Last night I let Deb do the cooking; a particularly good batch of chicken broccoli alfrado. However, the two nights before that were particularly good ones for my “toss something together” experimentation that makes it impossible to convey recipes.
Two nights ago it was a barbecue shredded pork, but I had started it the night before, at the same time I worked on the chicken.
The first part was cooking it in the crockpot, with a twist. I used water, cider vinegar, a small handful of chopped onion, a generous sprinkle of red pepper flakes, and a wee bit of celery flakes. I forgot about the typical addition of brown sugar, then decided to pass when I remembered in time to have sweetened it up a little. Thing is, the sweet isn’t necessarily needed, and perhaps the onions added a subtle touch of sweetening.
That resulted in rather tasty boneless pork loin (there were four pieces, enough to exactly cover the bottom of a large crockpot without any being on top of the rest) with a distinct but not excessively strong peppery flavor. The pork from there would have been good any number of ways, including on a plain sandwich with some mustard.
It went in the fridge until the next evening, and tasted excellent cold.
Based on the flavor, I wanted whatever I did to lean sweeter rather than sharper or spicier. I considered a Chinese inspired sweet & sour type of sauce, shredding or chunking the meet as I would with barbecue, mixing it in and serving it over rice. I considered coming up with kind of a honey mustard sauce, which could presumably go on a sandwich or over rice. I considered coming up with a variant on what I’ve done for barbecue sauce before. That’s where I ended up, as it sounded easiest, tastiest, and fit the idea that for a change we’d just have sandwiches.
I made a concoction that included lots of brown sugar (I believe it was 5 heaping tablespoons, and that was as close as I came to measuring anything), some vinegar, a packet of soy sauce (okay, that’s a measurement), more Worcestershire sauce than I normally use in anything, yellow mustard, ketchup, water, garlic powder, red pepper, and allspice. How good was it? I really, really wish I had a recipe. I whisked it smooth, simmered it, tasted and approved, and shredded the pork into it, stirring it in and letting the pork heat via the sauce.
I was shooting to have just enough sauce to coat the pork, with minimal extra to make it sloppy, and somehow succeeded, entirely by eye. There were no “good rolls” on hand, but we had some hot dog rolls in the freezer and employed them. The sauced pork went on the rolls with some cheddar cheese. On the side we ate chips, having an unusual, veggie-free meal.
Two nights ago I craved something along the lines of chicken in gravy over rice. Inspired by a comment by Jen, in which she described something akin to no peek chicken, but in a crockpot, I decided to use cream of mushroom soup in the gravy. I might have attempted something in the crockpot, faking out the onion soup part, but it was too late by the time I thought of that.
So I thawed three chicken breasts, of course, then cut them into small pieces. In the pan I melted some butter with various spices, emphasizing very heavily the crushed bay leaf. I also included amounts ranging from almost none to fairly substantial quantities of other things, including savory, thyme, poultry seasoning, garlic powder, ginger, red pepper, black pepper, celery flakes, oregano, and I believe both chives and parsley. Cooked the chicken until done and the extraneous liquid was largely cooked off, leaving just a bit of remaining butter/oil.
In the meantime, I had filled a Pyrex cup with water, heated it two minutes, then dropped two chicken bullion cubes in it to sit and dissolve.
Moved the chicken to one side of the pan, added a glop more butter, let it melt, whisked in a heaping tablespoon of flour, then another and some of the broth to smooth it out as it overthickens.
Rapidly add the rest of the broth and whisk it in. So far so good. At this point, depending on the dish and consistency, I might add more water, more flour, some sour cream, some milk, or even some flavoring if I tasted and it was lacking. I added a can of condensed cream of mushroom soup. It happened to be Wal-Mart’s store brand, which tasted a little different from Campbell’s, but seemed perfectly good. Mixed that in, along with enough more water for appropriate consistency and volume, and stirred the chicken in with the gravy.
The chicken itself had kind of a strong flavor, very oriented to the bay leaf, which I would probably reduce in the future. The gravy was fantastic, with plenty of chicken flavor, yet different, and with little bits of mushroom in it. The peas I served on the side could have gone in it.
I make a meal that size and we always have leftovers. If not of the rice or peas, at least of the meat dish. Not this time.
The kids devoured the chicken. Even Valerie, who eats meat minimally compared to her love of veggies. I gave them each about six piece of chicken, in gravy beside and over a small pile of rice. They each had seconds of probably as much again, Sadie had thirds, and they did a good job on the rice and peas too. The two of us ate heartily, and I finished it when I saw how little would be left. It was particularly good.
It helps that the kids seem to have gotten more in tune with meals, eating more at meal times and snacking less. It also helps to give them an advance taste. That’s a great trick, if you want your kids to be more enthusiastic about what you’re serving. Valerie had an intrigued look I’ve never seen before when I gave her a taste of the gravy when it was almost done. She got a second taste that included chicken, and Sadie got a couple tastes as well. They both liked it enough to be primed for it to appear on the table.
Another trick that can work well to get them to eat well is sort of a “dessert first” serving of a small sweet, or a small snack, shortly before the meal. An M&M or spice drop before dinner tends to make them devour the “real food.”