Menu Plan 4/3/14-4/9/14

I mostly followed last week’s menu plan, including using up a bunch of leftovers (yay!) but in the distraction of making the most of the last few days of my sister’s visit, I made simpler meals in place of taco salad and chicken thighs with sides. I think I’ll use the taco salad meal as leftover stretching plan for lunches this coming week, and just skip the chicken thighs meal for now.

Lunches this past week varied from tuna salad with crackers to leftovers to frozen pizza (only once…) and were occasionally supplemented by a large batch of mandarin orange gelatin. We also ate a lot of garlic cream cheese on crackers as snacks, along with the bananas, pineapple, mangoes and oranges I bought on my fresh fruit spree during my last grocery shopping trip. Also, spinach salads are still surprisingly good.

Dinners:

Salmon and potato hash (with mushrooms and onions) and spinach salad

Deep Dish Pizza

Leftovers/Fridge Scrounging

Herbed Potatoes (for fellowship meal)

Pork Chops with  potato salad and creamed spinach

Ground turkey ‘pork’ dumplings with roasted carrots

Burritos

Lunches:

We should be back on a pretty good leftovers for lunch schedule now, and as I mentioned, I’ll probably go for a main dish salad if we need to stretch out our leftovers.

Breakfasts:

Last week was pretty much the same kefir smoothies, eggs and fried potatoes we’ve been doing for breakfast. Kefir smoothies are currently on hold while I wait for a new blender blade to come in, but meanwhile I need to start up some refrigerator oatmeal again. I’m sure there will be more eggs and fried potatoes as well.

Baking and Extras:

I still haven’t made bread. It’s been ages since we’ve gone this long without homemade bread around. We haven’t missed it too badly, but it is weird not to be able to fall back on toast for breakfast, or grilled cheese sandwiches for an easy meal.

So, top of my list is making bread. After that I really need to get back to the oatcake idea, and maybe start some sprouts and make banana bread.

Shopping List:

It’s my non-shopping week, and I didn’t see any deals I can’t pass up, though there were some decent sales at Aldi:

pineapple, $1.29

mangoes, .49

boneless, skinless chicken breast, $1.69/lb

 

Also, Kroger has chicken thighs for .99/lb and is at their lowest standard sales cycle price for sour cream this week, which is $1.

 

Homemade Yogurt, The Easy Way + How to Drain Yogurt for Thicker Greek Yogurt

Homemade Greek Yogurt

Homemade raw Greek yogurt, topped with honey and cinnamon.

 Over the past couple of years I have struggled with some fairly major health problems. leaving me with low energy most of the time, ranging to completely fatigued and exhausted on a bad day. Thankfully, the bad days are becoming less frequent than they used to be, but even on an average day I have far more project ideas than I have energy to put into projects.

This means, that while cooking healthy food is usually a priority for me, I really don’t like to make any of my projects  more involved or complicated than they have to be. Certain projects that others consider complex might fit nicely into my routine, but other projects, sometimes even one that don’t seem so complicated to most people, just seem overwhelming.

So, when I discovered a super easy way to make my own raw yogurt, I was thrilled. Yogurt is generally considered fairly fussy. Regulating the temperature is a pain and doesn’t seem to guarantee results no matter how carefully it’s done. Plus, I was on GAPS diet at the time, with little energy to spare, and a lot of special cooking to be done, and a lot of slowly fermented food needed on a regular basis. The idea that I could drop yogurt in a jar, add milk, and then just let the whole thing sit out in a warm spot to make yogurt was a relief.

Now, as simple as the process is, fermented foods do often have a bit of a finicky streak. You may immediately find a warm spot that happily makes yogurt without any problems, ever. More likely, you’ll have to try a couple warm spots to see which one ferments your milk at the speed which is convenient to your schedule. You may find that the warm spot on top of your fridge, that normally turns out yogurt like clockwork, overheats on your baking day, and the pervading warmth of the oven ferments your yogurt unexpectedly faster than normal.

To me, these inconsistencies are simply an expected part of cooking real and traditional food. Like making soup with leftovers, or marrying into a family that makes a lot of last minute plans, life is often something of a grab bag no matter how carefully we try to regiment it.

I have found this method of making yogurt to produce mostly consistent results, and the occasional batch of extra sour and thick yogurt, or runny yogurt can easily find their home in baked goods without dramatically disrupting the rhythm of my life. These odd batches of yogurt even seem to make fine starter for a new batch in most cases, as the inconsistencies are naturally evened out by the steady working of the natural probiotics and enzymes through slight disruptions of their routine.

If this sort of adaptation to changes in your life is not for you, I recommend googling ‘crockpot yogurt’ and continuing in your quest to bend the world to your will without detouring through my yogurt making method. Best of luck to you in that endeavor.

In the realm of adapting to changes, the video I have posted on  making yogurt is technically a fail video. It still demonstrates *how* to use my yogurt making technique, but in a moment of brain fog, I misremembered how much whey was needed for the amount of yogurt I was making, resulting in a less than optimal batch of yogurt. Feel free to both laugh at my fail and glean what you can from watching my methods.

Straining (or draining) the yogurt to make it thicker is completely optional, but since we really like greek style yogurt, and I find it really handy to have whey around for recipes (soaking whole wheat flour, ketchup, etc), I almost always do drain it.

Healthiness Rating: Healthy

Not only is the yogurt completely natural, but making your own plain yogurt gives you the ability to make your own flavored yogurts without any unnatural sweeteners or additives. Obviously, you get an extra boost to your enzymes if you start with raw milk, but you can use this method for any type of dairy you generally use (I haven’t tested it with non-dairy milks) and meet your general health standards.

Yumminess Rating: Kinda Yummy

I’ll be honest here: homemade yogurt isn’t something my husband raves about. He actually kinda likes Yoplaits.

As for myself, I don’t hate yogurt, but I’ve never been a huge fan of any kind of yogurt, even including Yoplait (which baffles my husband). But, throwing a couple splops (yes, that’s a very specific measurement, why do you ask?) of yogurt into a smoothie is easy and doesn’t adversely affect the taste, and if I mix the homemade yogurt with sufficient honey and fruit, my husband doesn’t mind eating it, and in the right mood, I rather enjoy it.

Homemade Yogurt

1 cup of whey or yogurt

3 cups of milk

Mix whey or yogurt with milk in a quart jar. Cover and set in a warm place for 12-24 hours. Refrigerate.

To make greek yogurt: Line a strainer or colander with cheesecloth or thin cotton (not terrycloth) dishtowel. Set on a bowl to catch the whey. Pour yogurt into the cheesecloth lined strainer and let it drain for a few hours, until it is your desired thickness. (You can also make yogurt cheese, which can be used as a cream cheese substitute, by draining the yogurt longer, until it’s very thick.) Using a large metal spoon or rubber spatula, transfer yogurt to a jar or covered bowl and store in refrigerator. Pour whey into a separate bowl or jar and store in refrigerator.

 

Menu Plan 3/27/14-4/2/14

I thought we’d followed our menu plan pretty well this week until I went back at looked at it. Well… We ate two of those things… We ended up adding two more social events this past week, which is a really good reason to adjust a menu plan. So, some of last week’s dishes will be moved forward to this week’s menu plan.

Lunches continued to need supplementation, which varied from mandarin oranges to hamburgers to couscous and ham slices (both pulled from the freezer).

 

Dinners:

Social Event

Deep Dish Pizza (Starting the dough a day ahead this time to see if the crispiness improves after being in the fridge overnight.) with fruit

Leftovers (More specific that normal as I’ve taken stock of what needs to be used up in the fridge and think that combine the leftover couscous with leftover meat juices and various veggies that need to be used up would make a good casserole. I’ll probably top it with some homemade cheese, too.)

Bubble and Squeak

Taco Salad (It’s hitting the feel of spring, if not quite spring weather, and I’ve starting wanting the fresh vegetables of spring. Hence main course salad in such a form that my husband won’t mind it.)

Potato Chowder

Chicken Thighs with Mashed Potatoes and Roasted Carrots

 

Lunches:

The usual range of leftovers, plus I’ll probably make up a pasta salad to stretch out the leftovers. And maybe we’ll do some spinach salads. Spinach sounds inexplicably good right now…

Breakfast:

Last week was pretty much as I predicted: lots of kefir smoothies with occasional eggs and oatmeal, though we also had fried potatoes one morning. This week is probably more of the same.

Baking and Extras:

I finally made the fermented ginger carrots. I also made a batch of ketchup, some vinegar cheese, more or less kept up with my kefir, and made some fruit gelatin (that may or may not be properly setting in my fridge right now… if for some reason it doesn’t turn out I guess I’ll add it to smoothies). I also made some good ‘zippy pea hummus’ from those dried whole peas I got a good deal on, and will probably be making more of that in the coming week. I didn’t get around to baking bread yet, so that’s high on my list for the week, though again, I’m not setting large baking goals for the week.

 

Shopping List:

As usual, the amazing sales happen on my ‘off’ week, and when I want to go grocery shopping again, the sales are underwhelming. I’m  even becoming less excited about the .69 mushrooms at Aldi at this point… Aldi *does* have organic grass fed ground beef on sale for $4.49 a pound, though.

Here’s a smattering of what I am planning to buy this week at Aldi (it is as yet undetermined whether I do a Kroger run too or not):

canned tuna, 8/$5.50 (I like to have several cans of tuna on hand for last minute unplanned meals, or for if I forgot to thaw meat out ahead of time)

rotini/elbow macaroni, about 5/$5 (Apparently spring is also time for pasta salad…)

blue tortilla chips, about 4/$6.75

tortillas, 3/$5 (I still really need to find a recipe for homemade tortillas that works well… one of these days…)

ramen noodles, about $2 (Don’t judge… This is also a really good ‘fast food’ for emergencies… or Saturday afternoons.)

bananas, 10lb/$4.40 (Need more bananas for smoothie bases!)

tomatoes, $1

hamburger patties, 3lb/$6.99

Sushi

How to Make Sushi

Sushi is the kind of recipe used to terrify new cooks with the complexities of cooking. Recipes call for strangely obscure ingredients and insist that one *cannot* properly make sushi without a specific type of bamboo cutting board for rolling it. Sushi is mysterious and vaguely associated with raw fish and food poisoning and something that one should not even dare attempt without proper training.

In reality, the sushi we’re familiar with is a variation on the japanese version of a sandwich. The simplest version is a rice ball formed around meat, vegetables, or random leftovers, and is the typical lunch of a Japanese blue collar worker. The nori rolled version is a bit fancier, but still not as terrifying as everyone makes it out to be.

You do need a few distinctive ingredients, but they needn’t all be obscure and terrifying. Let’s go over the basics:

Nori sheets: A nutrient dense seaweed used to hold the sushi together. Very good for you, and with a fairly mild flavor, it is very much worth keeping around for its health benefits. Raw nori is, of course, much touted for it’s extra health benefits, but does tend to be a bit chewier, so you may choose roasted nori sheets for better texture.

Rice: You can use white or brown rice, and it doesn’t have to be any special sushi variety, but it MUST be short grain to stick together properly. (I use brown rice, soaked overnight to improve the texture and flavor.) The rice is cooked with vinegar, salt and sweetener for proper sushi flavor.

Meat: I prefer to use canned crab meat as a traditional style meat. (Imitation crab is cheaper, but laden with chemicals, and fresher crab seems to me have a stranger flavor.)  However, remembering that sushi is essentially a type of sandwich, you can feel free to use any type of meat you might use in a sandwich, such as chicken salad, ham or turkey (for an americanized sushi) or for a more traditional sushi, shrimp, smoked salmon or probably even a canned salmon or canned tuna.

Vegetables: I’m a bit hazy on which vegetables are appropriate for traditional japanese sushi, but some general possibilities are celery (matchsticks), carrots (shaved, or sliced thin), cucumber (matchsticks, or sliced very thin), sprouts, spinach (blanched, possibly dressed with vinegar or other seasoning), mushrooms (chopped or sliced thin), apples (matchsticks), bell peppers (sliced thin), bamboo shoots, avocado (sliced thin), green onions

Extras: Traditionally, one might include things like pickled ginger and wasabi in one’s sushi experience, though I’m a bit vague one whether they should be included in the sushi fillings or used as dipping sauce and topping. Americanized extras would include cream cheese, mozzerella or cheddar, peanut butter (I ran across this idea elsewhere, it fit’s with the idea that it’s just a sandwich, but I have to admit I’m a little weirded out by the idea of peanut butter in my sushi.) and possibly scrambled eggs

Sauces: Traditionally, wasabi and soy sauce (or this ‘soyless sauce‘) might be used as dipping sauces for the sushi. I made a highly americanized version of one spicy sushi sauce by mixing a bit of hot sauce into mayonnaise. Also pickled ginger (which I just recently realized wouldn’t be hard to make) is traditionally used as a sushi condiment.

Healthiness Rating: Healthy

Nori is exceptionally nutritious, and making your own sushi you can choose rice, sweetener and other ingredients as healthy as you like. The brown rice, seafood (or other healthy meat) and veggie sushi I make, dressed with apple cider vinegar and turbinado sugar is not only healthy, but nearing superfood status.

Yumminess Rating: Yummy

Any time my husband is raving about eating brown rice, vegetables and a super food such as nori, even with a bit of meat thrown in, I figure this is a meal that should be repeated as often as possible. Naturally, you can customize the fillings to your taste, but there’s something about the small slices of food rolled in flavorful sushi rice that makes them more palatable than you might expect. I normally don’t like cucumber or celery, but in sushi they just add a nice crunch. My husband isn’t a huge fan of avocado, but quite enjoys sushi made with it.

Sushi

(makes about 12 pieces or one to two servings, depending on whether it’s served as an entree)

1 1/2 cups of dry brown rice (I recommend soaking it the night before)

3 TBSP apple cider vinegar (or rice vinegar for a more traditional flavor)

3 TBSP turbinado sugar

1 1/8 tsp sea salt

3 cups water

 

2 sheets of nori

 

3-4 kinds of veggies, cut in matchsticks or sliced very thin

meat, fish or crab (technically optional, but really, why make vegetarian sushi?)

1-2 extras (optional)

Examples:

avocado slices, cucumber, crab, cream cheese

green apple, ham, mozzerella

carrot, green onion, salmon

Cook rice with water, sugar, salt and vinegar. Let cool to room temperature.

Set nori rough side up on a bamboo sushi board or countertop. Moisten hands, take a handful of rice and spread it thinly across the sheet of nori. Leave some space along the edges for ‘overflow’.

Add fillings along one edge, remembering not to be so extravagant with the fillings that they make your sushi too fat, or leak out the edge.

Dry hand carefully before touching the nori. Fold the edge of the nori slightly over the fillings, then carefully begin rolling the sushi into a tight roll. (See video for more details.)

Slice into pieces about an inch thick, or whatever thickness you like your sushi.

Serve with dipping sauces of choice.

Menu Plan 3/20/14-3/26/14

I feel like it’s been a crazy week. It’s been a fun week, with lots going on, but not a productive getting things done sort of week. Surprisingly, we did follow our dinner plans almost to a T, just replacing the Bubble and Squeak with ‘pizza while helping someone move and leftovers for supper’ day. Lunches were a bit crazy with fewer leftovers than normal as I wasn’t completely calculating in having an extra person around for meals. Also, to my shock and dismay, we completely ran out of cheddar cheese this week, so my plan of throwing together some quesadillas  for one lunch turned into a slightly runny process of heating vinegar cheese between tortillas. (Thankfully it was as tasty as it was runny.)

Also, I got approximately none of my baking projects done this week (except, of course, irish soda bread). Sigh. I think they’re all just going on the back burner for now, and I’ll get to them when I get to them.

Dinners:

Social Event

Chicken Thighs (Something with lemon, maybe lemon basil chicken…) with potatoes and peas

Leftovers/Fridge Scrounging

Bubble and Squeak

Scampi with Sauteed Veggies and Pasta

Turkey Dumplings with Sauteed Cabbage

Cheesy Lentils with roasted carrots

Lunches:

I definitely need to start taking better note of what leftovers in the fridge need to be used up, and probably start using more freezer meals to supplement lacks in leftovers, instead of cooking up new food. I’ve had that feeling of simultaneously being overwhelmed with overly full fridge and freezers, while never having any leftovers to base a meal on when I go to look. Part of this is because I still have a large amount of fermented dairy sitting in my fridge, which doesn’t generally make a good dinner base. Still, I overall seem to need better food management lately.

Breakfasts:

Lots and lots of fermented dairy! We’ve been doing kefir smoothies most mornings anyway (except for using up some boxty batter, which was also taking over the fridge), so we’ll probably continue that, with the usual eggs and oatmeal for variety as needed.

Baking and Extras:

I need to bake bread and make fermented ginger carrots. Everything else is on hold for now.

Shopping List:

Not my shopping week, though Kroger has a few tempting sales, such as:

asparagus, .88/lb (Thursday through Sunday)

Ataulfo mangos, .50

chicken thighs, .99/lb (Hyvee has them for .88/lb, but nothing else of note.)

It’s also worth checking to see if the Izze bottles are included in the buy 5, get $5 off sale, as they’re not listed in the ad, but I’ve seen some reports that they’re included.

Aldi also has a couple of  good produce sales:

lemons, .79/lb

strawberries, .99/lb (I normally would only recommend buying organic strawberries, as they’re on the dirty dozen list, but sometimes when conventional strawberries get super cheap, I make an exception.)

 

Boxty: Irish Potato Pancakes

Boxty: Irish Potato Pancakes

 

While I have a fair amount of Scottish blood in me, and my husband is part Irish, we share an interest in good foods, celtic music and traditions, and church history. As you might guess, we celebrate St Patrick’s Day every year, and with lots of Irish food. Our standard Irish dinner is corned beef with cabbage and potato, a sweeter version of Irish soda bread, and whatever other irish or green (or orange if I’m feeling especially like a cranky protestant Scottish girl…) food happens to hit the table.

I discovered boxty when looking for ways to extend our Irish food exploration beyond just dinner on St Patricks Day–why not have Irish food for breakfast too?

Boxty is like a cross between hashbrowns, biscuits and pancakes, and can be eating like any of those: with lots of butter, with butter and honey or syrup, with meat and gravy, or with ketchup. It can also be eaten as a breakfast food, or as a side at lunch or dinner. (Or as a snack for that matter. They’re even fairly portable, though better when they’re still warm.)

Healthiness rating: Healthy to Kinda Healthy

While I have no problem with including this in a meal and then classifying the meal as healthy, I am, for some reason hesitant to  put forward this recipe as having a lot of redeeming health food features. Depending on your definition of healthy food, and what kind of flour you decide to use, this could range from healthy to kinda healthy food.

Yumminess rating: Yummy

This one is less complicated: yummy and husband approved. (But then, he’s Irish, and eats cold baked potatoes straight out of the fridge, so in this case it might actually be more helpful to point out that I also like this recipe.)

Boxty

Large batch:

10 cups of mashed potatoes

10 cups of grated potatoes

8 cups of flour (white or whole wheat)

5 cups of milk or whey

1 cup melted butter

2 TBSP salt

Small batch:

2 cups of mashed potatoes

2 cups of grated potatoes

1 1/2 cups of flour

1 cup milk or whey

3 TBSP melted butter

1 tsp salt

butter or oil for frying

Put the grated potatoes in a clean cotton dishcloth. Squeeze out the excess moisture.  Mix grated potatoes with other ingredients (other than butter or oil for frying, obviously).

Heat butter over medium heat in skillet. Using about 1/4 cup or 1/3 cup batter per pancake, depending on size desired, fry two minutes on each side, until outside is crispy and inside is set to a firm but crispy consistency.

Menu Plan 3/13/14-3/20/14

Nothing wrecks your menu plan for the week quite like  having stomach flu in the house. I didn’t even come down with it (though I hovered on the brink for a while), but when my husband’s not eating I feel very uninspired to cook full blown meals. So, he avoided food or nibbled on rice pudding and applesauce, and I ate some fried potatoes, some cooked carrots, some leftover mexican food and eventually ate some ramen noodles (my own spices though, no msg filled spice packet).

As he was getting over the stomach flu and ready to eat real food, and I was getting tired of thrown together snackish meals, but still uninspired to cook, I pulled a lasagna out of the freezer and we ate off that for a couple of meals.

This coming week, because my normal leftover night is getting overwritten by other stuff going on, I may need to put off one of the scheduled meals in order to use up leftovers. I still decided that I’d rather have a plan for all the meals though, just in case. Also, because my sister is coming into town for a few weeks, we’re likely to have a lot of last minute social events. Again, I’d rather know that I have a plan that may need to be scrapped, than need a plan to fall back on and not have it all.

Dinners:

Social Events x 2

Bubble and Squeak (This is a potato and cabbage dish, flexible to using whatever meat you have available, seasoned with salt and vinegar.)

Boxty  for fellowship meal (I’m not sure if this is the same recipe I used last year, but it looks similar. Except, of course, I fried mine in butter.)

Corned beef brisket with cabbage and potato (probably cooked with the brisket, possibly mashed or leftover boxty), irish soda bread, and maybe something green

Sushi

Burritos

Lunches:

If we get short on leftovers I’ll pull some soup or something out of the freezer. Still want to try making a cold roasted carrot salad. Ooh, and I really should make some potato salad…

Breakfasts:

Since I just got some kefir grains last week, and fortuitously also was given several extra gallons of raw milk, we seem to be heading into a kefir smoothie breakfast kick. I still need to try making oatcakes as well, though. And, of course, we have the standard eggs, oatmeal and yogurt to fall back on if necessary.

Baking and Extras:

Mostly just a copy of last week’s list, though I did make rice pudding to get my husband through the ‘bland food’ stage of the stomach flu. Not quite the same as using it for a fun breakfast, but probably not something I want to make again right after that experience either.

I *really* need to make fermented carrot relish this week, and am still hoping to make oatcakes. (I really hope oatcakes aren’t the new chocolate chip pancakes when it comes to baking projects…) I also want to try making fermented ginger ale. I was intrigued to see a recipe that called for whey as a starter, because last time I tried to make ginger bug I forgot about in the fridge for so long it may or may not still be good. I’m a lot more likely to make fermented soft drinks on a regular basis if they call for ingredients (such as whey) that already have around, instead of needing a whole new ferment to keep track of.

Frozen yogurt would probably be a good way to use up all the yogurt I have right now…

Oh, and I have to make irish soda bread for St Patricks Day.

Shopping List:

It would help me in planning if Aldi had Irish food on sale this week, but instead they inexplicably have sales on German food, which doesn’t help me a whole lot when I need corned beef brisket. (Actually, they do have a more expensive cut of corned beef brisket in their ad, so I may go there first and see if they also have some at a comparable price to the cheaper cut at other stores, and then Kroger if I still need to.) Here’s my ideal list based on the sales this week, and staples that I need to pick up:

Aldi:

crackers,about  3/$5.40

tortillas, about 2pks/$3.40

mushrooms, 6pks/$2.80

avocado, about .99

eggs, about 3doz/$4.50 (I’ll get them at Kroger if they’re more than this)

ground beef, 3lb/$6.99

 

Kroger:

fresh parsley, about $2

green onions, about .59

cabbage, 6lb/$2

celery (Not sure of the price, but I can stand to pay for it, I’ll get organic celery.)

corned beef brisket 10lb/$20 (If you want to eat corned beef brisket at all the rest of the year, now is the time to stock up.)

ice cream, $5 (I know, but like I said, my sister’s coming into town. What kind of hosts would we be if we didn’t even have ice cream in the house?)

Homemade Chicken Strips (with whole wheat breading)

Healthy Chicken Strips

 I’ve never seen an episode of The Pioneer Woman’s cooking show. I’ve been a fan of her recipes and her blogging style for years, but it didn’t even dawn on me until recently that most of her fans probably, you know, watch her show.

I’ve also probably never cooked one of her recipes exactly as it’s written. Granted, there are few recipes I have cooked exactly as written. Because really, who has exactly the same ingredients and food preferences as another cook somewhere? Still, I can see this affecting my qualifications as a true fan.

Despite these fan failings I just want to say that I pretty much stole this recipe from The Pioneer Woman (and then proceeded to tweak it for the way I cook) because she has amazing recipes. Her original version of this recipe is here: http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2009/05/quickie-homemade-chicken-strips/

Now for my changes:

I don’t buy the precut chicken strips. I buy ‘split chicken breasts’ with the bone still in, hack out the bones the best I can for the stock pot (the skin goes in with them), and cut the remaining slab of chicken into strips an inch or two wide. Any odd shaped bits are considered bonus nuggets and thrown in with the chicken strips to be fried up at the same time. (Unfortunately I don’t have video of this part of the process, but if there’s interest I can make a video next time I’m cutting up chicken breast.) I buy ahead when split chicken breasts are sale for .99 a pound, and divide the chicken strips into quart freezer bags. Each bag holds around two pounds of meat.

I almost never have buttermilk on hand. At different times I’ve used raw milk, soured raw milk, yogurt and whey to soak the chicken strips in, and they all seem to work equally well. The important part is soaking the chicken so the flour has plenty of moisture to stick to when you go to bread them. I usually just pour my chosen liquid into the freezer bag the night before when I pull the chicken strips out of the freezer, so they have a good long soaking time, but according the the original recipe, soaking them for 15 to 20 minutes before you cook them is good enough.

I use whole wheat flour instead of white. Also, because the whole wheat flour has more texture to start with, I find the touch of buttermilk in the flour to be completely unnecessary. I use soft white wheat, so the breading has little to no whole wheat flour taste. Red wheat should work just as well in the process but would have much more of a whole wheat flavor. (For those who are concerned that the whole wheat flour in this recipe doesn’t get soaked, see my comments on phytic acid here. This would be one of those cases where I think it’s better to enjoy a moderately healthy food than to obsess over making it ‘perfectly healthy’ and ruin your enjoyment of the food in the process.)

I use my own spice instead of the spice blend recommended in the original recipe, including, of course, garlic powder.

I avoid vegetable oil, soybean oil, corn oil and canola oil (not obsessively, but I’ll make some extra effort to keep other oils in my kitchen instead). I lean toward animal fats and coconut oils as being the healthiest oils, especially for frying, but right now my compromise oil for frying is rice bran oil. It is, at least, non-gmo, and not a food that’s over produced and hidden in most food already, so I’m not afraid of over exposing myself to rice. Sunflower seed oil, grapeseed oil and safflower oil would also fit in the compromise category.

While we’re on the subject of frying, are you poised to object when I get down the healthiness rating and declare a fried food as healthy? Once again, it’s  case of moderation and variety. Nearly everything, including water and raw spinach, is bad for you if you over consume it. Yes, I’m in favor of water and raw spinach as part of a healthy diet, possibly even in large amounts, but I think a simple variety of real, non-processed foods takes the stress out of concepts like oxalic acid, phytic acid and other real food scares.

Similarly, a diet consisting only fried food would undoubtedly be problematic, whether that’s because of lack of raw vegetable enzymes or an over consumption of fats. But that’s no reason to declare fried food unhealthy and inedible. Use healthy ingredients, use frying as one of many methods of preparing those healthy ingredients, and enjoy your food before you kill yourself by stressing about your food too much.

Healthiness Rating: Healthy

Chicken, milk or whey, whole wheat flour and healthy (or healthyish) fats. I’m not saying this one’s a superfood, but as noted above, I think it’s perfectly reasonable inclusion in a healthy diet.

Yumminess Rating: Yummy

This one’s a winner, and possibly even a good transition recipe if you’re trying to wean your family off of processed foods. In my opinion, a lot of the real yumminess factor comes in your choice of sauces served with the chicken strips, but they make a solid base for such yumminess.

Breading Chicken Strips

Chicken Strips

about 2 lbs of strips of chicken breast

about 1 cup of sour milk, yogurt or whey (enough to cover the chicken)

about 1 1/2 cups of soft white wheat flour

1 tsp sea salt, or to taste

1/2 tsp garlic powder, or to taste

optional: heavy dash of black pepper, sprinkle of cayenne

Lard, coconut oil or neutral flavored oil for frying (about 2 cups or so)

Soak chicken strips in chosen liquid overnight, or for a few hours.

Begin heating lard or oil of choice over medium heat in a frying pan. I normally make the oil about half an inch deep in the pan.

Mix flour and spices. (As long as it’s still BEFORE you dip raw meat in it, you can actually taste a pinch of the flour mixture to make sure the salt and spice ratios are to your liking. You want the spices to be a light background flavor, and the flour should tasted salted, but not too salty.)

Unfortunately, I don’t have  a really good system for knowing when the oil is hot–I normally just wait two or three minutes, make sure I feel plenty of heat coming off the oil, and start frying. If you’re new to frying and don’t have an oil thermometer, I would mix a spoonful of flour with a spoonful of water, and drop it in the oil when it starts to get warm. When this impromptu batter has bubbling oil around it and is turning golden brown. (If you do have an oil thermometer aim for 350 to 375 degrees.) Adjust the oil temperature as you go, if needed. If the breading is only very lightly browned after cooking for 2 minutes on one side, turn the burner up a notch. If it’s getting dark brown or overly crispy by a minute and a half on one side, turn the burner down a notch (or two).

When the oil is ready, dip a chicken strip in the flour mixture. (Tongs make this part less messy.) Thoroughly coat the strip with flour on both sides. Place the strip (carefully!) into the hot oil (the tongs come in handy again here), and repeat until your pan is full without being crowded.

After about a minute and a half, and when the first side is getting golden brown and crispy, turn over the chicken strips. (It helps to have a second pair of tongs for this part–one for raw chicken, one for cooking chicken. Also, one for raw messy breading, one for hot oil.)

Cook on the other side for about a minute and half, then remove the strips to a warm oven. (I like to put a couple of paper towels on a cookie sheet or plate for receiving the newly fried, and dripping with oil chicken strips.)

If you’re concerned about whether the chicken is done or not, here a few tips: The chicken will be floppy and squashy when raw, cooked chicken will be firm and hold it’s shape when pressed or picked up from one end. If you make a slit into the chicken and clear liquid comes out, it’s done–pink or bloody liquid means it’s not done yet. If you’re still in doubt, cut a couple chicken strips in half to make sure they’re done, until you get a feel for how long they take to cook on your stove. (You could also try the whole meat thermometer thing, but it never works for me.)

Serve with dipping sauces. Ketchup, barbecue sauce, sweet and sour sauce, honey mustard and ranch are all excellent choices.