A New Spin On Chicken Marsala

I really had no intension of spending half a day working on dinner yesterday, but making homemade ravioli from scratch without a pasta maker takes a lot more time than I remembered. Check out the whole process and recipe on Simply Grateful Cooking, Chicken Marsala Ravioli.

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I’ve made ravioli before, but forgot how labor intensive it is. I have an electric pasta maker, but that doesn’t work well when rolling out dough for ravioli, and the manual pasta maker I had I got rid of — why I’ll never know. Still, working with my hands and truly enjoying every aspect of this process felt good.

The only change I might make to the recipe next time is to double the sauce portion. Although there was “just enough” sauce, Hubby tends to like his ravioli/pasta swimming in sauce. And, since Marsala sauce is so tasty, dipping some bread in the leftovers wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

Another new meal for the recipe book and enough for two more meals in the freezer, not a bad days work, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

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Quick & Easy Chicken Enchiladas

When I’m pressed for time or if I’ve spent more time in the garden than I should and lost track of time, one of my favorite dinners to throw together in 30 minutes is Chicken Enchiladas.  It does take a little longer if I don’t boil my chicken thighs first thing in the morning or the day before, but with a little thinking ahead — this meal is quick, easy, hearty, and delicious.

Chicken Enchiladas

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1 Pkg. Soft Shell Taco or Burrito Shells (depending on how large you want them)

3 Cups Cooked Shredded Chicken Thighs (you can use breasts if you prefer)

3 Cups Shredded Cheese (I use whatever I have on hand – Monterey Jack, Cheddar, Colby)

5 Tbsp. Butter

5 Tbsp. Flour

3 Cups Chicken or Vegetable Broth

1 – 1 1/2 Cups Sour Cream or Greek Yogurt

1 – 7 oz. Can of Diced Green Chillies

  • Heat oven to 350. Grease 9 x 13 glass dish.
  • Mix chicken with 2 cups of shredded cheese.  Divide chicken/cheese mixture among 7 to 10 soft shells (depending on which size you have), roll up — folding in both ends to keep mixture from falling out, and place in pan.
  • In skillet, melt butter.  Stir in flour and cook 1 minute.  Add broth and stir until smooth.  Heat until thick and bubbly.  Remove from heat.
  • Stir in sour cream and chillies.  Pour over enchiladas and top with remaining cheese.
  • Bake 18 – 22 minutes then brown under broiler for additional 3 minutes if you like.

These enchiladas are great served alone or with a side of onion, green pepper, lettuce, salsa — you know, all the fixings. I have also added a package of taco seasoning to the chicken and cheese mixture before filling the shells, but find it makes this meal too similar to tacos, burritos, and tostadas.  I like it without because it is mild and the green chillies give the gravy a completely different Mexican flavor. If you find the taste bland, you could try the seasoning or perhaps spice it up a bit with some jalapenos as well!

This is a great meal that doesn’t get the kitchen too hot during the summer and doesn’t take up hours of my time to prepare, a win, win!  And for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Almond Boneless Chicken – War Su Gai

The first Chinese dish I ever ate was Almond Boneless Chicken or War Su Gai. Living here in Michigan I never gave it much thought, until we traveled beyond the borders of our lovely state. Apparently, this Chinese dish is fairly exclusive to the Michigan area. Who’d have thunk?

Living here all my life, I admit I have been spoiled. Every Chinese restaurant I’ve ever gone to offers this wonderfully mild dish with a savory gravy and tender chicken. Still, never satisfied with just “buying” a meal, I had to figure out how to make this dish at home. For years I fumbled around in the kitchen, experimenting with recipes, failing, trying again, and finally coming up with a combination of recipes that comes pretty close to one of my favorite carry-out Chinese dishes.

Almond Boneless Chicken

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For the chicken:

6 Boneless, Skinless Chicken Thighs
Salt & Pepper to taste
1/3 Cup Sherry
Peanut Oil for frying

For the batter:

3 Tbsp. Cornstarch
3 Tbsp. Flour
1/2 tsp. Baking Powder
1 Egg, beaten
1 Tbsp. Water + a little more
1 Tbsp. Soy Sauce

For the gravy:

1 1/2 Tbsp. Peanut Oil
1 Celery Stalk, diced
1/3 Cup Fresh Mushrooms, chopped
1/3 Cup Bamboo Shoots, roughly chopped
1/3 Cup Water Chestnuts, chopped
3 Cups Chicken Broth
1 1/2 Tbsp. Soy Sauce
1 Tbsp. Oyster Sauce
1/4 tsp. Salt
1 tsp. Sugar
4 Tbsp. Cornstarch, dissolved in 1/3 Cup Water

Garnish:

Sliced Green Onion
1/3 Cup Slivered Almonds

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper, drizzle with sherry and marinate for 15 minutes.
Prepare batter. Combine all ingredients in small bowl and beat with a fork until well combined.
Make gravy. Heat 1 1/2 Tbsp. oil in wok or large skillet over medium heat. Add celery and stir fry 2-3 minutes. Add mushrooms, water chestnuts and bamboo shoots and stir fry 3-5 minutes. Add chicken broth, soy sauce, oyster sauce, salt and sugar. Bring to a boil and cook 7 minutes. (At this point I strain out the vegetables, but if you like, these can be kept in the gravy.) Return strained gravy to wok and return to boil. Stir in cornstarch slurry and cook until thickened. Turn heat to low and keep warm.
Fry chicken: Heat oil in deep fryer or wok to 350. Dip chicken pieces in batter, letting excess drip off. Fry until golden brown 7 – 10 minutes, turning once. Remove from oil and drain on paper towels.
Serve over white rice and top with green onions and almonds.

Note: Serving this with the green onions sprinkled on top really makes a big difference. Although the gravy and chicken are flavorful, the onion really makes it pop.

Knowing how to make this dish at home means one less meal we have to eat out, although I do admit I do enjoy getting Chinese food above all others when going out to eat. Being that mine is still not “exactly” like the restaurants though, I can still order and enjoy it each and every time, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Update 2/6/16: Check out an update on gravy variations at Simply Grateful Cooking, https://simplygratefulcooking.wordpress.com/2016/02/06/almond-boneless-chicken-the-gravy-debate/.

The Art of Knowing How To Pack A Car!

Finding a bargain is great, but being privy to great bargain information from the source — well there’s not too many things that make my day better than that.

Yesterday I received a text from a woman in the deli department at our local grocery store that we frequent two to four times a week.  Over the past ten or so years Hubby and I have established quite a friendship with many of the workers there and it has really worked out for us.  I share coupons with many of the women, and they in turn share “upcoming sale” information with me.  Yesterday however, the text I received was about a special in the meat department.  My friend in the deli, who’s friends with the manager in the meat department, was alerted that he had several cases of boneless, skinless thighs that had to be clearanced out immediately.  They were originally marked $3.20 per pound, marked down to $.99 per pound, and then clearanced for an additional 20% off the marked down price.  Knowing how we love chicken thighs, my friend texted me right away to share this information.

Within five minutes of receiving the text, Hubby and I were on our way to the store.  All the way there we contemplated where we would store the meat.  Our chest freezer was nearly full, the basement refrigerator freezer is full of frozen vegetables and fruit, and the upstairs refrigerator freezer is packed with a little bit of everything.  I want another chest freezer, but where we’d put it is another matter.

Hubby dropped me at the door 15 minutes after getting the text and I grabbed a cart and headed for the meat department.  Not wanting to draw attention to myself, I casually walked along the meat freezers, scanning all the prices, until I came to the chicken section.  There, right in the middle of the freezer were three shelves with family packs of boneless, skinless chicken thighs on clearance.  I quickly started to fill my cart.  In the end, I had 11 packages of thighs.  Just to give you an idea of the savings, one package was marked at $14 and some change and I got it for $3 and some change.  Not a bad savings.

On our way to the cash register we ran into our friend from the deli.  She was happy to see that we’d stocked up and told us that regular thighs and legs (with the skin and bones) were going on clearance the next day.  So guess where I went this morning?  You got it, back to the meat department.  Of course, I barely found space in the freezers yesterday for the 10 huge packages (yes it was 11 but I had to make something for dinner) of chicken we bought, but how could I possibly pass up such a deal.

This morning I picked up 8 packages of chicken thighs and 5 packages of legs for $.99 per pound less 20%, 4 packages of chicken thighs for $.99 per pound, and 4 packages of pork ribs that I found on clearance for $.99 per pound.  What a haul!  Of course I had the wonderful job of trying to squeeze all this into our already stuffed freezers when I got home, but if there is one thing my father taught me — I know how to pack a car, or in this case a freezer.

Growing up, whenever we went on our annual summer family vacation to Crystal Beach, Canada to stay with my Great Grandmother, there was a lot of luggage and other stuff to pack into our small car.  Two adults, two kids, all the luggage, any toys or entertainment us kids wanted, food for the 6 hour road trip, and sometimes anywhere from 2 to 4 dogs.  My father was in charge of packing the car and no matter how much stuff we had, he always found room for it.  Every nook and cranny was utilized, not an inch of space was wasted.

This ability to “pack a car” became my father’s “thing” that he was known for.  Whenever something needed to fit into a box, a car, a room, or even a bag, Dad was the one we’d rely on to make it fit.  Every time I moved, Dad was the one to pack the truck.  Every time the basement needed organizing and shelves needed to be put up, Dad was the one to build just the right amount of shelves and store everything perfectly.  Every time we went even on just a day trip, Dad was the one to pack the car.  His ability to make it all fit was untouchable.

For years I watched my father pack and organize.  I stood there with him as he calculated where to put each parcel, how high to stack each box, and what should go in next.  I watched and learned.  Now, after 46 years of observation, I have come into my own when it comes to “packing the car.”  The torch has been passed.

Whenever Hubby, the kids and myself head out for the day or for a week, I’m the one to pack the car.  We drove to Florida several years ago to take a cruise.  We had four large suitcases, blankets, pillows, two overnight bags, a garment bag, a cooler, the kids duffel bags, two camera bags, my bag of journals, a small television that we plugged into the lighter, and my laptop.  I managed to fit everything in the small space behind the second row of seats in our Ford Freestyle.  This gave the kids the entire two rows in the back of the car to sprawl out and enjoy the leisurely 3 day road trip to Florida.  Hubby still marvels at how I could possibly fit everything in there.

I pack our storage rooms in the basement, I pack the refrigerators, I pack the pantry, I pack our closets, and today I packed our freezers.  Yes, I was somehow able to fit every bit of the meat I bought today into “not an inch of available space” in our freezers.  I packed, unpacked, and repacked until the job was done.  What other choice did I have?  Now we should be set with chicken for a while.

Of course, while I was filling my shopping cart with chicken this morning, the meat manager happened to stop by to say hello.  He said he was glad that I’d gotten the word about the specials and that in the next couple of days several more things were going to be going on clearance.  Great!  Just what we need.  At least I have a few days to do a little cooking and possibly make some room so I can replenish and refill when the next great bargain comes along, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.