Dear Auntie Peggy!

Mama L. said that tomorrow is the Solar Eclipse and you were all worried about Sarah because it’s her birthday tomorrow and that the astrological sign Cancer was going to be affected by the Eclipse because it is their House! I wrestled with this knowledge for a very long time because I did not understand one single word! But I don’t think you should worry about anything at all because today is Madeleine’s birthday and Mama L. is going to make us a big steak for dinner!

Here is a picture of us waiting for our dinner. I have to sit down instead of running around all excited because Mama L. put this silly shirt on me. Anytime she makes me wear a shirt, I can’t move. Beatrice told me they did that to her too, but she actually falls over. I tried her trick — to look as sad as possible so that they’ll take it off of me, but it only makes the Mamas laugh. Why do they do that, Auntie Peggy? I think it’s mean. Clothing is very itchy, and I try to rub it off by leaning against the cupboards. I don’t understand why anybody would want to wear anything. But then Mama M. would point out that I like to sleep under the sheets in bed, and that’s just like wearing a shirt except without sticking my head and legs out! I don’t think it’s the same thing at all.

Bob’s Red Mill Hearty Whole Grain Bread Mix

Last night Michelle had a hankering for nutritious whole grain bread. Naturally my first thought was “Yay, I get to try out my Williams-Sonoma Goldtouch® Nonstick Perforated French Bread Pan“. I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out, since 1) I’ve never made french bread before, and 2) gluten-free breads aren’t known for their, um, fluffiness. Well, imagine my surprise when this turned out as well as it did.

Let me first say that if you just follow the instructions on the package, you cannot go wrong. The bread turned out “moist, fluffy, delicious, and bursting with flavors” — just as Bob’s Red Mill claims! I also liked the fact that it’s milk-free (not quite dairy-free, since you have to use 2 eggs.) And, even though I managed to screw up the instructions (I added a Tablespoon of cider vinegar instead of a teaspoon), the bread still turned out phenomally. It is the next-level of homemade bread! (Juniper, eat your heart out!)

Besides Bob’s Red Mill Hearty Whole Grain Bread Mix, the main ingredients you’ll need are:

1)  1-3/4 cups water
2)  1/4 cup oil (I used organic extra virgin olive)
3)  2 eggs
4)  1 tsp. cider vinegar (I used Bragg’s apple cider vinegar)

You can also use a bread machine if you want — I didn’t, and I don’t think you need to drag out your bread machine for this. And remember, I screwed up, in more than one way. The water I used to dissolve the yeast was probably too warm (it never foamed). After mixing the bread, I scooped it out directly onto the bread pan — without greasing it (the pan was supposed to be non-stick anyway.) And then I stuck the whole thing in the oven at 100°F for 30 minutes to let it rise (instead of 45 minutes at 75°F). Then, I left the bread in the oven and turned it up to 375°F, and baked for 45 minutes (instead of 1 hour). But, I figured that since we were making two smaller loafs than one big one, the amount of oven time was appropriate. Besides, I didn’t want it to burn too much. Needless to say, it was the longest 45 minutes ever, because the whole house smelled like a real bakery and we just want to taste that hot bread as soon as it came out of the oven. (“What do you mean we have to let it cool completely before slicing?”)

The loafs don’t look all that pretty, but boy, were they tasty! We had some last night and again this morning. What I hadn’t mentioned is that I also added a handful of pumpkin/sunflower/hemp seeds to the mix — for that extra nuttiness. It was delicious. This is definitely a keeper!

Grilled Greek Chicken and Mediterranean Orzo

This is an emergency request for Michelle because she’s going to cook this down in LA this afternoon.  So I’m going to post this so that she can have the list of ingredients. I’ll post pictures later to go with it. This is a delicious meal — quickly becoming one of our favorites and go-to meals to make for the week ahead.

I modified this recipe from the original Rachael Ray’s that I saw on the Foodnetwork while working out on the elliptical. I just tried to look for the recipe from her official website, but I couldn’t find it. Maybe she called it something else.

If you have someone helping to slice and dice, this should take about a half-hour to prep, and maybe another half-hour to cook the whole thing.  It’s also low-cal, but very tasty from the infusion of citrus and herbs.

Grilled Greek Chicken:

3 skinless boneless chicken breasts, cut into chunks (can use thighs, or combo — your preference)
3/4 C. green olive tapenade (or a small jar from Trader Joe’s)
1/4 C. chopped fresh oregano
1/4 C. chopped fresh rosemary
1 small bulb garlic, crushed & minced
1/4 C. olive oil (or “EVOO”, as Rachael Ray calls it)
zest of 2 lemons
juice of 2 lemons
salt & pepper

Combine all ingredients and marinate chicken pieces for at least 15 minutes before grilling. Depending on the size/thickness of the chicken chunks, grill about 3 to 5 minutes per side. If I remember correctly, this was supposed to be a kebob-type meal. Regardless, if you don’t have a grill, pan-fry over medium-high heat until chicken is cooked through. Save the sauce to spoon over chicken and Mediterranean Orzo (I’m completely addicted to this orzo dish).

If you have one of these grilling pans, you can do it over the stovetop…

(Orzo grows in size exponentially; keep that in mind before doubling this recipe. On the other hand, it is SO good, you might want to double it anyway.) (The “optional” were what I added to the original recipe).

Mediterranean Orzo

1 small red onion, finely chopped
2 small persian cucumbers, chopped
1/2 C. pine nuts, toasted (optional)
1 C. feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 C. shredded reggiano/parmesan (optional)
1/2 C. chopped kalamata olives
1 C. (or a very big handful) italian (flat) parsley, chopped
juice from 1 lemon
1/2 C. sun-dried tomatoes, chopped (optional)
salt/pepper to taste
1 C. orzo (about 1/2 package), cooked per instructions

Prepare all ingredients while the orzo is cooking. You’ll want to mix this all together while the pasta is still warm so that the cheeses melt.

Dear Stupid Dogs, most especially Stupid Madeleine,

Since I am The Cat, it is my job to make sure that everything runs smoothly around the house. That includes making sure that you stupid dogs don’t make the Mamas unhappy. You were doing pretty good until that stupid cat poop incident. I’ve tried to dissuade Annabelle many times from pooping outside the box, but she’s an old sick girl and sometimes she gets confused and loses her mind. A few thwaps on her head here and there and she seems to remember again.

But there’s no excuse for you stupid dogs, especially Madeleine who is supposed to be older and smarter. Aren’t you the one who’s always huffing and puffing about being alpha and all? You should be a good example to Gingersnap! who always looks up to you and always gets in trouble because of you. Eating cat poop is just disgusting, not just to the Mamas but to me as well. It’s just about the most revolting thing ever, and you should be ashamed of yourself!

I have skills, you know. They’re called claws. I know you yelped loudly when I swiped at your nose, but I was being gentle as it was the first time I caught you red-pawed. The next time, it will be a lot worse.

Vietnamese Chicken Curry (Cà Ri Gà)

“Curry” is a generic word typically used to describe a tasty stew of meat and vegetable. But in fact, it is a blend of spices — cumin, coriander, turmeric, clove and cinnamon being the most common. There are as many varieties of curry as there are cuisines. Most people are familiar with Indian and Thai curries, and maybe can tell the difference between the two. Thai curries come in “shades of hot”, as I call it, but the heat factor is not necessarily accurate as it also depends a great deal on the labels. Red, yellow, green curries all refer to the type of pepper that is used in the mixture. Indian curries tend to be the most prolific in term of varieties,  each region claiming its own special blend, with madras and masala being the most well-known.  Panang-style curry is also gaining popularity in the US as I have seen it listed in a few restaurants. It is typically beef (or goat in Malaysia), and is quite hot. I can still remember sitting in a small neighborhood restaurant in Panang, eating a bowl of this tasty stew (more water, please), in between hiccups (I get them when the food is really spicy hot). By the way, water does not really work. You need to drink something hot (like hot tea) to remove the pepper oils.

Now that I’m older and a little less adventurous, I have developed a few favorites that I’ll go back to time and again. I still like Grandma’s Vietnamese Chicken Curry the best, although I still can’t quite duplicate it exactly the same. In addition to sweet potato, she used this small dense root vegetable (cassava? taro?) that adds a nice starchy texture to the stew. Regardless, the recipe below is quite tasty, and is pretty easy to make. Traditional recipe calls for chicken thighs, but you can use chicken breast to cut back on the calories. Because it simmers in the sauce for a while, the breast does not come out dry and chewy. In Vietnam, we eat this dish with sliced warm fluffy french bread. Try that or serve with steamed rice.

A note on the curry blend:  We used to be able to get the 3 Golden Bells label, but I haven’t been able to find it in a while. The closest one I could find is the 4 Elephant brand. Whole Foods has several blends as well — I’m not as fond of them as the Asian ones. You can experiment with different types until you find one that you like. But stick with the yellow curry powder. And if you get overwhelmed by an Asian market, any madras curry will do.

This recipe makes a LOT of chicken curry — but we usually make a big batch and freeze for lunches. (I still love my Food Saver!) Cut the recipe by half for 4 servings.

3 pounds skinned chicken (bone-in for added flavor)
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-1/2 inch cubes
2 large carrots, sliced diagonally (about an inch thick)
2 small onions, cut into wedges
1/2 cup or so curry powder
3 shallots, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 lemongrass stalks (mostly white and pale green parts), cut into 3″ lengths and bruised
2″ piece of ginger, bruised, peeled and sliced thickly
4 cups of chicken stock (or Trader Joe’s sweet potato soup)
1 can of coconut milk
4 tbs of fish sauce (more or less to taste)
salt to taste
cilantro for garnish

Put the curry powder on a flat plate, and coat the chicken evenly on both sides. Use your fingertips to “massage” the curry powder into the chicken. Put aside for 30 minutes.

In a big skillet, add a tablespoon olive oil over medium high heat. Add onions, shallots, garlic and stir until fragrant — 10 seconds or so. Add the chicken and brown both sides. Add lemongrass and ginger. Pour on top the chicken stock (or sweet potato soup), and bring to a slow boil. Add the rest of the ingredients (except for the garnish), cover and simmer for a half hour. Discard lemongrass stalks before serving.

Ingredients I usually leave out are 3 tablespoons of sugar and 3 tablespoons of red chile flakes. I figure it’s already hot and sweet enough, but add them to your taste.