Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Chicken Rut

Do you ever get in an absolute rut with meal planning?  My most nutritious creations are rejected by my Mexican-born children, and we end up with the same ol’  same ol’.  I could use some inspiration.  Give me non-chicken, non-Mexican recipes, please.

My one daughter-in-law figured it out right away.  Her definition of Mexican food:  the exact same ingredients rearranged and called something different.  Give me these staples and we can eat for a month:  black beans, tortillas, chicken, cheese, tomatoes, avocado, onions, cilantro, salsa, and sometimes corn, lettuce, or sour cream. 

Wrap it all in a flour tortilla and call it a burrito. 

Wrap some of it in a corn tortilla, cover with a sauce made of the other ingredients, cook it, and call it an enchilada. 

Spread beans on a tostada, add lettuce and rest of ingredients and call it a tostada.

Mix it all with rice and add olive oil and lime juice, and call it Fiesta Rice.

Put the chicken and cheese in a flour tortilla, fold it in half, cook it on a griddle, add avocado and pico de gallo (diced tomatoes, onion, cilantro, lime juice, and sea salt), and call it a quesadilla.

Beans, cheese, and chicken on tortilla chips with chilies and ya – we have nachos.

Add a tomato based broth, add chicken, cheese, sour cream, avocados, and fried corn tortilla strips, and call it Tortilla SoupUse a chicken broth with lots of seasoning and pureed beans, and you've got bean soup.

My latest craze is Southwest Chopped Chicken Salad, a recipe I found on Pinterest, with mostly the same ingredients (diced chicken, tomatoes, corn, rinsed black beans, green onions, bell pepper, cilantro, avocado, and lettuce, mixed with a dressing of ½ cup mayonnaise, 2/3 cup plain (Greek) yogurt, 1 tablespoon ranch seasoning, and 1 tablespoon taco seasoning.  Top with crushed tortilla chips, and yum!

Have I made my point?  We seriously eat the same thing ALL THE TIME.  The only thing missing from the list is tacos, which may involve some of the same ingredients, but we generally go out for tacos when we have a hankering for them, so we can get out of the chicken rut and have pork or beef.

I’m probably making some of you salivate thinking of Mexican food.  Hopefully (surely?) you can get these ingredients, except maybe the corn tortillas.  Feel free to incorporate my boring menu plans into your own – on one condition:  please give me some new ideas!  I am desperate to get out of this rut.

What are your stand-by menus?  Have you incorporated local spices and recipes into your daily fare?  Can you share some ideas for those of us craving something new and different?  Variety that doesn’t involve spinach would be greatly appreciated by my family.

IRL* Yes, ladies, it really is possible to have too much of a good thing.

Note:  I'll be out in a village without internet access when this is published, but I will respond to your comments later on.  Thanks in advance for your inspiring recipes!  Jamie Jo


  1. YOU'RE KILLING ME!!! :) :) :)

    black beans? When I see them in the store, I buy them all because I know they will probably be out of stock for the next three months.

    limes? For approximately $23 per kilo.

    corn tortillas? Not a chance. Not even the right kind of flour to make them from scratch.

    Haha, on another note, here is what we ate this week:

    Chicken and dumplings

    Sweet potato and black bean soup (with my hoarded beans :))

    Homemade BBQ Chicken Pizza

    Spaghetti (for my daughter's 3rd birthday)

    Caprese Salad Paninis

    Hope one of those helps bring you out of your food rut!!

  2. Jamie Jo, you have me laughing with your request for non-chicken recipes. Meat is SO expensive here in turkey that my husband says we're going to sprout wings any day now from eating so much chicken.

    And your daughter-in-law is right about Mexican food: rearranged ingredients. My Turkish sister said the same thing when she came to visit on on a home assignment to Texas. Let me think of some recipes and get back to you.

  3. In Japan meat (aside from chicken) is expensive too, but we enjoy Costco and I've found a local shop that sells meat at at better price and bought a big freezer so that we don't have to make the big trip to Costco too often (it is a several hour deal to do a trip there through Tokyo traffic).

    I also use eggs, bacon, and tinned fish to great effect. There are so many things you can do with these. There are other excellent chicken recipes also, like satay chicken, sweet and sour chicken, chicken a la king (in a white sauce) etc.

    But yes, basically, I've adapted to using recipes for which I can access the ingredients at a reasonable cost. I also make more things from scratch than many people back home do. I use less meat than folk back home too, more vegetables and carbs to help it go further.

    I don't find that I make too many Japanese recipes, they are quite fiddly and time consuming. We eat some basic Japanese things at home, but if we want a good Japanese meal, we go out.

  4. It's me again. One of our favorite recipes is this one for chicken teriyaki salad. I make my own fake teriyaki sauce by adding a tsp of vinegar, 2-3 tsp of sugar, and some minced garlic to a cup of soy sauce. Seems to work.

    Sesame noodles:

  5. Great suggestions! Thanks, y'all. I just got back after nine days of being away from computer and internet, so I won't spend too much time here with individual comments.

    It was fun to come back to some new recipes, though our gas tank was stolen while we were away, so I won't be doing any cooking right away.

  6. If you can get red/brown lentils, a good recipe is mjudara. It is one of the few meals all five of my kids like to eat.

    Cook 2 cups of brown/red lentils in 2 cups of water for about 20 minutes. You may need to add more water so they don't burn. Then add 1 cup rice and 1-2 cups water and cook for about 10 minutes more. In the meantime, fry up 2 medium diced onions in olive oil. Add the onions to the lentils and rice along with salt to taste and more olive oil (if desired). Top with plain yogurt.

  7. Hi - ok, I won't tell you that where we live, chicken is the most expensive meat and beef is the cheapest. You wouldn't like to know that.

    However, with growing kids, we eat a ton of ground beef, being the cheapest of the beefs. So here is a recipe for you and I'll even adapt it to what you can find in Mexico. (sorry, I don't cook with measurements, so no exact details here)

    Meatballs and Rice:

    Take 2-4 large yellow onions and chop them as fine as you can. Mix in a pound or two of ground beef. Whatever you want - just about as much onions as beef. To that, add an egg to bind it, lots of salt, some ground cumin, ground coriander, a little chili powder, chopped garlic, and throw in some chopped cilantro if you have it because things taste nice with cilantro. Add about two times as much coriander and cumin as you think you need - it needs lots! Mix this all up well and form into balls. If you have an oven, bake the meatballs at 400 for about 10-15 minutes until they are cooked enough to stick together. If you don't have an oven, you can just cook the meatballs in the sauce while it simmers, but then tend to smash more that way.

    Meanwhile, chop another 3-4 onions not so fine this time, and fry them in oil until they are clear. Add more ground cumin and corriander and garlic. (If you have garum masala, use this, if not, throw in a pinch of cloves and cinnamon.) The onions should be well spiced with brown flecks throughout. Hmm... you can also throw in just a pinch of curry (it is NOT a curry dish, but a small pinch is tasty) or a bigger pinch of tumeric. Either or both taste good, too.

    When that is cooked so the onions are translucent, then add a little water and tomato paste. Basically, you are aiming for something like spaghetti sauce texture at this point. Now the secret to a really good sauce is simple - time. Simmer this for as long as you have, but hopefully at least 20 minutes.

    Once the sauce is made, but before simmering, add the meatballs and all the oil and drippings that come off in the pan. Oil is good - or so they think. It tastes better with lots of oil... but we've made it more health conscious with less, too. Simmer away until you are ready to eat.

    I'll put the rice in the next comment as it thinks I talk too much..... sigh...

  8. And now the rice. Ok, this is the basic method of making rice in many areas of the Middle East to Central Asia and all the way to India. Different spices are used in different areas, but the technique is similar. We use Basmati rice, but it works with other rice, too - just doesn't taste as good! Take three cups of rice and rinse it several times, filling the bowl up, swirling the rice, and emptying until the water is mostly clear. This washes away the stuff that makes the rice sticky, and sticky rice is looked down on. Then fill the bowl again and let the rice soak while you start the meatballs.

    Boil a large pot of water. Lots of water, because as my father in law says, "rice likes to swim". When the water is boiling, drain the soaking water off the rice and dump the rice into the boiling water. Now, watch the rice carefully! It only takes a few minutes to cook. You want to boil the rice until it is almost cooked, but still a little crunchy in the center. Then drain the rice in a strainer.

    Put the rice back into the pot. Then take about 1/3 cup of oil and 1/3 cup of water (less water if you over cooked your rice) and mix them together (I know this is an impossibility, but try anyway!) with a 2-3 teaspoons of salt and a seasoning (hang on, I'll tell you!) and pour over the rice in the pot, swirling it over it all. Take a spoon and make 2-3 holes in the rice all the way to the bottom to allow steam to easily escape. Then cover the pot with a folded towel and put the lid on tightly. Put the pot back on the stove on the absolutely lowest you can get. Leave it for 5-10 minutes.

    The rice finishes by steaming and the water is caught by the towel, so the end result is perfectly cooked rice where each individual grain is separate and whole. The oil also helps keep it nice.

    Ok, seasonings... there are options. Different countries do things differently. Iranians tend to use butter and not oil in their rice ans season with some hot water soaked over saffron, but that is expensive. Pretty looking if you go to a Iranian restaurant, but expensive. You can get the look by using a little tumeric. Then you pull about 1/3 of the cooked rice out, sprinkly tumeric in a table spoon of water over it, mix well, and then return to the pot, so you have multi-colored rice grain - some white, some yellow.

    Other options are salt and cumin seeds. Nice smell, nice flavor. Use about two teaspoons at least. This is what we use the most and it is really tasty.

    Once the rice has steamed or 5-10 minutes, stir well before serving. Some rice will have stuck to the bottom. That is normal. It makes a tasty crunchy snack! Iranians slice a potato thinly and put that on the bottom of the pot with some oil so the rice doesn't stick as badly. That potato then is also a favorite snack that kids fight over.

    Serve the food with the rice on bottom and meatballs on top. I have never had anyone dislike this dish. It looks so similar to food people are used to, so they try it, and the flavors are wonderful

    1. Ah, you serve the food separately, but you put it on your plate like that - rice covered with sauce. Yum!!!


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