Waiter, There is Too Much Pepper on My Paprikash {Chicken Paprikash}

This scene from When Harry Met Sally always makes me smile. It also gets stuck in my head at the weirdest moments, and the word paprikash goes round and round in my brain until something else equally as annoying gets lodged in there.

The thing about that movie that strikes me today, in particular, is Sally’s need for control in her life.  She likes everything to be “just so.”  It’s what makes scenes like the one above (and the infamous diner scene) so noteworthy.  Sally steps out of her buttoned-up facade for a moment and does something so unexpected, so out of character, that we’re pleasantly surprised.

Life is like that – we go along blissfully thinking we are in control of our day (or our destiny). Then, something comes along to remind us that really, no, we are, indeed, not in control.  As much as we plan, schedule and organize, inevitably we discover that we don’t live in a vacuum or a bubble and forces beyond our control can throw our carefully laid plans into chaos.

I’m learning to roll with it.  Like Sally Albright, I often find myself outside my neatly planned comfort zone.  Sometimes it’s because I push myself, but most of the time it’s because someone else has pushed me there (either deliberately, or by accident).  It’s nerve-wracking.  But, it can also be a catalyst for growth.

The fact that I haven’t posted a recipe here since February is testament to my inability to control everything.  Happily, this recipe for Chicken Paprikash lends itself to a chaotic lifestyle.  It uses ingredients you probably have in your kitchen and pantry, and it can either be done on the stovetop and in the oven on a lazy Sunday afternoon, or in the crockpot on a busy weekday.  And the result is something deeply satisfying.  And not too peppery.  Because no-one wants too much pepper on their paprikash.

chicken paprikash

Chicken Paprikash | prep time: 3 minutes | cook time: 2 hours (for stovetop/oven version; 4-6 hours if cooking in crockpot on low). | yields: 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, seasoned with salt and black pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup sweet paprika
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 lb. egg noodles, prepared according to package instructions

Cooking Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 300F
  2. Heat olive oil in an oven-safe saute pan on the stove top
  3. Place seasoned chicken thighs in a single layer in the saute pan, browning on both sides.  You may have to work in batches in order to avoid over-crowding the pan.  Remove from the pan and set aside.
  4. Place sliced onions in the saute pan and reduce heat slightly.  Cook onions until softened and translucent in color, about 10 minutes.
  5. Add garlic and paprika and stir through.
  6. Add chicken broth and whisk to pick up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan.
  7. Add chicken back to the pan along with the bay leaf
  8. Cover pan and place in preheated oven.  Allow to braise for one and half hours.
  9. Prepare egg noodles according to package directions
  10. Remove the saute pan from the oven and place back on the stove top
  11. Remove chicken from pan and set aside
  12. Turn on burner under saute pan and allow to come to a boil.  Boil until sauce thickens and reduces by half.
  13. Remove sauce from heat and add 1 cup sour cream, whisking to combine.
  14. Add chicken back to pan.
  15. Serve chicken with sauce over prepared egg noodles.
  16. Enjoy!

To prepare in crock pot – follow cooking instructions up to step 6, then put all ingredients, including chicken and bay leaf, into crock pot and set for 4-6 hours.  Then pick back up with steps 11-16.

The Return of the Prodigal Blogger {and some thoughts on salad}

I guess I kind of disappeared for a month.  Sometimes a girl just needs to take some time off, to get away (figuratively, that is), to relax, relate, release (name that 80s sitcom).

Not a lot has happened since we last chatted.  I’ve mostly just been working and spending time with family.

Over spring break, most of our time was spent putting a new roof on our barn (which is really just a barn-shaped storage shed, but it sounds much cooler to say we re-roofed the barn).  When that was all over, we pitched a tent in the backyard and camped with the boys.

We rambled in the woods,

cooked over an open fire,

and generally enjoyed being outside, away from the television and the computer.  Of course, the two-year-old didn’t make it through the night in the tent, so I had to take him upstairs at around 2 a.m. and put him in his crib.  I think our oldest really enjoyed getting to finish the night in the tent with his dad, just the two of them.

For Easter we kept it pretty low-key.

The boys hunted eggs.

And caterpillars.  Which are now pupating in their cocoons in our dining room (in an enclosed container, of course).

I’ve been running (really), and getting better at it slowly.  The weather has been really nice – cool in the mornings and warm in the afternoons.  Mid-morning has been the perfect running temperature, so I’ve been getting outside and doing a 3.1 mile circuit around our neighborhood.  I have yet to make it the entire way without having to stop to walk part of the way, but I’m increasing my pace every time I go out, so that’s good.

I haven’t been cooking as much as usual, mostly because I’ve been trying to spend more time outside with the kids, which eats into the cooking time.  What I have been doing a lot of is throwing together fresh salads with a little bit of protein.

A whole mess of salad greens, topped with some thinly sliced red onion, fresh jalapeno, avocado, some tomatoes (if you can find them in season where you are – if not, sometimes I use salsa on my salads), and sprinkling of cheese – sometimes feta, sometimes shredded cheddar.  I dice up a couple of ounces of protein – grilled chicken or shrimp works well – and top it all with a light dressing.

Tonight it was chicken breasts that I’d butterflied, marinated quickly in a little lime juice and worcestershire sauce, and cooked quickly in a cast-iron skillet.  I put it all in a flour tortilla that I’d baked in the oven to make a tortilla bowl and I topped the whole thing with my new favorite salad dressing – mix 1 tablespoon of sour cream with 1/2 a cup of salsa (make your own, or use a good quality jarred salsa).  It’s super simple and delicious.

I think we’ve eaten salad for dinner five nights out of the last seven.

A lot of this has to do with economy – of time, of calories, of effort.

Did you know that the word prodigal means “wastefully or recklessly extravagant”?  I was beginning to feel like I was being extravagant with my food, with my time, and particularly with my effort on this blog.  I was sacrificing time for myself, for my family, for my friends, in order to keep coming up with the next recipe, the next blog post.

I needed to simplify.  To focus on what was important – the kids, my husband, our health and our relationships.

And we’re all much happier for it.

So, you’ll forgive me if I’m not here as often as I was.  And if the posts focus on more simple meals – healthy things that you can put together quickly, and that will allow you to spend more time doing the things that are important.

Salad with Grilled Chicken
prep time: 30 minutes
cook time: 20 minutes
serves: 2-4

Ingredients

  • 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, butterflied
  • juice of two limes
  • 1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon grapeseed oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 cups fresh baby spinach
  • 1 romaine heart, diced
  • 1/2 an avocado, diced
  • 1/2 a red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 ounce sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1 cup salsa
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • 4 flour tortillas (optional)
  1. If you want the tortilla bowl, take your flour tortillas and fit them into four oven-safe bowls and bake them at 350F for 15 minutes.  This will make them dry out and keep the bowl shape.
  2. For the chicken, combine breasts, lime juice, worcestershire sauce, oil, salt and pepper in a zip top bag and let marinate for 20 minutes or so.
  3. Heat an iron skillet over high heat and cook the chicken breasts thoroughly – about 8 minutes per side.  They should get nice and golden brown.  Remove from the pan and cut into desired shapes for serving (strips, dice, etc).  I usually allow 2-3 ounces per person, but my husband can eat an entire 6-ounce breast in one sitting.
  4. To assemble the salad:  place a four cups of greens in the bowl.  Top with diced avocado, sliced onion, sliced jalapeno, shredded cheese and diced chicken.  You could also include black beans, fresh corn cut off the cobb, diced bell pepper, or any other vegetable of your choosing.
  5. For the dressing: combine the salsa and sour cream.  Pour over salad.
  6. Enjoy!

Vanilla Sour Cream Cake with Strawberry Jam

It’s easy these days to become bogged down in the day to day – worried about school schedules and job applications and how we’re going to ever afford to go on vacation again.  Sometimes it’s nice to throw myself into a project, shift my focus to something else for a change.  As I set out the ingredients for this cake yesterday, listening to the whine of the grain mill as it ground the flour, I was completely immersed in creating this celebratory gateau.  Nothing else mattered for a few hours, except making the perfect birthday cake.

You see, yesterday was my husband’s 37th birthday.

I asked him what kind of cake he wanted, and he told me yellow cake with white frosting.  It’s his favorite.  In fact, I shouldn’t have even had to ask, but I always feel compelled to do so.  Like maybe one year, he’ll choose something different.  But no, yellow cake with white frosting it was.  I chose to shake things up a bit by adding some strawberry jam to the mix, but ultimately it was still a yellow cake.  With white frosting.

There’s something sort of magical about taking raw ingredients and creating something beautiful and delicious.  Whole grains get ground into flour, then combined with leveners, fat, sugar, eggs and liquid, and suddenly you have cake.  It’s really an amazing process.  And then you take it a step further and layer it with homemade strawberry jam and thick and creamy cream cheese frosting, and you’ve got a masterpiece on your hands.

This cake comes together fairly quickly and easily, with little effort.  It does require you to separate your eggs, and whip the whites to soft peaks with cream of tartar, but for the most part, it doesn’t require much in the way of baking prowess.  It helps to have a stand mixer, but you could do it with a hand mixer and a couple of bowls.  I used freshly ground soft white wheat flour, so I imagine you could do this with a conventional white whole wheat, or even all-purpose and achieve the same results.

You’ll end up with a moist, rustic cake that soaks up all of the wonderful strawberry flavor from the jam and stands up nicely to the weight of the cream cheese frosting.  The tang from the yogurt and sour cream provide a nice balance for what could be an overly sweet cake, with all of the sugar in the frosting and the jam.  I imagine if you wanted something even more simple, you could leave the frosting off all together, and just give it a light dusting of powdered sugar.  Or, you could use fresh seasonal fruit in place of the jam (ooh, wouldn’t figs be lovely here?) and keep the frosting for some sweetness.  The possibilities are really limitless here.

Vanilla Sour Cream Cake
prep time: 10 minutes
bake time: 20 minutes
yields: 2 8-inch layers

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cup sifted flour
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 5 Tablespoons butter
  • seeds scraped from 1/2 of a vanilla bean (or 1 teaspoon vanilla)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup sour cream or plain yogurt (I used 4 oz. of yogurt and 4 oz. of sour cream)
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/2 cup good quality strawberry jam
  • 8 oz. cream cheese
  • 4 oz. softened butter
  • seeds scraped from 1/2 of a vanilla bean
  • 1 lb. powdered sugar
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F, and grease and flour two 8-inch cake pans
  2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and vanilla seeds until creamy
  4. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy
  5. Beat in the egg yolks
  6. Add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the yogurt or sour cream in two parts, beating until smooth.
  7. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar to soft peaks.
  8. Fold one third of the egg whites into the batter, then fold in the remaining whites, taking care to deflate them as little as possible.
  9. Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans.
  10. Bake at 350F for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out cleanly
  11. Allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack to cool completely
  12. Once cooled, carefully cut each of the layers in half, creating a total of four layers
  13. to make the frosting, combine the cream cheese, softened butter and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Beat on high to combine.
  14. Reduce speed to low, and gradually add the powdered sugar until completely combined.
  15. To construct the cake, place one layer on a cardboard cake round or cake plate.  Spread half the jam evenly across the layer.
  16. Add a second layer of cake, and spread frosting evenly across layer.
  17. Add a third layer, and add remaining strawberry jam, spreading evenly.
  18. Add the final layer, and frost with remaining cream cheese frosting.
  19. Decorate with sprinkles, if desired.
  20. Enjoy!