One of life’s simple pleasures

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Several reasons I haven’t posted in a month…I was in a play, Kevin and I were knee deep in a 14 day detox diet, and I went to visit grandma in Oklahoma. The last of which brings me to this very special food moment. As some of you know, my precious Grandma Betty’s health has been declining for some time now. She was put on hospice care back in December and they didn’t think she’d make it another three months. Well it’s 7 months later and she’s still kickin’. It’s a wonderful thing to still have her here but sometimes she looks like she’s in so much pain and so tired of dealing with her illness. One of the things that breaks my heart the most is her reliance on a permanent feeding tube. Grandma was so prone to aspirating when she ate that it was immediately leading to pneumonia. Not good for a woman so frail with COPD. So the doctors decided on inserting a feeding tube. She’s had it for nearly a year now. When you’re immobile, can’t use your hands, can’t lead a normal life, the one thing you hope to keep is your ability to eat. It really is one of life’s simple pleasures. We always told grandma when she felt like she didn’t want to fight anymore we would let her eat whatever she wanted. In the past few weeks she’s been periodically asking for small bites of this and that. So I decided that when I went to visit her next I would cook for her her most favorite meal I used to make. She LOVES this dish and I was so excited to make it for her.

It’s a recipe for Sour Cream Chicken that she had in her Beta Sigma Phi Millennium Cookbook. It’s simple, naughty, and totally delicious. No wonder she loves it so much! The chicken is basically a vehicle for the sauce. You hardly even notice the meat. Haha. The sauce is rich, tangy, creamy, and the French fried onions provide a mouth-watering salty crunch. She also goes crazy for mashed potatoes. Not the rustic smashed potatoes with the skin and chunky bits of potato throughout. No, she craves the smooth, whipped kind laced with lots of butter and cream. The kind of mashed potatoes that grace every Thanksgiving and Christmas table. The kind of mashed potatoes that melt in your mouth, the kind that sets your healthy diet back two whole weeks. Delicious! The peas I made more for show. Grandma could have cared less about the peas. But I feel guilty if I don’t serve greens with a meal.

After I had plated the food, I wheeled her up to the kitchen table, set both of our meals before us, and said a special blessing for this wonderful moment. I think I was more excited to see her reaction to the food then she was to actually eat it. The moment I put the first fork full of chicken in her mouth she closed her eyes and slowly worked the much- desired meal before carefully swallowing it. She was so happy and my heart was so full. We continued to enjoy our meal together and she ate nearly the entire thing! I was floored at how much she ate after not having had a real home cooked meal in so long. This will definitely be a food moment that I will remember for the rest of my life. I don’t know if I’ll have the opportunity to ever cook for her again. You never know what life has in store. This was just a simple, no fuss meal that I made for my grandma. It sounds cheesy, but don’t take a single meal with family or friends for granted.

Sour Cream Chicken

4-6 thin boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 envelop ranch dressing mix
1 (10oz) can cream of mushroom soup
1 cup sour cream
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
1 (3oz) can French-fried onions
Place the chicken breasts in a single layer in a shallow baking dish. Sprinkle with the dry ranch dressing mix. Combine the soup and sour cream in a bowl and mix well. Spread over the chicken. Layer the cheese and onions over the soup layer. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.
Recipe courtesy of Sharon C. Johnson of Grandbury, Texas

Warm and cozy dinner

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This winter weather isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. I was in desperate need for a warm and cozy dinner last night and this menu hit the spot. I had seen this chicken recipe on TV once and remembered the simplicity of the dish and how delicious it looked. After doing a little bit of internet research I found said recipe and got to work on making my cold and miserable night a little bit better. Not only is this dish completely yummy but it is prepared in a flash and couldn’t be easier. Throw some chicken thighs, chorizo sausage, potatoes and onions on a pan and bake. Simple as that. The recipe calls for bone in, skin on chicken thighs but all they had at the store were the boneless skinless variety. If that’s all you can find, don’t worry. The dark meat still came out tender and moist. With the dusting of dried oregano and orange zest, the subtle flavoring of the chicken was a beautiful contrast to the spice of the chorizo. Oh, and how this chorizo did snap! There is such delight in biting into a snappy sausage and letting the locked-in flavor and juices pour into your mouth. The creaminess of the potatoes added yet another level of texture to the dish. And we can’t forget the red onion. Not only does the purple hue give the dish a nice pop of color but the rich sweetness of the onion cuts the heat of the chorizo. The combination of these flavors was perfection for last night. On any night, for that matter!

I needed to add something fresh and crisp to my dinner (not to mention something green) so I whipped up this easy and totally awesome salad. It’s not often a salad leaves me wanting to lick the bowl but I may have done just that. A salad can be this simple and taste like a million bucks, trust me. The recipe calls for kabocha squash but my Trader Joe’s had a bag of cubed butternut squash so I substituted that for the kabocha. It’s nice to have the work done for you sometimes. Also, I used a bag of spring mix instead of buying each lettuce individually. Finally, what better way to top off your evening meal than a glass of wine? With the weather so cold outside and the fire so warm and toasty inside, I really wanted to curl up on the couch after dinner with my half-finished glass and snuggle up. I can’t say I regret the choice. I’ve also decided that this will be a fantastic meal to throw together for my next dinner party. There is basically no prep involved and very little hands on cooking. Now that’s a recipe for an evening of good food and fun!

Spanish Chicken with Chorizo and Potatoes

Serves 6

2 tablespoons regular olive oil
12 chicken thighs (bone in, with skin)
1 3/4 pounds chorizo sausages, whole if baby ones, or cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks if regular-sized
1 1/4 pounds baby white-skinned potatoes, halved
2 red onions, peeled and roughly chopped
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 orange
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Put the oil in the bottom of 2 shallow roasting pans or quarter sheet pans, 1 tablespoon in each. Rub the skin of the chicken in the oil, then turn skin side up and put 6 pieces in each pan.

Divide the chorizo sausages and the baby potatoes between the 2 pans. Sprinkle with the onion and the oregano, then grate the orange zest over the contents of the 2 pans.

Bake for 1 hour, but after 30 minutes, swap the top pan with the bottom pan in the oven and baste the contents with the orange-colored juices. Transfer the chicken mixture to a large serving platter and serve.

Winter Greens, Kabocha Squash and Peeled Pear Salad

1 small head of radicchio, sliced

2 handfuls of arugula

2-3 heads of endive, sliced

½ kabocha squash, sliced into ¼ inch spears

½ a pear

sea salt

freshly ground pepper

block of parmesan

1 shallot, diced

¼ cup white balsamic vinegar

½ cup olive oil

1. Pre-heat oven to 400°F. Place kabocha slices in a single layer on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Place in oven for about 5-8 minutes. Flip squash and cook for another 5-8 minutes, until lightly browned on each side. Remove and let cool to room temperature.

2. Place lettuces in a large serving bowl. Using a potato peeler, peel the pear into light, translucent slices over the leaves. Do the same with the parmesan, adding as much as you’d like. Add the squash, salt and pepper to taste and drizzle the dressing. Toss and serve.