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smoked whole chicken

Smoked, brined chicken. Isn’t it a lovely color?

The first time I brined a chicken, it was an act of desperation. I had purchased a couple whole chickens at a good price, and we have a great roasted chicken recipe. But with more than one, there was no way we needed to cook both, so one went into the deep freeze. (I’ve mentioned I love my deep freeze.)

One thing I have never – never – had luck with is thawing a whole chicken. (Here are the USDA’s guidelines for safe thawing.) Everything I’ve read says a 3.5 pound chicken should thaw in your refrigerator in a day. I tried that. It was most definitely still frozen, even after two days or three. I got frustrated with cool water methods. (What a waste of water!)

So I decided to brine the chicken in the frig for 48 hours. I figured unlike most cool water methods, where you keep the chicken in its plastic bag so the water doesn’t touch it, the brine is allowed to penetrate all the cavities in the chicken, allowing warmth to seep in everywhere.

What do you know, it worked! Not only did my chicken thaw completely in far less time than all my other attempts, it was the tastiest, juiciest, most tender bird I’d ever roasted. This is what I posted to Facebook:

“If you’ve never brined a chicken before roasting/grilling it, DO IT! I did it Saturday out of desperation since the chicken did not get taken out of the freezer. We roasted it today in the usual way, and it was wonderful!”

I’ve since tried brining for only 24 hours, and if I recall correctly, my bird was completely thawed then, too. Hooray! I get a thawed bird AND tastier chicken? That’s a win! I brined my Christmas turkey, and that, too, got raves.

A few years ago, my husband took up smoking meats as a hobby. What a tasty hobby! We’ve enjoyed several experiments over the years, and I’m sure I’ll share a few of them with you, but one of our daughter’s favorites is Dad’s smoked chicken. “It doesn’t even need ranch dressing!” That’s a high compliment in our house!

Brine for Chicken

  • 1 gallon cold water
  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar (or brown sugar)
  • Added flavorings (try rosemary and sage, or whatever suits you!)

Dissolve salt and sugar in water in a large ziptop or other food-safe plastic bag. Add flavorings as desired. Place your chicken in the bag, making sure all cavities are filled with water. Seal bag tightly and place in a deep bowl in the frig overnight.

Drain brine. Pat chicken dry and cook as usual. (Roast, grill, smoke, you name it!) Enjoy!

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Gazpacho Ingredients

Fresh strawberries, cucumbers, garlic, onion, pepper and tomatoes (not pictured) feature in this fantastic soup.

If you haven’t noticed, I’m always trying ways to get my family to eat more veggies. This cool soup is hit or miss with my kids. Sometimes they like it. Sometimes they don’t. But my husband and I both like it very much, and when you don’t want to heat up the kitchen, it’s a great side dish.

With fresh ingredients in season, this is perfect with grilled meats. The strawberries give the soup a lovely sweetness. And DO NOT skimp on the feta. The feta makes the soup. Buy good feta. 🙂

Gazpacho

A cup of gazpacho with feta on top. Yum!

Chunky Summer Gazpacho

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3 Roma tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 cup strawberries, chopped
  • 1 medium zucchini, chopped
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 cucumber, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion (or one small shallot, chopped)
  • 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsps. white wine or cider vinegar
  • 2 Tbsps. olive oil
  • 2 tsps. fresh thyme OR 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • crumbled feta cheese

Place the water and tomatoes in a food processor or blender and puree until smooth. Add the remaining ingredients (except feta) and pulse to desired consistency.

Chill the gazpacho for two hours (recommended in the recipe. We tend to serve immediately.) Add water to thin, if desired. Sprinkle individual servings with feta as desired.

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Sometimes oldies are goodies. Here’s how this classic food found its way back to my table.

When I was a kid, my mom made tuna and noodles once in a blue moon. It wasn’t exactly a favorite of mine, and I hadn’t had it in YEARS.

Then I had a kid. A sort-of-picky kid. And in desperation, I dusted off this recipe (i.e. I asked Mom for it.) I tried it and it was a hit. I couldn’t believe it!

I quickly decided to change it up. The original recipe had only one small can of tuna, one can of cream of mushroom soup, and 3 cups egg noodles. It hardly seemed like a real meal. (Sorry, Mom!)

My new recipe has double tuna, and has added in vegetables. Frozen stir-fry veggies are one of my favorite go-to add-ins.

Tuna and noodles

Tuna and Noodles

 

Makeover Tuna & Noodles

  • 3 cups dry egg noodles
  • 1/2 of a 14-ounce bag of frozen stir fry veggies
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup
  • 2 (5-ounce) cans of tuna (I prefer albacore, but often do one albacore and one chunk-light to reduce cost.)
  • Lemon pepper and mesquite seasoning, to taste.
  1. In a large saucepan, boil noodles, adding veggies to the boiling water about 5-6 minutes before end of cook time. (I use kitchen shears to chop the veggies smaller after they’ve thawed in the boiling water, but this is optional.) Drain in colander.
  2. Add mushroom soup and tuna to pan. Heat on medium low heat for a few minutes, stirring regularly. Return noodles and veggies to pan, stirring until heated through.
  3. Serve with lemon pepper and/or mesquite seasoning. (We just put it on the table and sprinkle over our individual servings to our liking.)

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I’ve never been much for eggs, and when it comes to pancakes – generally speaking – give me waffles. I MUCH prefer waffles. But when my husband brought home Practical Paleo a few years ago, we discovered a tremendous pancake recipe that we all love.

pumpkinpancakes

Pumpkin pancakes make a great dinner or breakfast.

(If you aren’t familiar with a paleo diet, you’ve probably had your head stuck in a hole of the diet world for the last few years. My husband is a big proponent, while I tend to be a bit of an “all-things-in-moderation” sort of gal when it comes to nutrition.)

Anyway, I’ve tried very hard to reduce carbs in order to reach balance on our table so we ALL feel like we’re eating healthy while not making any foods taboo. These egg pancakes are fun, fast, and flavorful. I usually make a HUGE batch for dinner, and then freeze a bunch on cookie sheets to pull out one at a time and reheat for the kids’ breakfasts or an easy snack.

pumpkinpancakes

My big new electric griddle helps me make LOTS of pumpkin pancakes at once!

Pumpkin Pancakes from Practical Paleo

  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup (optional – I rarely use this.)
  • 1 medium ripe banana (optional – I ALWAYS do this.)
  • 2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons butter or coconut oil (plus extra for frying. I use butter.)
  1. My method: With an electric mixer, beat the banana and pumpkin together. Add in spices and baking powder, beating until well combined. Add eggs and vanilla, beating until combined. 
    Original Method: 
    Whisk eggs, pumpkin, vanilla, and syrup together. Sift the pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, and baking soda into the wet ingredients. (I had issues with the spices floating on top instead of mixing in well with this method, hence the change.)
  2. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Mix into the batter.
  3. Grease a skillet, griddle or electric griddle, and heat over medium heat; when hot spoon/pour batter into desired size to make pancakes. (I’ve found that smaller pancakes are much easier with this batter than large ones. About 4-inch pancakes work best.)  Cook until pancake is mostly set, and then flip over.
  4. Serve with butter, sliced bananas, jam, and/or maple syrup. Experiment with toppings. Which is your favorite?

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When I can get everyone – everyone! – in my family to eat a meal, we officially have a winner. This all-in-one we made ages ago, and it got lost in my recipe box. Found it recently and decided to try it again, remembering that everyone liked it last time. (Last time, neither of the kids were quite as picky as they are now.)

History repeated itself, and everyone ate it! (Can I get a Hallelujah?!) My three-year-old even repeated several time, “I like this supper. I like all the things in it.” The flavors complement each other very well, and everything is fairly mild, so it has kid-appeal. The egg adds a nice touch, so I don’t recommend skipping it…though I almost did.

sweet potatoe and sausage hash

Sweet Potato Sausage Hash

  • 2 small sweet potatoes, peeled, halved lengthwise, and cut into 1/2-inch slices.
  • 12 ounces bulk pork sausage. (I used 1 lb. mild sage sausage because that’s what I had.)
  • 1 fresh Anaheim or sweet bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 4 cups spinach and/or baby kale
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 4 eggs (we only did two)
  • salt
  1. In a very large skillet with a lid, heat 2 Tbsp. water over medium heat. Add sweet potatoes. Cover; cook 12 minutes.
  2. Uncover skillet; add sausage and pepper. Cook over medium-high heat until sausage is brown and sweet potatoes are tender, stirring to break up sausage. Drain fat if necessary. Stir in spinach and cumin. Cook and stir 1-2 minutes or until spinach is wilted. Transfer to a serving dish.
  3. Add oil to skillet. Heat over medium heat. Crack eggs into skillet (or alternately, into a bowl and scramble lightly before pouring into skillet, like I did.) Sprinkle with salt. Cook until desired doneness. Serve over hash.

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