Possibly the Best Day at Work Ever

on Thursday, January 28, 2010

Four times a year we deep clean the roasting machine, it's long, involved, greasy & dirty and it takes a bunch of hours. Today I was fortunate enough to have the Fabulous Armadillos use my roastery as a rehearsal space for their upcoming Motown show at the Pioneer Place in St. Cloud. Sorry, folks, it sold out weeks ago.

So all day I was treated to a live band playing songs like Respect, Natural Woman, The Tears of a Clown, Shotgun and many more.

Okay, that's not such a great video. But this one is! His name is Julius Andrews IV and he won the pre-teen division of the Minnesota State Fair Amateur Talent Contest in 2009. Having him there brought tears to my eyes it was so cool and beautiful!

All in all, I had a GREAT day at work!

Chicken Lasagna

on Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Tonight's menu is a chicken lasagna, since I haven't done it yet it's not so much a recipe as it is a plan. It's pretty much just your standard lasagna made with diced chicken. Usually I'll use browned hot Italian sausage when I do this.


1 lb. chicken breasts, skin & fat removed
1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes
1 can (29 oz.) tomato sauce
1/2-3/4 cup baby portobello mushrooms, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
medium sized onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2-1 tbsp Italian seasoning
1/4 tsp (seriously small amount) fennel seed
1 egg
1 small container part skim ricotta cheese
1/4-1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
1-2 cups shredded mozarella cheese
9-12 lasagna noodles, par-boiled

Preheat oven to 350° F

I've already taken the chicken breasts, washed them and patted them dry, added a sprinkling of salt & pepper to both sides and fried them in a heavy pan using no oil for about 2 minutes per side. They're nice and caramelized, they might not be cooked all the way through, but it doesn't really matter at this point because they'll be spending quite a bit of time in the oven later. I put them on a plate, covered them loosely with plastic wrap and they're sitting in the fridge until they cool down. Later, when I'm putting the sauce together, I'll dice them up.

For the sauce, I'll dice the onion, garlic and mushrooms and saute them in olive oil in a large sauce pan until the onions are just starting to get translucent. Then I'll add the diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, Italian seasoning, fennel seed and diced chicken and stir it all together. No need to heat it, it will be in the oven soon.

I'll boil up a bunch of water and cook the lasagna noodles until they're half-cooked and rinse them in cold water (I know you're not supposed to rinse your pasta, but those things are too hot to handle!).

Finally I'll make the "cement." I'll take the ricotta cheese, scoop it into a small mixing bowl, add one egg and stir it up until it's well mixed, add the parmesan cheese and maybe a handful of the shredded mozarella, and stir it all up again.

Building the lasagna:

I'll take a ladle and put a single scoop of sauce on the bottom of a 9 x 12 inch baking pan, carefully place three lasagna noodles side by side and then use a spatula to spread a small amount of the ricotta cheese mixture on each noodle. I'll add a couple of ladles of sauce on top and finally, sprinkle some shredded mozarella on top. I'll keep repeating that until I've run out of either room or noodles. I'm going to keep a handful of mozarella cheese aside for later.

Then I cover the pan with foil and bake it for about 45 minutes, then uncover, sprinkle with the remaining mozarella and bake it for another 10-15 minutes, or until the cheese just starts to brown.

If you try this at home, let it sit for at least 10 minutes before you cut it.

I'm assuming this will be delicious.

Post-cooking addenda:

  • Sure enough, the chicken was pink in the middle when I diced it, but it cooked the rest of the way in the oven.
  • Next time I think I'll add some baby spinach to each of the layers. It will add not only veggie matter, but sweetness.
  • I wound up with extra sauce and ricotta mixture. The sauce will be easy to use.
  • Another success!!

Chicken Wild Rice Soup

on Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A week or so ago I bought a whole chicken and decided to cut it up myself. I'd never done that before, so I looked up a couple of videos on YouTube and went to it.

It's an incredibly economical thing to do! I spent about $6 and got about $10-12 worth of meat out of it, and a nice carcass to make soup, which is what I did tonight. I never make the same soup twice, but there are always similarities, in this case, this is what I did:

  • 1 chicken carcass, breast meat, thighs & wings removed -- don't worry, there's still plenty of meat
  • several cups of water (5 or 6?)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 4 medium carrots, sliced
  • 3 stalks celery, sliced
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 can white beans -- including that nice, starchy water
  • 1/2 cup frozen yellow corn
  • 1/2 tablespoon salt
  • a good dose of ground pepper
  • 1 tsp dill weed
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1-1/2 tsp dried parsley
  • A few shakes of red pepper flakes
Most of my measurements are by eye so I am only guessing the amount.

In a separate pan prepare a 1/2 cup of wild rice according to directions. My rice came from Bemidji, MN and I took 1-1/2 cups of water, brought it to a boil, added the 1/2 cup of rice, reduced the heat to simmer, covered it and let it sit for about 20 minutes. It didn't have to be made perfectly because it was destined for a large pot of hot liquid.

  • Take the carcass and put it in a large pot or stock pot, add enough water to almost cover it, add salt & pepper.
  • Place on medium-low heat, cover and allow to boil for a little over an hour.
  • While that's going on you can chop all your veggies and put them in a container for later use.
  • Turn off the heat and use tongs to remove the chicken carcass and place it on a plate, or in a large bowl and put it in the fridge to cool down.
  • Put all the veggies, the tomatoes and the beans in the broth -- DON'T ADD THE RICE YET! Turn the heat back on medium and cover.
  • Once your chicken is cool enough to touch you can break it apart with your fingers, it's messy and fun! Remove all the skin and bones, put them in an old plastic shopping bag (you know you have plenty) and put it in the freezer until garbage day. You don't want that stuff sitting in your trash for a week, the smell will kill you.
  • Add the meat to the soup and let it heat back up.
  • Finally, add the rice, remove the pot from heat and let it sit for 10 minutes or so, that gives the rice a chance to heat up without cooking any more.

The garlic and the red pepper flakes definitely gave this soup a bit of kick, but the sweetness of the corn and carrots and the nuttiness of the rice added little flavor treats that came out and surprised me!

Of course, now I have soup for about a dozen people, but it'll freeze just fine.