Friday’s Hot Tip: Slow Cooker Chicken Curry

Confession: I tend to make the same dishes over and over again, especially in my slow cooker. It’s usually chili, a bean dish, or I’m cooking dried beans so I can freeze them for later use.

While I have a slow cooker cookbook full of some very tasty recipes, I’d seen several recipes online for Indian dishes. Where I grew up I became friends with a lot of Indian kids, so I’d go to parties and other gatherings where the tables were covered in all different kinds of curry, dahl and other dishes full of potatoes, cream, meat, vegetables. Years ago, Momcat and I appealed to one Indian friend’s mom for a small quantity of her family’s special curry powder blend, because store-bought curry powder just doesn’t cut it.

A few weeks ago we were due for a big storm in NorCal, and I decided the cold, wet weather made it the perfect time to try one of the Indian slow cooker entrees. I looked at a couple recipes for chicken tikka masala to get ideas for ingredients, and came up with a chicken curry that turned out rich and flavorful, just like the curries at my friends’ houses back in the day.

Slow Cooker Chicken Curry

  • 1 ½ lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite sized chunks
  • 6 ounces plain Greek yogurt (optional marinade)
  • 1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • ⅔ C yellow onion, diced
  • ⅔ C red onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-inch fresh ginger root, peeled and grated
  • 2 T tomato paste
  • 2 T curry powder, divided
  • 1 t brown sugar
  • 1 t ground cinnamon
  • 2 t kosher salt
  • Fresh cilantro (optional)
  • 6 ounces plain Greek yogurt

Optional: The night before you make the curry, coat the chicken pieces in 6 ounces of plain Greek yogurt – I used a large Ziploc bag – and refrigerate overnight. This yogurt marinade makes the chicken extra moist and flavorful.

Put chicken and tomatoes in slow cooker. Saute onion, garlic, ginger, tomato paste and 1 tablespoon curry powder in a small amount of vegetable oil until soft, then add to slow cooker and mix well with chicken and tomatoes. Add remaining 1 tablespoon curry powder, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt, stirring to combine. Cover and set cooker to High for 4 hours, or Low for 7-8 hours.

Before serving, add yogurt to curry. If you’re not serving the entire batch in one sitting, you may want to add the yogurt to individual servings. (I put a large spoonful of curry in a metal bowl, then mixed in about ¼ cup of yogurt.)

Garnish with fresh chopped cilantro and serve over basmati or jasmine rice.

Variations

  • Use only yellow onion.
  • Use ¾ C heavy cream instead of yogurt prior to serving. You can do this about 15 minutes before it’s done cooking.
  • To make this more tikka masala style, use garam masala instead of curry powder.
chicken curry, curry, Indian food, East Indian, cooking, slow cooker, Crockpot, chicken

Slow cooker chicken curry over jasmine rice.

 

Friday’s Hot Tip: Casey Robin Prints and Stationery

It’s Black Friday. For many folks, that means long lines at big box stores or frantic Internet searches for the best price(s) on The Most Perfect Gift Ever. For me, it means doing as little as possible because I am still recovering from Thanksgiving.

Should you opt to shop online this holiday season, I present you with a delightful option for those you know who love whimsical prints or stationery. Casey Robin is a visual development artist who’s worked at Disney; take a look at her portfolio and you’ll see the Disney influence. (You should also watch “Chalk,” the animated short she put together with several fellow summer associates at Walt Disney Animation Studios.)

I’ve interviewed Casey a couple of times – once for an article and another time for a Disney-themed writing project. She is one of the sweetest people I’ve ever worked with, and while we have yet to meet in person, the photos I have seen of her make me think she’s actually a Disney character come to life: blonde pixie haircut, big beautiful eyes, mischievous smile. I adore this young woman.

A few months ago, after I completed work on the Disney character project Casey helped me with, she sent me a sampler of notecards featuring her original designs. It’s hard to choose which ones are my favorites, as the images just pop with color and whimsy, but I’m a big fan of the Lady Bugs series.

Click on each image to be taken to purchase the cards in her Etsy shop, or visit her Etsy shop directly to browse through available prints, as well as the stationery.

Casey Robin, Etsy, stationery, cards, gift cards, thank you cards

Sweet thank you card by Casey Robin (excuse the bad lighting)

Casey Robin, Midsummer Nights Dream, faeries, fairies, fairy, whimsical art, artwork

Midsummer faeries note card series by Casey Robin. Clockwise from top right: Lantern, Bluebell, Poppy, Snowdrop.

Casey Robin, Lady Bugs, notecards, artwork, prints, starlets, Hollywood

Lady Bugs notecards by Casey Robin – Bluey Holiday, Marilyn Monarch, Betty Bumble and Amelady(bug)

Casey Robin, cats, cat lovers, cat lady, note cards, stationery

Cat Parade notecards by Casey Robin. Perfect for corresponding with cat lovers!

Friday’s Hot Tip: Moxie’s Mini Drugstore Kits

We’ve all been there: you’re at the office, out with friends, shopping, eating, whatever. You spill a little marinara sauce on your shirt, get a paper cut, discover your period has started early, feel the early pangs of heartburn. But you’re nowhere near a store to get what you need to feel a bit more put together, or it’s inconvenient to find one. What do you do?

mini drugstore kit, first aid supplies, emergency kit for purse, drugstore items

Moxie’s Mini Drugstore Kit

Enter the Moxie’s Mini Drugstore Kit. (I just made that name up. Catchy, eh?) It’s a little pouch containing various and sundry items you may need in the event of a not-dire-but-mildly-upsetting emergency. I’ve made a few kits for myself and recently I realized, hey, other folks might dig this, and it’s a great holiday gift, too.

What you need:

  • Small bag or pouch. You can repurpose a cosmetic bag, as I did with one I got from Jo Malone (shown above), or you can buy an inexpensive pouch or bag at a drugstore, dollar store or office supply store. If the kit is going to get banged around a lot in a backpack or totebag, then you may want to use a hard acrylic box or tear-resistant fabric instead of plastic.
  • 1-2 pill boxes or containers – these Nalgene vials, hinged boxes, or hinged lid jars are good. You can also repurpose a small candy or mint tin; just wash and dry thoroughly before you use it.
  • Drugstore stuff – This is where practicality and ingenuity meet. You’ll want the basic first aid stuff: adhesive bandages, alcohol swabs, aspirin, antacid pills, individually wrapped throat lozenges. Beyond that, you can add items such as:
    • stain remover pen – Tide To Go pens are my preference
    • bobby pins
    • safety pins
    • dental floss
    • mini toothbrush – Wisp by Colgate are perfect for this
    • feminine hygiene products – tampons, pantiliners, pads, Instead SoftCup
    • lip balm
    • hand wipes – individually wrapped wipes are the most compact
    • sewing kit
    • pocket pack of tissues
    • eye drops
    • hand lotion – travel size
    • sunblock – travel size
    • antibacterial gel
    • nail file and/or nail clippers
    • breath mints, strips or spray

Once you have everything, it’s time to start putting together your kits. Fill the pill boxes with a selection of pills, separating them as needed and labeling the boxes. (If you’re doing this for someone else, you may want to leave the pill boxes empty so they can fill them with their preferred over-the-counter medicines.) With the single-use items, such as the bandages and handwipes, insert at least 3 of each – these items should be flat & compact enough that they won’t take up much room in the bag.

Moxie's Mini Drugstore Kit, personal hygiene, first aid, emergency kit

The Moxie Mini Drugstore kit from my backpack contains all these items inside a green mesh pouch.

Pro Tips:

  • If you’re putting together more than one kit, then you may want to look for items at the dollar store.
  • If you tend to grab hotel freebies such as lotion, mouthwash or sewing kits, these are the perfect size to include.
  • Making kits for yourself? Be sure to do a kit inventory every 3-6 months to refresh your supplies, check expiration dates, etc.
  • These kits in a larger size are also great for bridal parties (crazy things are known to happen in the hours before a wedding), new moms (add baby wipes, a pacifier, and other baby supplies), college grads off to their first job (perfect to tuck in their desk at work).

Throwback Thursday: Pepperidge Farm Remembers

Recently my social media friend Starmama posted a factoid about the history of German chocolate cake. Turns out there’s no real connection to Germany; it was simply a cake made using German’s chocolate.

German's chocolate, baking chocolate, baking, cakes, chocolate

German comes from the inventor of the sweetened chocolate, Samuel German. What started out as a cake recipe titled “German’s chocolate cake” ended up being called German chocolate cake. I kinda want to start calling it by that original name again, but I suspect I would be alone in doing so, and all these people would correct me, then I’d get mad and go all Cliff Clavin on them, which no one likes.

This revelation reminded me of all the times Momcat bought Pepperidge Farm German chocolate cake in the frozen desserts section of the store. It was the go-to cake for several years in the late ’70s and early ’80s for my family, whether it was a birthday celebration or other special occasion. As a kid I liked the coconut-pecan frosting; it was decadently sweet but also had texture. Eventually we reached critical mass and became sick of the cake and its cloying sweetness. (We moved on to Sara Lee chocolate mousse, another decadent frozen dessert which changed recipes long ago. We loved our sweets.)

Pepperidge Farm, cake, frozen cakes, frozen desserts, dessert, German chocolate cake, chocolate cake

 

Remembering all those German chocolate cakes got me remembering those Pepperidge Farm ads from the ’70s and ’80s with the “Pepperidge Farm remembers” tagline. I can still hear the New England-esque accent of the actor in the ad…and now you can, too!

What favorite treats do you remember from childhood?

Friday’s Hot Tip: Homemade Salsa

When I was growing up, my parents and I would frequently go out to lunch on Saturdays. It was a post-church treat as Momcat didn’t have to cook or clean anything up. One of our preferred lunch spots was Alamo, a Mexican restaurant with a more Tex-Mex flair. The salsa came to the table in a big Melamine bowl and was the perfect consistency: finely blended fresh tomato, onion, garlic and cilantro. This is the place where I first heard Pops say “Don’t fill up on chips! You’ll be too full to eat your tacos.” But they were so good, and the salsa was so tasty, it was hard to stop.

For many years I have searched for the perfect salsa like Alamo makes (yep, they are still in business), without much success. Sure, there have been some strong contenders – I particularly like Trader Joe’s Salsa Especial. Only in recent years did I consider the possibility that making my own salsa could bring me to that same blissful state as Alamo’s chips and salsa did so many years ago.

A few months ago, I had lunch with a friend who makes all sorts of fabulous sounding dishes at home. I mentioned wanting to make salsa and she whipped out a notebook and started writing down a recipe a friend had given her years before. I believe its origins are from someone’s Mexican grandmother. Todo del mundo ya sabe that abuelitas make delicious food, and this salsa is no exception. Even better? It’s super inexpensive to make and all you need is your blender or food processor. I’ve even made a short video to show you how easy it is.

You can easily adapt this recipe to suit your tastes. Can’t get fire-roasted tomatoes? Use regular instead. Don’t like cilantro? Leave it out. (You have made abuela cry, but she understands.) Too spicy? Use mild chiles instead. No lime? Use a lemon, or, if you must, use ReaLemon or ReaLime in the plastic container.

Homemade Salsa

  • 2 14-oz cans fire roasted diced tomatoes (Make sure there’s no added garlic, onion or chiles in the can. Trust me on this. You’re going to be adding fresh garlic, onion and chiles anyway, so why do you need it here?)
  • 1/4 C onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 4-oz can diced jalapenos
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro, rinsed (jam the cilantro – leaves, stems and all – into a measuring cup)
  • 1/2 lime, juiced

Put all ingredients in food processor or blender. Process/blend on low speeds until ingredients are combined. Makes approximately 4 1/2 cups.


February is the Month of Letters (Sez Mary)

stationery, postcards, pens, mail, letters, letter writingThose of you who have been reading my blog for a while know how I feel about letter writing. Opening your mailbox to see a handwritten postcard or letter is one of my favorite things. Along with brown paper packages tied up in string, of course.

So when I heard about the Month of Letters Challenge through some friends on a social network, I was intrigued. When I read the post about it on novelist Mary Robinette Kowal’s website, I was excited. And I decided to participate.

The two-part concept is simple: for every day in February that the postal service runs in your area, mail something. It could be a letter, a note, a clipping from a magazine or newspaper, a photo, a postcard. You can mail something to your next-door neighbor or to someone on the other side of the world. Part two of the challenge is to write back to everyone who writes to you. The bonus is that mailed replies count toward your final tally for the month.

I confess, this will probably be fairly easy for me, since I’ve been in the habit of sending postcards and notes and cards to people for the past year. But there are a few letters I have wanted to write and haven’t, for whatever silly reason, so the Month of Letters Challenge is my incentive to finally write that letter to my childhood friend who lives in Europe with her husband and three daughters.

For those who want to participate but are slightly daunted, fear not. I have provided you with some pro tips:

  • On a budget? Check your local thrift shop for like-new, unused postcards and stationery. I’ve scored a large number of postcards from all over the world by going to my SPCA Thrift Store and perusing the stationery/postcard section. Sometimes used cards sneak into the available selection, so check first before buying.
  • Hate your handwriting? You’re allowed to type your letters. Just no emailing. I’m watching you. But consider this: the more you write things by hand, the better your handwriting gets. Unless you’re a doctor.
  • Get some nice writing tools. I am addicted to office supplies, so I don’t need another incentive to go to Office Depot, Staples, or Office Max. Trust me when I say a fabulous pen can make all the difference when it comes to handwriting letters. If you can afford a Waterman or Mont Blanc fountain pen, go for it. (Hint: Lamy fountain pens are fairly inexpensive and write nicely.) Otherwise look for a pen that has nice heft to it and doesn’t make your fingers cramp. I am a fan of Dr. Grip pens, which come in ballpoint and gel ink. I also like Sharpie pens – they are acid free and don’t bleed through paper.
  • Don’t know what to write? Get creative. Relay a funny story about your pet or your child. Share one of your favorite recipes. Transcribe a poem. List five things in a random category, such as favorite movies starting with the letter C, books that changed your life, or your least favorite foods. Hint: using postcards or small notecards means you have much less space to fill up with text.

Join me, won’t you? It should be a lot of fun. You have a day to go buy stamps and find some decent stationery. And if you need some pen pals for the month, check out the forums on the official Month of Letters Challenge website.

Friday’s Hot Tip: What’s Cookin? Penne with Spinach & Chickpeas

The hardest part about giving up a lot of wheat and gluten is giving up pasta. Fortunately there are several companies who have come up with rice pasta. Tinkyada makes excellent gluten-free pasta but at $3.99 or more a bag, it can be quite expensive. I buy Trader Joe’s Brown Rice Pasta and find it to be just as good. By using rice pasta I don’t have to stop making my favorite pasta dishes, such as this incredibly delicious penne with spinach, chickpeas and tomatoes tossed in an olive oil-based sauce.

This recipe is a very slight variation on one I got from Kirsten over at NilsenLife. I love chickpeas and especially love them in this dish, which is so full of garlicky tomato-y chickpea goodness that I often eat more than I should in one sitting. I use baby spinach leaves instead of frozen – while I’m loving spinach more now as an adult, I still have issues with frozen spinach. It’s just not aesthetically pleasing.

Earlier this week I visited Kirsten at her home and we briefly discussed our love of this dish. We were in agreement about the addictive qualities of this dish, but couldn’t quite define what makes it so…craveable. The olive oil? The garlic? The combination of flavors? Whatever it is, this pasta dish is well worth turning on the stove for, even during these hot summer days. Pro tip: if you have leftovers, try them cold or at room temperature – still tastes fabulous.

Penne with Spinach and Chickpeas in Garlic Sauce

5-6 oz. loose fresh spinach OR 1 small pkg frozen chopped spinach, thawed
8 oz. penne pasta
1/3 C olive oil
3-6 garlic cloves (depending on how garlicky you like your food, or if you are trying to ward off vampires)
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 15-oz can diced tomatoes
1 15-oz can of chickpeas, drained but not rinsed
Kosher salt & ground pepper
1/4 C grated Parmesan (optional)

Clean spinach, discard stems. (Chop leaves if they are on the large side.) Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta according to package directions.

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan or skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook 2 minutes. (Don’t let the garlic burn!) Add the tomatoes and chickpeas and cook 2 minutes more. Add freshly ground pepper for added zing. Throw in the chopped spinach, add kosher salt and stir well. Turn off the burner and allow the spinach to cook on its own – it will be much fresher & bright green in color.

When the pasta is done, drain it thoroughly. Add pasta to saucepan or mix pasta with sauce in a separate bowl. Sprinkle on the Parmesan, and toss again. You can have this pasta without the Parmesan if you have issues with dairy products, but the cheese adds another lovely flavor to the dish.

Serves 3-4 (Pro tip: use entire bag of penne and spinach if you’re feeding a larger group.)

Friday’s Hot Tip: What’s Cookin’? Vinaigrette Dressing

I’ve written before about my cooking phases, but I’m also very conscious of going through phases in salad dressing. When I was growing up, Momcat and I would notice new dressings in the condiments aisle of the grocery store and we would try them out. I remember when ranch dressing made its way onto the scene, usurping many a bottle of Thousand Island not only in our house, but across the land as well. We also tried a tomato dressing that featured sun-dried tomatoes in a vinaigrette-style based – I’d love to find it again, or recreate it, the flavor was so good. When Paul Newman started making his own dressing, we were on it and many a meal at the Moxie kitchen table included that blue-eyed devil staring at us from a bottle of his finest vinaigrette.

About five or six years ago, I was inspired by a former friend to start making my own salad dressings. She would make these incredible salads full of fresh veggies, beans, and other delectables, but instead of serving them with a store-bought dressing, she would mix up olive oil with vinegar, different herbs and spices, and add some ingredients I wouldn’t have thought to add to a homemade dressing.

Over the years I’ve adapted this recipe for my own purposes, and every batch turns out differently, but the following recipe is a good place to start if you are new to DIY salad dressing. Add or remove ingredients as you see fit.

Moxie’s DIY Vinaigrette Dressing

6 T olive oil
4 T rice wine vinegar (balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar is also good)
1/2 T honey
1/2 T spicy brown mustard
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 T fresh thyme
1 T water

145 calories per 2 T serving

Mix all ingredients together using a whisk or hand-held electric beater. Store in a jar with a tight lid or a cruet.

Friday’s Hot Tip: 5 Ways to Help Your Unemployed Buddies

I decided to follow up on Sunday’s post about dealing with the unemployed with some good tips on helping out friends and family members who find themselves without work. These tips are based on what I’ve experienced being unemployed/underemployed, and what I wanted from my friends and loved ones during that time.

1. Start with asking, “How can I support you?”

These five little words should become a mantra for you, as this phrase works beautifully in many situations when someone is experiencing difficulty in their life. In an unemployment scenario, it gives the other person the power to decide what they want or need as they process the loss of their job. Pro tip: don’t ask this question just once, either. Whenever they need to vent about their job search, interviews that went nowhere, or their struggles to stay afloat, it’s your opportunity to ask what, if anything, they need from you.

2. Don’t assume you know their master plan post-layoff.

As I briefly mentioned in Sunday’s post, unemployment can give someone the opportunity to pursue life-long dreams. It opens the door to write, start a business, make a career change, travel, or volunteer. And believe it or not, they might not want a full-time job again. Everyone’s situation is different – give them space to figure out what’s next, and if you remember Tip #1, then they might just let you in on what they are dreaming up.

3. Keep your comments about money to yourself.

Trust me when I say someone who is unemployed (or even underemployed) does not want to hear you complain about the state of your bank account. Nor do they want to hear your comments about what they are doing or not doing with their money. Like politics, sex, and religion, discussions about money can kill a conversation, and in some instances it can kill a relationship. Do yourself and your friend a favor and hold your tongue.

4. Don’t radically alter your communication style or forget about them altogether.

Just because someone loses their job doesn’t mean they are a social pariah and you need to leave them alone. By the same token, if you were having phone conversations with them every couple of weeks, don’t suddenly start calling every other day. Be sensitive to their situation and let them guide the conversation when it comes to work or career topics, but feel free to talk about current movies, TV shows, books, music, local news or happenings. Or you could even talk about your pet’s antics or the latest celebrity scandal. The key is to keep things normal.

5. Let them mourn the loss of their job.

Momcat always told me, “When a relationship ends, it’s a death and it needs to be mourned.” She was talking about romantic relationships, but this also holds true for the relationships we have with our jobs, which are just as complex and layered as any love relationship. Give them space and time to grieve, and allow them to dictate when they are ready to move on in their career.

Have your own tips to add to this list? Leave them in the comments section.