Italian for dinner – CHICKEN CACCIATORE

Chicken cacciatore is a classic Italian comfort dish.

As with most Italian dishes, each family has its own version of sauce, pasta dishes, and desserts that are passed down from generation to generation.

As the recipe is passed down, some family members (meaning me), and at times (meaning me, most of the time) the family member will tweak and put their own spin on the dish.

This is my version for a succulent Cacciatore that will fill your house with warm, comforting aromas.

INGREDIENTS:

2 small carrots, sliced
1 celery rib, chopped
1 Vidalia onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
extra-virgin olive oil
6 ounces tomato paste
6 chicken thighs, bone-in, and skin
¼ cup all-purpose flour
10 plum tomatoes, drizzle with olive oil, sea salt and roast in oven, until done
3 TBSP fresh basil, chopped
5 cloves garlic, roasted and squeezed out
½ cup red wine (wine you would drink yourself, not cooking wine)
salt to taste
crushed red pepper flakes to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Slice, dice, and chop, carrots, celery, onion, pepper, set aside.

In a Dutch oven (or large skillet) heat olive oil on medium high.
Season the chicken thighs with salt, and lightly coat each thigh with flour.
Brown chicken in the pan; 3 to 4 minutes each side (until chicken is browned).
Remove from the skillet and set aside.

Add; onion, carrots, celery, pepper to the skillet, scraping the chicken juices from the pan, and cook for 6 minutes.

Add tomatoes, tomato paste, roasted garlic, chicken and wine to the vegetables in the pot, and stir to combine.
Set heat on low and let simmer until chicken is cooked through to an internal temperature of 165F.
Stir occasionally, and taste so you can adjust the salt and pepper flakes.

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SUBSTITUTIONS:
You can use chicken legs instead of thighs. Chicken breast won’t work as well, as dark meat works best for this dish. You can choose to use skinless thighs or legs.
Any sweet onion will work if you don’t have Vidalia.
You can substitute use red, orange or yellow bell pepper
If you don’t want to roast your own plum tomatoes, you can use 1 large can of plum tomatoes
You can use chicken broth instead of wine


Buon appetito

Widowhood–Navigating the emotional minefield on Valentine’s Day

After my beloved husband died in 2018, I knew that the days ahead, navigating through this new life I never wanted, would be challenging.

Inevitably I encountered emotional landmines, especially during the holidays, riding a roller coaster of triggered anxiety and depression. Even something simple as grocery shopping and spotting a carton of orange sherbet—his favourite dessert—swallowed me whole with a fresh wave of grief.

Now that the bright lights of Christmas and New Year’s are behind us, a new landmine blasts at every turn complete with hearts, flowers, chocolates and advertisements for dinner for two–and when you’re suffering heartache as a widow or widower on Valentine’s Day, they seem to pop up everywhere.

My husband and I didn’t celebrate Valentine’s Day with a lot of fanfare, as he was a “here’s-a-gift-for-no-reason” type of guy, however, we did mark the day in our own way.

He’d kick off the morning by serving me tea and toast, using peanut butter to draw a heart on the toast, and I would give him a bowl of Smarties (he loved his sweets).

I’d give him a card—the kind we used to give as kids at school–of course, there wasn’t anything childlike in the naughty note I’d written inside the card (well, I am a romance author after all).

He’d give me a card—the traditional “for all occasions card.”

Twenty-years ago, my husband gave me a card for my birthday–the card looked oddly familiar, and then when I opened the card I knew why it looked familiar. He had given me that card on our anniversary with a sticky note inside with his endearment—here it was again for my birthday, with a different note inside.

It was a running joke that I treasured all these years, as he said it saved him from never forgetting a card for any occasion, he’d just recycle the card and just change the sticky note to suit the occasion.

As I said earlier, he loved giving gifts for no reason, and about six months after he died, I finally went through a few of his things in his man cave area, and discovered a binder filled with vintage Beatles cards.

I figured out that he had been collecting them to surprise me with them at some point, but with chemotherapy and in his weakened state, he hadn’t spend much downtime in his man cave, and I am guessing he forgot about that binder with all that was going on.

It was a bittersweet moment, and I remember having to spend a day in bed after finding the cards—the heart ache was so intense. I then shook myself out of my despair and with tears in my eyes, felt joy for his thoughtfulness. I forced myself to go to MICHAEL’s and purchased a frame. Some of the cards hang in my office where I can enjoy them.

This Valentine’s Day I will make toast and use peanut butter to draw a heart on it; I will hold the for-every-occasion-card close to my heart; I will look out into the garden and take in the tall oak tree, and remember the day twenty-eight-years ago when we planted the acorn together on the first day we moved into our home.

I will open the treasure trove of memories my husband left me from the beautiful life he lovingly gifted me every single day of our marriage, remember his deep love, his smile, his wit, his great sense of humour, and how passionate he was about our family, and although it will be another heart-wrenching reminder of all that I’ve lost, I will force myself to smile through the tears and continue to be grateful for the everlasting love we share.

As I do every night, I will close my eyes, remember his soft kisses and say, “I’ll see you on the other side of the stars, my love.”

When you buy too much Greek Yogurt. . .

The other day, while performing my weekly clean-out-the-fridge task, I noticed I still had two full cartons of Greek Yogurt which I hadn’t opened and they were about to expire.

Instead of devouring the yogurt with the addition of Nutella (which by the way tastes like chocolate pudding) I decided to put my own spin on the two-ingredient bagel recipe which I could then freeze for future breakfasts, lunches or snacks.

Lemon-Sesame-Yogurt Bagels

INGREDIENTS:

2 TBSP chia seeds
2 TBSP flax seeds
4 TBSP water
Lemon rind (of 1 lemon)
2 Cups Plain Greek Yogurt (make sure it’s Greek & NOT “Greek style”)
2 Cups Flour
1 TBS Baking Powder
1/2 tsp salt
Sesame Seeds (optional: everything bagel seasoning mix, or poppy seeds)
1 Egg, lightly beaten for the egg wash

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375F and prepare a baking sheet by lining it with parchment paper, and lightly spray it with cooking spray.

In a small bowl, add chia seeds, flax seeds, and water. Stir and let them sit for about 20 minutes so that the seeds can soak up the water.

In a large bowl, whisk together: flour, baking powder and salt, until well blended.

In a separate bowl, add: Greek Yogurt and lemon rind, stir well.

Add the chia seeds and Flax seeds mixture into the Greek Yogurt,
stir well to combine.

Using a spatula, add the yogurt mixture to the flour. Stir well, until
everything is incorporated. The dough will be sticky and shaggy.

With floured hands, divide the dough into eight pieces, roll each piece into a ball, and place on baking sheet.

Insert your thumb in the middle of each dough ball, to make a bagel hole.

Brush each bagel with egg wash.

Sprinkle each bagel with sesame seeds (or poppy seeds, or seasoning, your choice)

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, then rotate the baking sheet, and continue baking for another 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove from oven, increase temperature to 450 F

Return the baking sheet to oven and bake for another 5 to 7 minutes (until the tops of the bagels have browned).

Remove from oven and place on cooling rack

Bagels can be eaten warm out of the oven (delicious with your favourite jam—mine is Bonne Mamma apricot and pear).

You can store bagel in a well-sealed container in the fridge for a few days, or freeze them by wrapping them individually, once thawed, cut and toast.

The Chocolate Moon

Ask any grandparent and they will tell you that becoming a grandparent makes even a curmudgeon giddy with joy. I am the proud nana of two beautiful boys (eleven and four years old), and they are the highlight of my day and life.

The joys of nana-life include: rocking it out, playing Fortnite, mini-stick hockey, holding dance parties in the living-room, helping out with homework, and writing stories.

Introducing the newest author in the family; four-year-old, Henri, his debut novel is called: THE CHOCOLATE MOON.

He wrote this book (dictated to me and I typed it, and also served as his editor) in December and I had it printed it up, and gave it to family members.

I am sharing his book with you, and because the subject (chocolate) is so dear to my heart, I am including a scrumptious chocolate sauce recipe at the end of this post—you can even pour it on the moon. 🙂

Chapter One
The Dinosaur and the LadyBug

THERE ONCE WAS a dinosaur named Henrisaurus who lived in a big, purple rock.

Henrisaurus lived in the purple rock with a Ladybug named Star.

Star liked to eat oranges and crunchy carrots.

Henrisaurus loved to eat people, but not Nana’s.

Star told Henrisaurus that eating people was not a nice thing to do, so Henrisaurus stopped eating people.

From that day on, Henrisaurus ate chocolate, Italian cookies, chips, and jujubes.

Henrisaurus loved those so much that he did not miss eating people.

Chapter Two
The Gorilla

One day, Henrisaurus and Star went to the Dinosaur Store and they bought a big moon.

They put the moon in a box to carry it home.

On the way home from the Dinosaur Store they ran into a gorilla who was carrying a big bag.

“What is your name, big gorilla?” said Henrisaurus.

The Gorilla pounded his chest and growled loud. “My name is Skeleton, and I am strong.”

Henri said, “I think you need clothes.”

Skeleton growled again and said, “You should be scared of me.”

Henri shook his head. “I’m not.”

The Gorilla growled again and jumped up and down, pounding his chest.

“Star,” said Henrisaurus. “I think Skeleton would look good in a chocolate suit and shoes. Let’s take him home and dip him in chocolate.”

“That’s a good idea,” Star said.

The Gorilla ran away fast because he was scared of Henrisaurus.

The Gorilla dropped his bag and lots of oranges and carrots fell out.

Henrisaurus picked up two oranges, and three carrots, and gave them to Star.

Then they went home with their new goodies and the moon.

Chapter Three
Home for Lunch

At home, Henrisaurus and Star played with their friends, Microwave, Plant, Red, Isabelle, Pear and Apple.

Then it was time for lunch, so Henrisaurus took the moon he bought at the Dinosaur Store and dipped it in a big pot of melted chocolate.

Henrisaurus shared the chocolate moon with Star and all his friends.

It was yummy.

“What should we buy tomorrow, Henrisaurus?” said Star.

Henrisaurus said, “Let’s buy the sun. It will be good dipped in chocolate.”

They all laughed and clapped their hands.

After eating the yummy chocolate moon, and playing, they were tired, so they sat on a purple couch, and Nanasaurus put the TV on so they could watch Christmas movies and rest.

They talked about tomorrow and how they were going to go back to the Dinosaur store, and then play all together again

-The End –



MEET THE AUTHOR




Simple Homemade Chocolate Sauce

This easy to make (you can get the kids to help you out as well) chocolate sauce can be poured over; fruit, cake, cookies, ice-cream, yogurt, and even the moon, because when it comes to chocolate, the possibilities are endless.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup (250 ml) water
½ cup milk (for extra richness and decadence you can use cream)
1/2 cup white sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-processed)
8 ounces of high-quality chocolate for the best flavor and texture–bittersweet or semisweet– finely chopped

Directions:

Turn stove top to medium heat.

In a saucepan, whisk together: water, milk, sugar, and cocoa powder.

Keep whisking until the mixture comes to a boil.

Remove from heat and add chopped chocolate, stirring until chocolate is all melted.

Put aside for 1 ½ to 2 hours, this will allow the sauce to thicken.

To serve warm, heat on low for a few minutes, or can be served at room temperature, just stir before drizzling.

Can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 10 days in a tightly covered container, and rewarmed before serving.

Enjoy!

Comfort Food: Italian Style

Winter is the time for fleece-wear, a roaring fire, page -turning books, and delicious aromas swirling around the kitchen as your comfort food is simmering or baking.

We all have favourite dishes that feel like a hug as we relish each bite; and for me, it’s Italian food.

One of my favourite meals to whip up for a self-care dinner is a simple dish with humble ingredients: Pasta Aglio e Olio (pasta with garlic and oil).

I had some polpette e sugo (meatballs in sauce) leftover from Christmas in the freezer. When I make meatballs, I make a huge batch and freeze them for those days when I need a hug from an Italian staple.

Here’s the recipe for you to try so you too can get your own comfort-food-hug Italian style:

Pasta Aglio e Olio with Polpette

I use homemade pasta, however, you can use whatever type of pasta you have on hand (packaged or homemade), and the same with your sauce–use whatever tomato sauce you normally would use, or no sauce at all, it’s a flexible recipe.

This recipe will serve four. Cut the ingredients in half if making for two.

Ingredients:

1 head of garlic, roasted. You can use raw garlic, if you do, thinly slice 6 cloves
1/2 cup Extra Virgin Kalamata Olive oil (or any other type of Extra Virgin olive oil)
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes, or less if you don’t like spicy, or eliminate
1 cup finely grated, Romano cheese (this is my preference, but you can use Parmigiano or a combination of both)
1 pound uncooked pasta (your choice)
Salt to taste

Directions:

1. Roast the garlic, remove and squeeze out the garlic.

2. Warm up a large pasta bowl.

3. Cook your pasta, according to package directions in a large pot of salted water, al dente. If using fresh pasta, cook only for a few minutes until it’s firm to the bite.

4. Drain and transfer pasta to the warmed pasta bowl.

5. Warm the oil on medium heat in a skillet. Once oil is hot, add the garlic and lower heat to low, stirring the garlic in the oil for 10 minutes, then remove from the heat.

6. Add pasta to the skillet, and toss so that the pasta is coated with the garlic-oil, and sprinkle with salt (to taste).

7. Put pasta back in the bowl, and add pepper flakes, and the grated cheese, and stir well until cheese is combined.

8. Serve with additional grated cheese.

If you’d like to serve the pasta with meatballs, you can find my meatball recipe on my blog. Please click here.

SMILE THROUGH THE TEARS

Like many people who are challenged with grieving the loss of a loved one, the upcoming Christmas season is again emphasizing the loss of my husband in every level of my being.

It’s a daily struggle to navigate life without my beloved. I have learned that even on a day when I feel good, it doesn’t mean that I’ve been cured of my grief, because there is no cure.

Therefore, I have no choice but to find a way to embrace the concept of allowing grief to co-exist with joy, so that even with feeling heartache and pain, I can enjoy moments of joy, laughter, and  . . . smile through the tears.

I could tell you it’s been easy to have grief and joy co-exist with each other, and that it gets better each day, because time heals all wounds, but that would be fiction filled with empty platitudes.

It does not get easier or better with time, however, with time, patience, and a sense of humour, I am finding a balance with handling both as I . . .  smile through the tears.

I am going to share how I am preparing for the Christmas season in the hopes that it will help another person who is struggling with the challenges of pushing through each day of the holiday season.

Something that I personally find helpful; not only to steer my way through any holiday, but also through my daily life is; changing my routine, creating new traditions, releasing any and all idea of what “normal” is, or what it used to be, because there is no normal when it comes to grieving, and at the same time, keeping my cherished husband’s memory and image in my mind and heart as I . . . smile through the tears.

MEMORY FILLED ADVENT PILLOW.

I grew up with the advent calendar tradition for the days leading up to Christmas, and each day I enjoyed a chocolate kiss candy, so I used this idea and added my own twist, creating a new tradition with the Christmas Advent Pillow.

Each day, beginning December 1st, I will pull out a note from the pockets of the pillow that holds a treasured memory of my life with my husband, along with a list of what I am grateful for on that day, as I have also found an attitude of gratitude has helped me handle my grief.

On December 1st I pulled out the first memory and relived that moment in time when my cheeks burned with mortification under my green face (homemade avocado mask), and how my husband’s sense of humour, love and support got me through an embarrassing situation (or what David loved to call them “Lucy moments”) I . . . smiled through the tears.

As I opened the flood gates, remembering all our adventures, my heart and soul once again filled with love and gratitude for the life we had together, and with each memory, I . . . smile through the tears.

I’m still a work in progress and I know I will never nail the concept of having joy co-exist with grief perfectly, or navigate this new life without finding it unbearable at times, but you know what? I’m okay with that.

In the past I have blogged about life with my husband and my “Lucy moments,” and as I re-read them, I . . . smile through the tears.

Here are a few memories if you’d like to read them:

Antioxidant Little Pricks
How Does One Eat A Taco?
Nothing says I love you…Like a box of rice.
Exploding Roast Beef

Always on my mind, forever in my heart, the sunshine in my soul.
I love you, Mr. Rugged