have a hot soup station near the front of the store. I steal away to have lunch there often. This night one of the soups du jour was “Asian chicken soup.” I loved it!! When I got home I scoured the internet for a recipe. No luck.
This is when having basic cooking skills and an enjoyment for replicating or adapting recipes proves beneficial. So, on a cold night when you are feeling overwhelmed with your life and need a boost, here is a warm hug from the inside out.
Ginger Chicken Soup
3 large chicken breasts, shredded
6 cups chicken stock
8 cups water
3 bunches of scallions
16oz sliced baby portabella mushrooms (shitake are great too)
Shred chicken breasts by hand into tender bite sizes. Set to the side. Slice bamboo shoots into match sticks and sauté in olive oil. They are more enjoyable in this soup when they are slightly less dente than straight out of the can. Slice the green tops of the scallions at a diagonal. Spice the whites in paper-thin rounds. Add to the bamboo shoots and cook until nicely wilted. Add sliced mushrooms and cook mixture until mushrooms shrink to half their size. Give the mixture one light sprinkling of salt and pepper. Add ginger and ginseng. Mix evenly. Pour chicken stock and water over the mixture. Add soy sauce and vinegar. Simmer for 10 minutes. Garnish with a few small drops of sesame oil. Serve while hot.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
For all you last-minuters like myself, I just have one piece of advice:
DOWN WITH CORNED BEEF AND CABBAGE!
Okay, not really. It’s yummy, and I appreciate corned beef at least once a year, but I’m going to let you in on a little secret: (whispers: It’s not reeeeally Irish.) It’s totally Americanized Irish food faire. Granted, my ancestors left blessed Ireland a couple hundred years ago, but we still love our heritage. (I’m more English and Scottish, but my husband has loads more Irish than I do, so we’re covered.)
Back to the point then. If you want to celebrate tomorrow with something delicious and slightly more authentic, I’ve got some recipes for you to try. Our dinner menu tomorrow will include Beef Stew, Soda Bread, and Apple Cake. These are all adaptations from recipes I have collected from friends and internet over the years. I’ll make them into .pdf and printable versions later when I am up to photographing the yumminess. For now, enjoy!!
Irish Beef Stew
2lbs beef stew chunks
salt and pepper
1 bag of pearl onions
3 cloves minced garlic
a healthy dollop of tomato paste (About 2-4 oz…what, you don’t know what a dollop is?)
1 large chopped potato
2 medium peeled and chopped parsnips
2 medium peeled and chopped carrots
1 small to medium turnip, peeled and chopped
1 small to medium rutabaga, peeled and chopped
4 cups low sodium beef broth
12 oz Guinness (I do a non-alcoholic substitution with usually apple or juice and a shot of malt vinegar because we don’t consume alcohol in our home- or you could add more broth and some sautéed mushrooms)
A few shots of Worcestershire sauce to taste
Fresh parsley for garnish
Use an enamel stew pot or dutch oven and coat the bottom with oil. Brown the stew meat on all sides in small batches on medium-high heat. Each time a small batch of the meat has been browned, just remove it and leave on a plate on the side. In the same pan, sweat onions and garlic, salt and pepper, and tomato paste. Be sure to scrape up all those yummy browned bits from the bottom of the pan and also let some of that tomato paste brown a little from the heat of the pan. Add beef chunks and any remaining juices back to the pan now and deglaze the pan with the stock, your beer or beer alternative, and Worcestershire sauce. Simmer for 1-2 hours.
In a separate pan, sauté with olive oil all the chopped veggies to give them a nice brown exterior. Don’t fully cook and especially do not burn them! This is just to give them extra flavor. After your stew meat has simmered for 1-2 hours, add in the veggies. Simmer for 30 or so more minutes. (Adjust the salt and pepper as needed before finishing.) Garnish with fresh parsley and enjoy!
It’s excellent with Irish cheddar scones. However, I like to skip the cheese scones and go for the sweet Irish soda bread. Truthfully, it’s because I only have so many calories I can spare in one day, so tomorrow I’m going for the soda bread. Leave a comment on this blog post if you want me to share my scone recipe later.
Irish Apple Cake
4 granny smith apples, cored, peeled and diced, about 2 cups (extra is fine)
1 c granulated sugar
4 T butter, softened (room temperature)
1 egg, beaten (room temperature)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp ground cloves (optional)
1 c all-purpose flour
¼ c chopped nuts (optional)
Preheat oven to 350°F
Chop apples and macerate in sugar, salt, and spices while preparing other ingredients.
In a large bowl, mix butter, egg, and vanilla. Add apple mixture and gently mix. Add baking powder, baking soda, flour, and nuts. Mix well.
The dear woman who shared this recipe with me used to make it in a large bread pan, so that’s what I do. Although, you could just as easily pour it into a charming little cake pan or dish and serve it that way after baking. (Prepare the pan with your favorite method: butter, baking spray, etc.)
Bake for 45min until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and the cake is lightly browned. Remove from heat and rest for 5 minutes before removing it from the pan.
Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream, vanilla ice cream, or dusted with powdered sugar. (I’m in heaven with just the cake and a glass of milk.)
Here’s a fun tip- I also make this recipe in a muffin tin for quick breakfasts. Skip the muffin liners and just spray the tin directly with baking spray.
Sweet Irish Soda Bread
5 c flour
3/4 c sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
½ c (1 stick) butter
2 1/2 c raisins, soaked in water for 15-20 minutes and drained
3 T caraway seeds (I don’t always have these and it tastes fine without)
2 1/2 cups buttermilk (I don’t often have buttermilk on hand, so I do that milk and lemon juice trick. If I don’t feel like doing that, I just use normal milk. Whatever you have on hand will work fine.)
1 large egg
Milk for brushing tops of bread
Raw sugar for sprinkling tops of bread before baking
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter 2 (9 by 5-inch) bread pans.
Stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Cut in the butter and mix very thoroughly with your hands until it gets grainy. Stir in the plump raisins and caraway seeds.
Add the buttermilk (or milk) and egg (beaten) to the flour mixture. Stir until well moistened. The “dough” should resemble thick cake batter like a standard quick bread. Equally fill 2 loaf pans. Lightly brush just a little bit of extra milk on the tops of the bread, then sprinkle the top of each with raw sugar to make it shimmery! Bake for 60-70 minutes. A toothpick in the center will come out clean when it is done. Cool in the pans for 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
Another fun tip- Slice it and leave it out overnight to dry a bit and then make French toast with it in the morning. It’s YUM-AZING! (Haha… Sorry, couldn’t help myself– don’t worry, I don’t actually say that in real life.) It’s the best!
And if these holiday meal ideas still don’t appeal to you, despite how Irish they may or may not be, then here’s one more interesting tidbit. Saint Patrick wasn’t Irish either, so just make what sounds good and celebrate however you wish. Happy Saint Patrick’s Day and Éirinn go Brach!
Recently, my church had a dessert competition and game night. I have some delightful and frequently hilarious friends on my facebook page who like to make things interesting, and they started bantering about who would win in this competition and who would go home crying. Five friends, my husband, and I all got involved, and somewhere along in the conversation one of them mentioned chicken cheesecake as a joke. Well, for all of you who know my husband, this was a risky move, because he loves to take all the zany ideas he can and just run with them, and, true to his playful nature, he did just that.
So, being the overly tolerant, albeit brilliant, wifey that I am, I let him go for it. With my help and direction, he submitted the most delicious (savory) chicken cheesecake you could imagine. I know this was a dessert competition… It was just supposed to be a gag to get people’s reactions… Technically it should not have won anything, but it got second place! I think it must have been for all of those poor souls who do not enjoy sweet desserts nearly as much as I do, but trust me, this is still rich enough that it could be considered a dessert to many of us. (This makes two large casserole dishes worth, or possibly 3 large springform pans full. Divide the recipe in half if you need to.)
Ingredients & Directions:
1 bag (about 24oz?) blue corn tortilla chips
1/2 c. melted butter
2 egg whites
Put chips in food processor, grind to a coarse powder (much like you would for a graham cracker crust). Add butter and egg whites, process one more time. Coat your baking dishes or springform pans with nonstick spray. Hand press into your baking pans into an even layer and chill in fridge until time to fill.
Chicken and Peppers Mixture:
(This makes enough for you to put half into the freezer for later. Use it for the next time you make this, or use it for some hash browns, an omelette, or some stellar enchiladas later.)
1 whole chicken, cooked and shredded
3 red peppers, diced
2 large onions, diced
2 cans diced green chiles (or fresh Anaheim chiles or Hatch chiles, and grilled and diced)
1/2 tsp. each of salt, pepper, ground oregano, turmeric, cumin, coriander
In a hot skillet, add olive oil and a pat of butter, onions, peppers, and chiles. Sweat until soft. Just at the end, crank up the heat and give them a nice browned exterior. (Tip: If you have a grill or non flat cooktop you can blacken them in advance and let them sweat as they cool, packaged in foil or parchment.) Once the veggies are cooked, add seasonings and chicken, mix thoroughly and set aside.
(Preheat oven to 350 degrees)
32 oz. (4 boxes) cream cheese, softened
24 oz. queso fresco, crumbled
2 tsp. salt
8 oz. sour cream
4 large eggs
3 cups chicken and peppers mixture (above)
Whip together cream cheese, eggs, and salt. Slowly add sour cream, then add queso fresco, and mix one more time. Fold in chicken and peppers. Pour into pans over the crust and bake at 350 degrees for 30 min or until hot and slightly browned around the edges.
2 large limes (just the juice)
1-1/2 c. crema
1 c. green salsa (we used a local brand that had lots of yummy grilled jalapenos and tomatillos)
1 c. fresh cilantro
2 large avocados
Dump it all, in order, into your blender and give it a whirl until smooth. Chill until the cheesecakes come out of the oven. After the cheesecake has rested 10 or so minutes, spread half of the mixture over the top of each pan.
Serve with a salad of lettuce, tomatoes, and olives. Enjoy!