Monday, June 25, 2012

Lavender and Honey Crock Pot Chicken

A couple months ago several friends from my house church got together to kill, pluck, and gut some chickens. Yes, we slaughter chickens together. No, we are not a cult. I promise!

So at the end of that night, I got to take home two organic, free-range chickens that cost me nothing but a few hours of labor. Well, that, and the feeling that I still smelled like chickens after two days and three showers. As one who doesn't even like to handle raw meat from the store, that was certainly an experience! Perhaps I should write a whole post on that. But lest I ruin your appetite . . .

Since I worked hard for these chickens, I felt like I needed some really epic recipes to cook them. And since they were older chickens, one of the chicken experts in the group warned us that the meat would be tough--so she recommended soup or crock pot cooking methods.

Around the same time I decided to try my hand at cooking with lavender, which I'd eaten twice but had never been brave enough to cook with myself. And then this recipe happened. It used lavender, it featured a whole chicken, and it was easily adaptable to the crock pot. Sold.

I decided to skin my chicken for two reasons: 1) the skin brings a lot of fat to the party, and I wanted a leaner dish; and 2) whoever plucked that chicken (quite possibly me) didn't do the best job, so there were still some feather remnants. However, though I basted this little lady every 30 minutes, she still came out really tough. So if you make this, I'd recommend using more liquid, cooking on low instead of high, leaving the skin on, or a combination thereof.

But the flavor was excellent! The lavender definitely came out, but the dish didn't taste flowery or perfumey, as can happen if you use too much lavender. I don't think I'd change a thing about the marinade ingredients or amounts. For the past couple days I've been using this chicken in some peach quesadillas, and I plan to use the bones to make home-made chicken stock (a first for me).

Lavender and Honey Crock Pot Chicken
Adapted from
Yield: 1 chicken

1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. dried rosemary
1 tsp. dried lavender flowers
1-2 sprigs fresh marjoram, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 red onion, finely chopped (2-3 Tbsp.)
1 whole chicken
Salt and pepper
2 lemons (oranges would probably also be good)
Additional sprig or two of marjoram or other herb(s) of choice

Combine first eight ingredients (honey through red onion) in a 1- or 2-cup measuring cup. Cut one of the lemons into wedges and slice the other one.

Skin the chicken, if desired, and remove any giblets or anything else that came packaged inside the chicken. Season with salt and fresh cracked pepper. Place the lemon wedges inside the body cavity and place chicken in a greased crock pot.

Pour honey-lavender mixture over the chicken, place additional herb sprig(s) on top of chicken, and spread lemon slices on top of that. Cover and cook 4-8 hours* or until chicken is tender and juices run clear. Since I skinned my chicken and since I was home all day, I basted my chicken every 30 minutes or so to try to keep her nice and juicy.

* suggests that, for a 6-lb. whole bone-in chicken, you cook on low for 7-1/2 hours or on high for 6-1/4. Obviously, individual crock pots vary, so adjust your cook time accordingly based on your crock pot and the size of your chicken.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Orange French Toast with Salted Caramel Syrup

French toast has become my weekend breakfast of choice. There are so many ways to vary the basic French toast to create a vast array of breakfast treats. You can change up the kind and flavor of bread, add various ingredients to the egg and milk mixture, polish the dish with different toppings, or all of the above. The possibilities are endless!

This orange French toast recipe is definitely a keeper! For a simpler version, skip the salted caramel syrup and top with your syrup/fruit/whatever of choice. But I highly recommend you try the salted caramel syrup at least once, as it complements the orange French toast flavors beautifully!

Orange French Toast with Salted Caramel Syrup
Adapted from, as seen in Cooking Light
Yield: 4 servings

1 cup milk
3 large eggs
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tsp. orange zest
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
8 thick slices of honey oat bread (or other bread of choice)
2 Tbsp. butter

Salted Caramel Syrup
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup light cream or half and half
1 tsp. kosher salt

Orange French Toast Directions
Whisk together milk, eggs, orange juice, zest, vanilla, and salt in a medium bowl. (This mixture can be prepared up to 1 day in advance.) Pour egg mixture in a shallow pan. Dip bread into egg mixture, and soak for 45 seconds.

Melt 1/2 Tbsp. butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium to medium-low heat. Place 2 slices of bread into skillet. Cook to golden brown, about 3-5 minutes on each side, and keep warm until ready to serve. Continue with the remaining slices of bread.

Serve immediately with the warm Salted Caramel Syrup, with a bit of extra salt sprinkled on top. Garnish with slices of fresh orange, if desired.

Salted Caramel Syrup Directions
Combine sugar and water in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir to dissolve sugar. Bring to boil, reduce heat to medium, and cook for 8 minutes or until golden. Watch carefully to keep the caramel from burning.

Reduce heat to low or medium-low. Gently stir in cream or half and half, using a long-handled spoon or whisk. The syrup will get glumpy, but just keep it on low heat, stirring frequently, until it gets melty again. (Warming the cream in the microwave before adding to the saucepan would probably help the glumpiness factor.)

Stir in kosher salt. Set aside, and keep warm until French toast is done.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Black Bean and Quinoa Bowl with Peach Salsa

One of my best friends got married recently, and for her wedding present from me and another friend, she asked that we make her a cookbook of some of our favorite recipes. In the process of compiling recipes for this cookbook, I’ve been reminded of how much I love cooking. And adapting recipes. And writing about food. And sharing food with others.

So I am resolved to post recipes and food pictures more often—I’m going to aim for about once a week. Photographing my food inspires me to make my meal a work of art, an experience. To not just throw something on a plate and scarf it down while catching the latest episode of Community or SVU.

Posting the photos and corresponding recipes provides a way to share the experience with others, even on evenings I eat alone.

So today I present to you this recipe from a food blog I’ve just started following within the last week or two. Surprisingly, I followed it pretty closely. The only significant change I made was to cook only 1 cup of quinoa rather than 2, and I’m very happy with that decision. I think the quinoa to bean to salsa ratio was perfect.

Black Bean and Quinoa Bowl with Peach Salsa
Adapted slightly from
Yield: 4 servings

1 cup uncooked quinoa
2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
6-8 green onions, sliced
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. chili powder
Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper, to taste

Peach Salsa Ingredients
4 ripe peaches, pitted and chopped (peeling is optional)
1/2 medium to large red onion, finely chopped
1/2 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped (more or less to taste)
Juice of 1 lime
Handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
Kosher salt, to taste

Rinse the quinoa well and drain. To a small saucepan add the quinoa and 1-1/2 cups water, and a few pinches of salt, if desired. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low; cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes, until water has been absorbed. Turn off the heat and let sit covered to cool for about 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and add salt and pepper to taste.

Note: Quinoa package directions often call for a 1 to 2 ratio of quinoa to water. On this site’s recommendation, I tried a 1 to 1-1/2 ratio (1 cup of quinoa to 1-1/2 cups water), and the quinoa turned out fluffier and less watery/mushy. I’ll definitely stick with this method for future quinoa needs.

While the quinoa cooks, chop/prepare the salsa ingredients and combine them all in a bowl. Set aside.

Combine the beans, green onions, cumin, chili powder, 1/4 tsp. salt, and pepper. Mix well. Adjust seasonings, if desired.

To serve, dish the quinoa into bowls, top with black bean mixture and peach salsa.

So good! Fresh, summery, and hearty, with a very healthy taste that the quinoa brings to the party. I enjoyed eating this for dinner last night and am excited about eating the leftovers throughout the rest of this week. Sadly, I forgot to buy a jalapeno while at the grocery store. I did miss it, but the dish didn’t suffer from it. Also, while in the checkout line, I thought, “I should have picked up an avocado or two to dice onto the top of this bowl!” I really wish I’d had that thought earlier, because after tasting the dish, I definitely think avocado would have taken this dish up a notch. Next time!

Nutritional Information Per Serving (compliments of My Fitness Pal)
423 calories; 4.9 g. fat; 78.6 g total carbs (18.4 g. dietary fiber, 13.2 g. sugars); 19.6 g. protein.