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… And we’re back!

We’re back online and will be cooking up some new posts in the near future! (We said it online and posted it on FB, so I think now it has to happen.) To revival… and, of course, to food! Cheers!

The Skinny on Veganism

Well…. it’s been a while since my last post.

And in my world of food, things have changed tremendously since my last recipe. As some of my last few posts have indicated, I had to switch over to a very restricted diet for some time (with the occasional slip for worthwhile goodies like Sharm’s Homemade Pumpkin Pie with Gingerbread Crust).

But I’ve emerged on the other side of that food-free hell, armed with new research about health and diet and tons of new food combinations. And while I still love the taste of dairy, meat, and some processed foods, I’ve learned a lot (not necessarily by choice) about how these foods affect my sense of well-being.

There will be lots more to come in future posts, including recipes that avoid most allergy-causing foods. More importantly, I’ll be discussing how I discovered my food allergies and sensitivities (basically, lots of trial and error, but also employing some organized strategy), and how you can easily modify your own diet to improve your health.

For instance, modifying my diet has improved my energy and significantly decreased the frequency and severity of health issues from which I’ve suffered most of my life but with which I have only recently been diagnosed as being actual conditions. As I’m fairly sure is quite obvious, I’m a glutton, and nothing about that has changed. I’m just trying to be a… healthier glutton.

One major factor that positively affected my diet was the decision to go vegan for Lent, as is the tradition in my church. I had never done it before, and I knew from past experience(s) that Lent was probably the only way it was going to stick for more than a week. I mean, just look at my past recipes. Lots of frying, lots of dairy, lots of fat. Lots of deliciousness. I was not expecting to enjoy this change, at all.

And I’ll admit, there are days when the only thing standing between me and a Popeye’s binge is my commitment to Lent. But, all in all, I’d say the experiment has been a tremendous success, and in conjunction with some Eastern herbs I’ve started taking, I have noticed a boost in my energy levels and mood and a significant decrease in pain, heartburn, fatigue, insomnia, and other symptoms I have been suffering for many years. I’ve also dropped a few pounds (which might also have something to do with beginning Kenpo Karate at roughly the same time).

Photo from laodicea.net

The one caveat is that I allow myself Sundays off (it’s legit–check it out), and I do think that this has made the experience that much better and easier to manage.

Am I suggesting that everyone do what I’m doing? No. But I do think it’s worth researching to see what might work for you. If you’ve been wanting to lose a few extra pounds, cut down your cholesterol, have digestive issues, or have always just wondered if you could do it, then read on. If you just want to incorporate more veggies in your home menu, this should work for you, too.

I would definitely recommend anyone considering trying out vegetarianism, or veganism especially, to allow for the fact that you’re human, and you’re likely going to falter. So give yourself a day off here and there, so that you’re not trying to sprint a long distance marathon.

For now, here’s a short list of some of the most helpful tidbits about veganism that I’ve run across:

1) Vegans tend to be healthier. Less arterial clogging, cholesterol issues, gallbladder problems and other digestive disorders, etc. More energy. Bonus feeling of moral superiority.

2) Vegan (or mostly vegan) diets aren’t as difficult to maintain as one might think. Sure, it takes some creativity, but once you get the hang of it, conjuring up entirely veggie meals is actually pretty easy. And can even be very fast on a weekday, if you stock up well at the store.

3) You’re not going to pass out from a lack of protein. Further, our bodies are surprisingly pretty well equipped to cope with the lack of animal proteins. One misconception I had was that I had to combine protein and carbs in every meal. Wrong. Our bodies can hold onto the proteins and store them for when we need them. There are even vegan Olympian athletes out there writing vegan cookbooks. The only real concern for vegans is Vitamin B12, which will be addressed later. So basically, as long as you’re alternating a varied diet, you’re golden.

4) You don’t have to eat fake meat. One of the biggest turnoffs about veganism for diehard meat eaters (like myself) is the idea that tofu and other types of veggie protein are supposed to replace meat. Well, let me tell ya, it probably ain’t gonna happen. They are generally nothing alike. Although I did recently have some Gimme Lean “fake” sausage that, when simmered in olive oil, spices, and sun dried tomatoes, tasted pretty much exactly like meat. Anyways, the point is that there are plenty of options that are based on meaty vegetables such as eggplants and tomatoes. Beans can also lend an almost cheesy taste to some dishes. Many people don’t miss the taste of meat at all after a while.

5) There are plenty of global cuisines that center on vegan or nearly-vegan ingredient combinations. South Asian, Southeast Asian, Latin American, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and various African diets are great at incorporating wholesome, relatively unprocessed ingredients into delicious meals. Curries, stir fry, falafel, tacos, foul, tabbouleh, hummus, and endless uses for avocados, coconuts, bananas, and plantains are just a few options when thinking vegan. Most (though not all) of these culinary traditions stem from cultures that tend to consider meat an occasional delicacy, but not off limits. So lots of veggie options, although even they have cheat days.

When considering what will work for you, just remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. I have tried a number of times before to go vegetarian or vegan and have fallen flat. Easing into it is so much easier. I’m not going to lie–living in the US also makes it easier than, say, a former Soviet republic, where the fancy alternatives that Westerners rely on might be in limited supply or cost prohibitive. Right now, I have the fake meat to fall back on if I want it, almond milk is as cheap as soy milk, which is also as cheap as regular milk (and all are delicious and vitamin fortified), and the shelves at the store are stocked with foodstuffs from literally all over the world.

That said, it so happens that I’ll be moving back to Armenia in the near future, and I am determined (for health reasons, if nothing else) to maintain some version of my current diet. Should be interesting, considering how miserably I failed at being a healthy vegetarian the last time I lived there.

In any case, having a plan–one, two, or six vegan days a week, for example–will help to make your foray into veganism successful, if you choose to try it. There are plenty of reasons to make the switch–health, as mentioned above; the obvious animal welfare factor; environmental reasons; and even cost (although this can vary by region). And even though I’m not a seven-day-a-week vegan, I know my choices are making a difference on multiple levels. Which is good enough for me.

To be continued…

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Thanks to my friend Sharm for this delicious pumpkin pie recipe!

When I tried this recipe out, I substituted the buttermilk with egg nog and omitted the egg. I also didn’t have brown sugar in the house so I substituted white sugar, using about half the measurement (1/4 cup). Finally, I added 2 tbsp white sugar and used about 3/4 stick of melted butter to the crust mix, following an method tip I picked up a while ago and included in my Lemon Pie and Champagne Strawberry Cheesecake recipes.

But enough shameless plugging of my old recipe posts! Why I’m actually mentioning all of this–just reminding you to feel free to tweak the recipe to fit your preferences, and/or whatever you already have in the house (as always). Sharm was looking for something that could substitute the heavy cream and so used buttermilk. I love eggnog and went with that. Have fun with the recipe and enjoy!!!

Sharm’s Pumpkin pie with Gingersnap crust

Crush or food process a bunch of gingersnaps (how much you need depends on how big your pie pan is)

Melt butter (again, as much as your pie pan needs – I used less than half a stick of butter)

Mix the two in a pie pan and press in til it makes a crust

Bake crust in 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes (I did it for 10 and it was a little too soggy)

While it’s baking, mix together

2 cups pumpkin (I used fresh pumpkin puree that I made, but canned will do just fine)

½  cup brown sugar (less if you want less sweet)

½ cup buttermilk

2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

1 egg

Pour into crust, and bake again at 350 til firm.  About an hour, give or take.

And ta-daaaaa!!!!

Jicama Jicama Jicama

Subtly sweet and simple to prepare, the jicama root makes for a satisfying, healthy snack. This Mexican tuber looks a bit like a turnip, and is also considered an alternative to water chestnuts in stir fry recipes. If you haven’t already added this delightful little delicacy to your kitchen shelf, why not pick one up the next time you’re at the market? They’re inexpensive, low in calories, fat free, and high in potassium, fiber and Vitamin C. Click here for more nutrition facts.

The perfect diet snack--and great for most with food allergies.

So, how do we prepare one of these little gems? The skin peels off easily with a potato or fruit peeler. Then rinse, slice into sticks, toss with lime juice, and sprinkle lightly with salt and paprika. This is the most popular way to eat them of which I’m aware. But, jicama has become popular far beyond the borders of Mexico, and it is prepared in various ways throughout Latin America. So anyone who has other ways of preparing jicama–please write in and share!

Fast, easy, and delicious--the perfect snack!

The Honeycrisp Apple

On my new kick to write about whatever food I may be thinking about rather than trying to churn out new fusion recipes while on my weird “non-aggravating” diet, I offer to you the humble Honeycrisp apple. Raw, whole, and usually organic in my experience, this apple is absolutely, by far, the best apple I have ever eaten, hands down. It requires absolutely no preparation to be enjoyed. And trust me, you WILL enjoy it.

You can have it for breakfast, with lunch, as a snack, or for dessert, and I truly believe that in none of these capacities could it ever disappoint. It is the American response to the Valencia orange, the Scandinavian lingonberry, and the Armenian apricot. It is one of the world’s best fruits, in my opinion.

The honeycrisp is a hybrid, which of course toes the line of “genetically modified” as we have come to know (and in some cases, fear) the term. But, as the honeycrisp itself cannot self-replicate, none of the cross-contamination fears usually attributed to GMOs are associated with this apple.

Anywho, the honeycrisp is so wonderful that it actually made me break a time-honored rule the other night. Anyone who has ever been to an Armenian household knows that you should bring something as a gift. Normally, I grab a bottle of wine, but Puritanical Maryland and Sundays equal no alcohol available for purchase. So I picked up a couple of pastries instead from a local Whole Foods. While I was in there, I spotted a stand of honeycrisps sitting neatly placed in front of me.

I mean really... would you be able to resist this? From www.thefruitcompany.com -- where you can buy them!

I had looked for honeycrisps several times in Las Vegas, to no avail. I once found something called Honeycrisp but was, in reality, a weak, small, mushy excuse for the normally large, crisp apple I knew and loved. That was almost worse than not finding anything at all.

Remember, you want a Honeycrisp that is shaped like this... (photo from www.slashfood.com)

... not so much like this. (photo from nyapplecountry.com)

I missed the crunchy, crisp texture; the sweet, tart flavor; the juice in every bite. I quickly grabbed about 6 apples, not caring about how I was going to get them back across the country in a couple of days. And I knew that once I got them to a fridge, they’d be good for weeks to come.

So I threw the apples in the bag and headed over to dinner. The hosts graciously welcomed me and immediately took the bag from me in order to save me the hassle of carrying it.

This is the part where I was supposed to graciously allow the bag to be taken and continue on to the tour of the house and eventually to the commencement of the delicious dinner they had prepared.

But it was not to be. I followed one of the hosts into the kitchen, despite the fact that I was being directed to the sitting room, and spoke over her protests to let her handle it. She actually thought I was trying to help her unpack and serve the food. Not so much.

“But…” I stammered as I ran behind her. “I hate to do this, but I need to get into the bag. The apples in there… are mine. For me to take home. You can have one or two for tonight if you want, but I need the rest.”

I spoke with no small degree of shame. But I knew that if I left the apples there, I would never let it go. I would dream about them. I would wake up thinking about them. Some of you probably think I’m making a weak joke here, but those of you who actually know me, know that I’m being totally serious. I harp on stuff like that.

So. I took the apples back, and of course my friends were very gracious and totally cool about it. But, we all knew that I had broken an old, traditional, unbreakable rule of hospitality. I brought a gift for dinner and then took 1/3 of it back.

Was it worth it?

Well… if no one from Las Vegas reads this and then tells me I could have purchased the apples at my local Whole Foods after all, I think so.

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Armenian Walnuts!

Okay, sorry I couldn’t come up with a better title. Truth is, I haven’t posted in such a long time, I think I am beginning to forget how.

So, as those who have followed this blog know, my culinary options have been severely limited since I was diagnosed with a dysfunctional gall bladder. Long story short, I was put on a severely restricted diet.

“But how will I continue to post delicious recipes to my blog?” I wondered.

I thought that I could become a pro at new styles of cooking overnight. This is around the time I picked up 50 hours of work a week. Suffice it to say, my cooking has taken a hit. The few things that I did actually cook were not worth posting. I am still finding my way around new flours, new sweeteners, and the like.

So, until I master new cuisines and the health food world, I have become determined to post things I already know are delicious, even if I am not cooking with them currently. Luckily, I have started to reintroduce some things into my diet (although this will have to be rolled back again when I eventually do get my surgery). So recipes should be forthcoming in the relatively near future, because I can use familiar ingredients again.

Now, then. On to today’s yummy “Global Food Fusion” lesson: preserved Armenian walnuts.

Unlike Georgian recipes, in which walnuts are chopped up and used for sauces, Armenians preserve their walnuts for a sweet treat. These little gems are picked when they are young and still green in the plains below Mount Ararat (aka Masis to Armenians, and yes–it’s the same Mount Ararat on which Noah is said to have landed the Ark). They are preserved whole (as the shell is still soft) in a sweet, thick syrup. These have finally become readily available in the US, and not just at local import stores. You can buy a jar for $10 at Harvest Song’s website. Click here for more info.

From Harvest Song's website. Yes, I really was too lazy to go to my fridge and take a picture of my own jar and upload it here. Sorry.

Armenians generally eat a few of these delicious morsels solo for breakfast or for dessert, with a cup of tea. They are also a wonderful and special treat for house guests.

However, as a recent New York Times blurb points out, we can use them as delectable ornamentation for pies, or as a unique addition to cocktails. Really, preserved Armenian walnuts can be used any time a slightly crunchy sweetness is desired.

Me? I don’t need a special occasion or recipe. I sort of just inhale them directly from the jar. I just try my best not to consume the entire thing within a week.

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Question: What do you do when you–a lover of all things edible, and a recently minted food blogger–are told that you are allergic or sensitive to almost everything you regularly eat? And what’s more, that you have a low-functioning gallbladder (so you have to take any food allergies/sensitivities very, very seriously)?

Answer: You freak out and wish you could cry, but your shock won’t let you. Your heart palpitates and your gut does flip-flops.

Then: You pull yourself together. And you realize that you’ve been training for this very challenge, for the past several years.

After all, this blog is all about learning from, and incorporating, culinary concepts and ingredients from all around the world. It’s about taking cultural influences on certain ingredient combinations (say, chicken with sweet walnut sauce) and applying the ideas to your own cooking methods and readily available ingredients (say, chicken and potatoes with a cream-based walnut sauce).

You're off limits for a while, chicken and potato deliciousness...

I absolutely love traditional foods from all over the globe, and I’ve been very blessed to be able to try the real deal, from Tajikistan to Mongolia, from Egypt to Morocco, from Easter Island and New Zealand to Malaysia, and lots of places in between. Eating my way through the continents of the world has radically changed and shaped my view of food and how food patterns can be applied with almost any set of ingredients to create a satisfying variety of meals. Whether you’re pairing papaya with pineapple (as is common in Central America) or with fish paste (as is popular in Southeast Asia), one ingredient really can take you in several different directions. And it was my original intent to explore these options on this blog, as an online extension to a recipe and cooking methods book I was compiling for friends and family.

However, I have to admit that after spending the past 2 years in Europe, I have recently been excited to get back to some good ol’ fashioned American foods, and lately I’ve been delving into my old favorites: homestyle mac ‘n’ cheese (click here for recipe), my Mexican favorites–enchiladas and fish tacos (click here for taco recipe), and fried chicken (see my Guiness Fried Chicken recipe here, which incorporates two of my very favorite things). As those of you who have been following this blog know, I like to prepare healthy, albeit rich, foods. As close to nature as possible, organic when possible, local if at all possible, this is my mantra.

See ya later, mac 'n' cheese...

But, it was not even 2 days after making my Georgian-inspired Chicken and Potatoes with Walnut Sauce that I was told that I have a low-functioning gallbladder that should be removed. A few days later, my insurance expired. Long story short, the surgery isn’t getting done anytime soon. In the meantime, I will have to learn to deal with it and help my body heal as much as possible. How? By restructuring my diet. And for better or worse, you get to come along with me for the ride, if you want to!

We had a good run, Corona-battered fish taco... (but I think this one might be easy enough to recreate!)

Western vs. Eastern Medicine

I went to a holistic doctor who was highly recommended to me by a good friend, with a track record of “fixing” a lot of people we both know. He gave me some herbal supplements and basically told me we could at least give a shot at actually restoring the gallbladder so that the surgery wouldn’t be necessary. No guarantee, but worth a try, especially because surgery isn’t going to be an immediate option.

This is also when he dropped the bomb on me. I apparently have an allergy or sensitivity to: wheat, corn, potato, sugar, milk, chocolate, peanut, and tomato. I don’t break out in hives or go into anaphylactic shock with any of these ingredients; however, over a long period of time of basing my food intake on these foods–even my pure, unprocessed, organic, locally grown ingredients–my system has apparently become hypersensitive to them, which has complicated my genetic pre-disposition for certain health issues. So, I have to go at least one month without these foods–and maybe a bit longer–before I can start slowly reintroducing them into my diet.

This is particularly shocking to me because, as I have noted in another post, I really thought I had a stomach of steel from extensive travel and exposure to different cuisines. While I don’t actually get noticeably sick from most foods, I apparently do have enough of an internal reaction to mess up the chi of my system, according to holistic medicine. And it really isn’t necessarily the food itself, but rather the food in combination with your genetic make-up. Some of us are just more sensitive than others to certain things. So, if you or a loved one has even mild indigestion or heartburn on a relatively frequent basis, you may want to re-examine your diet, or even get it checked out by a professional. And in this case, I do heartily suggest going to a holistic doctor as well as a Western doctor, if you can. They treat conditions differently, and they can come back with very different answers. From someone who (unfortunately) now knows.

Oh tricky chi... how much I have yet to learn. Image from http://factsanddetails.com/china.php?itemid=97&catid=3

Now, I am no expert in food allergies, and I have only just begun my research. Apparently, potato and tomato are nightshade plants, and that means I likely have a sensitivity to eggplant and peppers as well (two more of my favorite foods). But, I will be doing much more research (out of necessity), and I hope that you will bear with me while I figure out what I can eat. Hopefully, the information will be at least somewhat helpful to you, as well!

Exploring a New Diet

Recent attempts at recreating Western foods with alternative ingredients (i.e. “mac ‘n’ cheese” with rice bran pasta, almond milk and veggie cheese) have taught me that 1) Recreating foods well would take a lot of money and a BA in Chemistry to figure out good substitutes; and 2) It may well be worth going back to my original goal of compiling traditional cuisine tips with the foods I can eat; that is, researching how sorghum, millet, buckwheat, tapioca, arrowroot, and other flours can replace wheat, corn, and potato flours; and utilizing alternative starches to the potato in original form as well, such as the only very distantly related sweet potato, jicama, taro, malanga, and yuca (click here for my recipe for Cuban-style yuca con mojo).

Well, at least my yuca con mojo is still safe

And instead of trying to make these “alternative” ingredients fit the “norm” of Western cooking, I plan on getting much better acquainted with meals that are time-tested and approved by billions of people the world over, even if I’ve only been personally exposed to a small percentage of those meals so far.

So… be expecting much more in the wheat-free, cane sugar-free, milk-free, corn-free, potato-free, tomato-free, peanut-free, and chocolate-free food zones, as well as my experimentation to make (necessarily) healthier versions of some of the foods I can’t imagine living without–namely, brownies, chocolate-covered marshmallows, and of course, who can forget the oh so wonderful Avocado Banana Double Chocolate Chip Frozen Custard?

And there will definitely be more healthy Armenian foods, which I have been meaning to make anyways, with some necessary tweaks on the bulgur wheat (I hear quinoa can work…)… and maybe an attempt for a non-wheat flatbread for lahmajoun (which might also work for non-wheat, non-corn tortillas)….

In the meantime thanks to Karen K. for passing on this awesome Armenian food blog by a cute Florida couple who really know what they’re doing (and make new fusion creations of their own!)…

If you or a loved one has a food allergy to any common food ingredients, I hope the (at least temporary) new direction of the blog will help you to think of new ways to adapt and explore your options. And if you are one of the lucky ones who have no food allergies, well, hopefully you’ll still find the foods worth trying for yourself!!!

More to come…

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There is nothing quite like good, ol’ fashioned mac ‘n’ cheese.  Yeah, this is American, and I’m quite okay with that. But, to be fair, there are similar versions of this dish popular in Germany and the UK. So it’s *kind of* international….

Anyways, most people have their own ways of making mac ‘n’ cheese, but in case you are 1) a box version addict or 2) a non-American visitor to this site, you may not have made your own, homestyle mac ‘n’ cheese.  There are lots of different approaches, including making a cheese sauce with flour as a thickener and adding the already made sauce to the pasta, but I find that the flour and the separation just aren’t necessary, at least not for my liking.

I often eat this by itself, but of course it makes a fantastic side dish, as well!

Plain...

...or with additional dried parsley, ground black pepper, and/or grated parmesan to garnish. Delicious any way you serve it!

Skill Level: EASY
Cooking time: About 15-20 minutes.
Servings: 3-4.

Approx. 2 cups macaroni elbows* (I usually just eyeball this)

1/4 cup regular cream (in the US, I prefer Clover heavy whipping cream)

2-3 Tbsp. butter

About 3/4 cup grated medium sharp cheddar cheese

About 3/4 cup grated semi-skim mozzarella cheese

About 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese (optional: if you add this, change the other cheese quantities to 1/2 cup each)

About 2-3 Tbsp. creme fraiche or European style (i.e. thick) sour cream (optional, adds to creaminess and flavor profile of sauce)

About 2 pinches ground coriander seed

About 2 pinches dried parsley

1 pinch dried oregano (optional)

1 pinch freshly ground black pepper

2-3 pinches grated parmesan cheese (optional)

salt to taste (I use about 1.5 Tbsp.)

*It’s worth getting good quality, imported Italian pasta for this dish, as it’s less soggy, less likely to break, and it holds the cheese sauce better.

This is a very straightforward recipe, but delicious enough to include on the blog.

First, set some water to boil in a pot. Once it’s boiling, add the pasta elbows. Although any pasta can really be used, elbows are best for this dish because of the way it absorbs and holds the sauce. You may wish to salt the water a little bit, but it’s not as necessary as it would be for other pasta dishes. The sauce will likely be more than sufficient to flavor the pasta.

Drain the pasta and throw it back into the pot. This is one of the reasons that I love this dish–easy and light on the cleanup afterwards. While the heat is off, add the cream, butter, and salt (better to start with only a small amount of salt and add more later if necessary–remember, the cheeses are also going to add a salty flavor).

Stir gently with a large wooden spoon (this is less likely to break the cooked pasta). Turn the heat on low and continue to stir until the butter is melted and the noodles are evenly coated with the cream-butter mixture. Add the creme fraiche/sour cream if you’re using it, and slowly stir in until smooth.

So-called "European style sour cream" will do in a pinch, if you can't find creme fraiche

Add the cheeses slowly, stirring gently.

Posting this, I'm somehow jealous of something I've already made...

Once all of the cheese has melted evenly into the pasta, add the coriander, parsley, and oregano, and continue to stir over low heat for another minute or two. Turn off the heat and let the pasta set for a few minutes.

When transferring to the serving dish or your own personal plate, add the ground black pepper and grated parmesan cheese if you want an extra little kick. Easy, fast, filling, delicious, and, if you’re a careful ingredient shopper, no added fillers or preservatives! Yum!

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While living in the Republic of Georgia, I was introduced to a new way of seasoning meats and vegetables–with walnuts. Eggplant, fish, chicken, pork, and beef are all dressed with absolutely delicious walnut sauce, usually accented with cinnamon and cloves. It’s a completely different experience!!

Well, so I had some chicken I needed to get rid of, and some white potatoes that I wanted to cook up. And so I started grabbing at random bits and ingredients around the house, including walnuts, and made possibly the most delicious meal I’ve ever made, totally unexpectedly. If you are trying to cut carbs and are therefore turned off to the potatoes–read this article from Prevention magazine about how good white potatoes are for you (along with so many other veggies like corn and carrots that the Atkins diet had us running from).

White potatoes, the Russet's more delicate cousins. Delicious and nutritious!

I highly highly encourage all of you to try this–it takes about an hour and a half to prepare and cook from scratch, but it’s totally worth it! I took the idea of Georgian walnut sauce, took out the cinnamon and cloves, and added sour cream. I wasn’t sure how it would turn out–but I’m happy to report it was a complete success!!!

Skill Level: DIFFICULT (not technically; just balancing the different parts if you haven’t done anything ahead of time)
Preparation time: About 1 hour.
Cooking time: About 30 minutes.
Servings: 3-4.

Note: most of these measurements were eyeballed, so don’t worry about getting it exactly the same!

Chicken/Marinade
1 large chicken breast, sliced into little bits (Chik’n Strips would make a great veggie alternative in this recipe)
juice of 1/2 lime
1 tsp salt
About 3 tsp soy sauce
About 1/2 cup sweet white wine (I used Barefoot Moscato)
Just a little splash of olive oil

Potatoes
2 white potatoes, skin-on, cubed (sliced down the middle and then sliced through)

Cream Sauce: Part One
1/2 tsp mustard (I used a jarred Dijon that had full mustard seed in it)
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 medium onion
handful of chopped walnuts

Cream Sauce: Part Two
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
About 8 oz sour cream (I used roughly half a 16 oz container)
2 tbsp butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
dash of parsley
dash of ground white pepper

3 sprigs of green onions, thinly sliced at a diagonal

About 2 tsp or so freshly grated parmesan

Some milk to thin out the sauce if necessary
2-3 tbsp sweet white wine (I used Barefoot Moscato)

Set a small pot of water to boil.

While that is heating up, chop up the chicken and make the marinade, whisking the ingredients together until they form a smooth sauce in a small bowl. Place the chicken in the bowl, put some plastic wrap over it and place in the fridge to hang out and absorb until you’re ready for it.

Chicken in marinade

Wash and cube the white potatoes. The water should be boiling by now. Go ahead and add some salt, maybe about 1/2 – 3/4 tsp. It sounds like a lot but it will be diluted by the water. Lower the heat a little bit and let the potatoes lightly boil for about 15 minutes, or until you can easily stick a fork through them.

Now you can turn to the sauce. Slice up half an onion and place in a food processor. Add the walnuts, the garlic and the mustard. Grind until you have an almost paste-like consistency. This will let the onion flavor permeate the sauce without messing up the texture.

Check on your potatoes, and remove from heat if necessary. I found that mine still needed some time. So I turned my attention to the stovetop.

Now it’s time to cook the chicken. In a large saucepan, add the chicken, making sure to use only a minimal amount of the marinade and throw out the rest, enough so that the pan is thinly coated and can accommodate the potatoes, but not more than that. No extra oil is necessary because of the oil in the marinade. Let the chicken cook on low-medium heat, making sure to keep an eye on it and turn the pieces over when necessary.

In another medium saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the flour and stir until it forms little “flour nuggets” for lack of a better description. Add the cream and continue to stir. When smooth, stir in the sour cream, salt, pepper, parsley, white pepper, and parmesan. If it’s really thick, add a splash or two of milk to thin it out just a little bit. It can stay a little bit thick though, because you’re about to add the wine. Now add the wine, until it reaches a nice, “saucy” consistency. Lower the heat as much as possible, just enough to keep it warm. If you can’t keep stirring it, go ahead and turn the heat off. You’ll just need to warm it up a little bit again in a few minutes.

Check on the chicken. It should be more or less halfway done cooking by now. You will have already removed the potatoes by now, or else they should be ready, so drain and add them. Allow each side to brown a bit. Add the green onions.

This really could be its own meal unto itself, without the sauce!

When they are lightly browned, heat up the sauce if necessary and add it to the chicken and potatoes. Stir it up, lower the heat, cover and let cook for another 10 minutes or so, stirring occasionally.

One of the most yummy things I've ever made. Ever.

This makes a fantastic main dish. But if you would prefer to omit the potatoes, the sauce and chicken would be great on pasta or even rice, as well. But, the sour cream flavor really goes well with the potatoes–so I’d say give it a try!

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So. As some of you know, I managed to almost burn down my kitchen the other night. How, you ask? Well, apparently oil can catch fire spontaneously when it reaches a certain temperature. I had heard of a “flashpoint,” but I thought that had more to do with a change in texture and perhaps a brief “flash” or flame–not a moment at which it combusts into an 8 inch high fire that doesn’t go out.

I had been cutting up the chicken and preparing the batter for the recipe below, and I hadn’t realized how long it had taken. Like an idiot, I left the oil on high heat for just a little too long. Just as I realized it and turned off the heat–it burst into flames. A game show buzzer sounded in my head–“BEEEEP! Just a second too late. Better luck next time!”

I immediately removed the pot from the stove, grabbed the lid and placed it over the fire, which did help put out the flame, but black smoke continued to billow out from beneath the lid. I called 911 just to ask how to stop the smoke. There was just so much oil (since this is a recipe for deep frying), and I couldn’t risk carrying it through the house to get it outside. I expected a tip like “more baking soda.” But, of course, they sent two fire trucks to the house. At eleven thirty on a Saturday night. Suffice it to say, the neighbors were curious.

My obvious lack of a social life aside, the lesson for me was clear: to carry extra baking soda or an extinguisher in the kitchen (and perhaps, some more throughout the house). Unexpected things can happen to even the most prolific cook.

The really funny part: Minutes after the firefighters left, I was told we have an extinguisher. But, in the moment, my  mother forgot about it. So, the second lesson is to remember your extinguisher once you’ve bought it. This should go on the Top 5 things to have (and remember) in your kitchen. At #1.

About 40 minutes after the fire broke out, and after about 20 minutes of having a squad of well built men flush the smoke out of the house with fans, I was able to get back to the chicken. Sigh.

The good news is, it came out absolutely delicious! Spicy, smooth flavored, and even a little bit malty, the batter came out nice and crunchy. Definitely a different consistency than the deep-fried Baja-style fish tacos from last week–and equally as scrumptious!

So, without further ado, the recipe:

Skill Level:  EASY (provided you don’t burn down your kitchen)

Preparation time:  About 15 minutes if you’re cutting up the chicken yourself.

Cooking time:  10 minutes for each batch of pieces (5 minutes to cook each side), if deep frying more like 5-6 minutes. About 20 minutes for all of the pieces if you’re using the same size pan as I did.

Servings: 6-8.

Ingredients:

2 chicken breasts, sliced into thin strips and rubbed with salt

canola oil (for frying)

Batter

3/4 cup millet flour (you can substitute this with all purpose white flour; millet just lends a slightly different texture and flavor)

1 cup all purpose flour

2 tsp parsley

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1 1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp ground dry mustard

1/2 tsp ground coriander seed

1 tsp dried basil

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1/2 tsp  ground dried jalapeño or habañero pepper (optional–if you want an extra kick)

2 eggs, beaten

1 8 0z can Guinness

Breadcrumb/flour mixture

1 cup spelt flour (again, this can be substituted with all purpose flour)

2 cups panko bread crumbs

1/2 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs (optional–but adds extra zest)

1 tsp dried basil

1 tsp salt

1 tsp parsley

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Mix all dry ingredients for the batter in a large bowl. Add the eggs and the Guinness and whisk together until smooth. You want to achieve a thick consistency that will still drip a little bit, almost like pancake batter.

Mix all dry ingredients for the breadcrumbs in a separate large bowl.

With a pair of tongs, lightly coat each strip of chicken in breadcrumbs, then transfer to the batter. Let a little bit of batter drip off of each piece, then return to the breadcrumbs and coat once again.

Heat up a pan with at least 1/2 inch canola oil. If you have enough to cover the chicken, even better. But given the fiasco with the first batch of oil, I only had enough to cook one half of each piece at a time, which still worked well and resulted in crunchy fried chicken.

Almost the same as deep fried! So delicious.

Remove to a rack or plates lined with paper towels to soak up the excess oil. Let cool and enjoy with your favorite dipping sauce. I normally love ranch, but the smooth, earthy flavor of this recipe may be complemented better by a sweeter sauce like BBQ or honey mustard. I also think it would be ridiculously fantastic on a salad–but my supply didn’t last long enough for me to find out! Someone please make this and let me know….

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