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Posts Tagged ‘chicken’

March is a fickle friend, isn’t it? On my birthday in 2007, we had a blizzard that left us buried under 18″ of snow. Way back in 1991, I recall it being 67 degrees on my birthday. This year? We had temps in the 40’s, plenty of warm sunshine and slush covering the ground as we made our way out for my celebratory dinner. March, the month that supposedly comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, rarely seems to be able to make up it’s mind as to what it hands us. It’s the month where we officially hang up Winter, and turn to Spring, eyeing our wardrobe and wishing for the right weather to break out the lighter side of ourselves.

With the stretch of days drenched in gorgeous sunshine, and me fingering the short sleeve shirts in longing, there came yet another craving I haven’t known in some time, perhaps a harbinger of the changing season. It was the desire to not only shed the weight of winter clothing but the heavy and comforting draw of it’s food as well, replacing it with those that snap and crunch in their remarkable shades of green. I really wanted a salad.

Likely spurred on by the current issue of Saveur magazine, and it’s ode to the chopped salad- just in time for Spring!- I took one long glance at the Cobb Salad pictured and my mind high-fived my stomach, both in hearty agreement that it was indeed necessary to create. Right away.

The Cobb Salad was named for Robert L. Cobb, credited with inventing it at his famed Brown Derby restaurant in Los Angeles in 1937, and made up of chicken, bacon, avocado, blue cheese crumbles, tomato, hard cooked egg, chive, watercress, romaine and iceberg lettuces. It’s now a standard on so many menus, often in a wide array of options, most of them a far cry from the original version.

This time of year I tend to get a lot of food fatigue, and indecision about what my body is needing to eat. I’m tired of winter and it’s stews and braises, of it’s root vegetables and tubers, the lack of fresh options and choices. I want to wash the mittens, hats and scarves and then pack them away. I crave berries and peaches, bare skin and white wine. I am beginning to paw through the Spring clothes in my closet, wishing for the warmth to wear just one item, especially those bought on sale last Fall, many with price tags still attached. I think about pedicures and exposing my toes again. I yearn for the Markets to open, bearing tables of new potatoes, spring peas and the first tender bunches of spinach. The buckets of lettuce soon follow, overflowing in green, and mine for just a few dollars. Seed catalogs tempt me. I want summer foods, long warm twilights sipping rosé, a simple sheet thrown over me at night.

So the salad craving was not a surprise, nor pushed aside, even though the greens came from the store and lacked the flavor of the earth. I splurged on good Nueske’s bacon and burned some aromatic candles to freshen the house. Next time Nueske’s and I meet, it likely will be high summer, alongside crimson orbs of fresh garden tomato.

The salad served me well, filling the need for somewhat lighter fare, yet hearty enough to stick with me through the afternoon hours. The bacon doesn’t exactly make this the healthiest option, but it works for an occasional treat, and the mix of flavors just seems to work. I can’t say why the tang of blue cheese, smoky bacon, moist chicken and creamy avocado make for such a pleasing plate of flavor, maybe it’s the carnival of tastes going on at once, a culinary samba that relentlessly entertains your mouth. I sure know that I need waking up from the snow, hearty foods and sweaters, my metaphor of winter. My tastebuds seem to as well. Here’s to more salad, and increasing temperatures, all things Spring and sunshine.

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Sometimes you just need something simple, undemanding. A meal you don’t need to really think about, plan for or work up a sweat to pull off, something you know you’ll love just by reading the recipe title.

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Indian spiced? Vaguely. Certainly not the kind of aromatic and mouth-watering way that I think of when I crave Indian food. It’s one of my favorite cuisines, my most requested meal away from home. These pitas made me think more of Gyros than Indian food.

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But quick, simple and uncomplicated was in order for dinner, and once all the fixins’ were ready, we stuffed our pitas and then our mouths. I don’t know when I’ve seen a sandwich disappear so quickly. Mine was so full that the pita basically exploded.

Delicious? Absolutely. We both went back for seconds.

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I have a confession to make; see those red onions above? Superbly sliced thin and perfect? The tomatoes, all in a row and the same size? The perfectly julienned spinach? Anyone notice the regimented slices of beets in my last post?

I did it all by hand; a bit scary, it’s so neat and perfect, huh? But here’s the deal; when I was in culinary school one of the coaches for our student competition team told me that I was a perfectionist and I got kind of ticked off. He said something to the extent of  “Why would you get mad about it if it’s true?” Problem was, I didn’t know it was true and it irked me that he was pointing out a truth to me that I hadn’t realized. Once I accepted it, it made my life easier, and quite frankly, I was able to tone down a lot of that need for perfectionism after recognizing and acknowledging it. It makes it easier on my psyche for accepting the inevitable errors and mistakes, whether in the kitchen or elsewhere in my life.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t like to WOW the masses with my ‘human mandoline’ skills when I can.  If you like how I can slice that onion, you should see what I can do, by hand, to a clove of garlic.

Indian Spiced Chicken Pitas
Eating Well magazine, June 2009

1# chicken breasts
2 T. garam masala
1/4 c. olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Toppings for pitas: sliced tomato, sliced red onion, shredded romaine or spinach

Blend garam masala and oil and brush on chicken. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and refrigerate for about an hour. Prepare to liking either on your grill, stovetop or oven method.

Cucumber Raita
Classic Indian Cooking by Julie Sahni

1 medium cucumber, peeled and seeded
1 medium tomato
1 green chili, optional
1 c. plain yogurt
1/4 c. sour cream
1 t. roasted and ground cumin seeds
2-3 T. finely minced cilantro or mint (both together is divine)
1/2 t. kosher salt

Blend yogurt and sour cream with a whisk. Stir in chopped cucumber, chili, tomato and seasonings and stir to blend. Allow to sit for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Stuff pitas with chicken and toppings, serve dressed with raita.

KATE’S NOTES:
I added some finely minced green onion to the raita and about a teaspoon of garam masala. We did not have sour cream on hand. The raita would have been slightly more tangy and sour with it, but it tastes just fine without it too. Sahni’s recipe calls for removing the pulp from the tomato but I left it in. It also calls for grating both the cuke and tomato. That would be entirely up to you. I like a chunky raita so I chopped them. I do, however, highly suggest fresh cumin seeds- really for everything- because the flavor is much more pronounced and brighter than pre-ground cumin. You would need a dedicated spice grinder or a mortar and pestle for them. Both work well.

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yhst-73011301488282_2053_5859150I’m the minority in my neighborhood. The only girl out at the grill on any given night. The back of that mug is absolutely correct- it says ‘Saucy, smokin’ and HOT!’

And let me tell you, those boys ain’t got nothing on me.

Why is grilling such a guy thing? You go to any festive outdoor event in the summertime and there’s a guy at the grill, and the other guys there are gathered around like an envious pack, watching the grill, assessing the technique, gazing covetously at the grill itself, or the toys the cook waves about. They clutch their beers and shuffle their feet. It’s some odd ritual that I can’t possibly figure out. And where are the women?

I was never in the kitchen, or clustered around the food table, crowing like a group of hens with the other women- I was out at the grill, pushing my way front and center, taking in the scents and sights. I knew from a very early age that being at the grill was where it’s at, among the smoke and flames, the one everyone turned to because they were hungry and you held the key to filling that void. It’s about fire. And from the dawn of time, fire has been a guys thing.

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Well not in this house it isn’t!

I do the majority of the cooking in our house and so naturally it falls to me to grill as well, although I know plenty of partnerships where, despite the female influence at the stove, the guy automatically gets grilling rights. Hhhmmmpff.  Step away from the flames and hand me my tongs. Please. Like I said, the guys ain’t got nothin’ on me.

Although meat does make a slight comeback in our house during the warm months, as it takes on a flavor unlike any other when cooked over a flame, I’m just as happy with a huge plate of grilled vegetables and have made many other items on a grill too, my favorites being Pizza and Quesadillas. I even built a wood-burning pizza oven inside my patio Chimnea. More on that later.

Quesadillas have been a stand-by for a grilled meal, a simple and quick way to cook up a smoky treat. Once the filling is ready, they take but a snappy 5 minutes on a hot grill to be perfect.

So I marinated some chicken in lime juice and Penzeys Taco Seasoning-
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Made a bowl of my famous Guacamole-
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Stirred together some mustard oil for brushing on the vegetables-
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And prepped an array of goodies….baby vidalia onions, red peppers and zucchini-

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I love the flavor of grilled vegetables. Our gas grill is going on 7 years old and really needs to be replaced, but it is advantageous for this method because it has a superb hot spot that is just perfect for fire-grilling.

Mmmmm…..yummy charred goodness!
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The chicken looked spectacular. It almost seemed a shame to chop it all up.
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And wow, did it smell fabulous!

After prepping the vegetables and chicken, I left the grill on to get it smoking hot while I took everything inside and assembled the quesadillas.
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I use one tortilla per quesadilla as it makes it easier to rotate and turn on the grill. I’ve tried using two, with the filling between them, but inevitably when you go to flip them over, some of the filling is lost to the flames. Using one tortilla folded over eliminates that headache, and lost goodies AND cleaning out the charred bits from inside the grill!

Ta-Da!!
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Guacamole

3 ripe avocados, diced
zest of half a lime
juice from half a lime
1 T. kosher salt
2 t. Penzeys Adobo seasoning (or 1/2 t. each cumin, chili powder, onion powder, garlic powder and black pepper)
1 medium tomato, diced

Combine all ingredients and stir to mix. Allow to sit at room temperature for flavors to develop. {{I don’t use fresh garlic or raw onion in my guac- I think it’s a bit too overpowering, but to each their own}}

Mustard Oil for grilling

3 T. spicy brown mustard
1/2 c. olive oil

Whisk to combine and allow to sit for about an hour. It will not make an emulsion, but the mustard will flavor the oil and it’s terrific on grilled vegetables.

Making the Quesadillas is pretty subjective; use veggies suitable for you or your family. Shrimp or beef is a great substitute for chicken, or make up a whole lot of toppings and have a Build-Your-Own deal. I use the 10″ flour tortillas, folding one over the filling. The larger wrap-style tortillas work beautifully for quesadillas too, being quite substantial. The grill grates do not need oiling for tortillas- they won’t stick. Serve with sour cream, salsa and guacamole on the side.

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I’m a little bit crazed for food from someone else’s world. I think growing up in the 70’s, with my white-bread and cream soup upbringing where everything was bland, flavorless and boring caused my tastebuds to automatically seek out foods that sing, soar and dance in my mouth. These days, I can’t get enough of the varied flavors and spices of foods from around the world.

We did a few turns to what was considered ethnic then; there was a favorite mexican restaurant we went to, although authentic wasn’t really it’s way, and we often ventured into a Chinese place to partake of a few dishes that seemed appealing at the time but the real stretching into more daring and exotic fare began when I was in college. My roommates and I began frequenting an Ethiopian restaurant in Minneapolis, delighting in the spongy injera, the potent blend of spices and the rich heady flavors of tea and coffee found there. We would drag ourselves home, stuffed and reeling and before the food even settled we would plot our next return. Ethnic restaurants were popping up more and more during that time, and a friend and I once made a huge list of them, promising to scratch one off every week in an effort to explore all these mysterious cuisines around us. We did all right by that list, and I tasted some pretty exciting foods. Exciting for the ’90’s, that is.

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The one place for me that I could return to again and again is the Village Wok on the University campus. It’s as close to an authentic Chinese restaurant as one can get in the confines of Minnesota’s borders, evidenced by the sheer number of Chinese college students who frequent the closely packed tables and chairs. They gather in large numbers, with huge amounts of food on the table in front of them; dishes I couldn’t recognize or explain and they tuck in with abandon. The smells here are mind-boggling and the plates of food fragrant and searing hot. There isn’t a single thing about this place that speaks of success beyond the food. It’s dinghy, the tables are rickety and the steps down to the basement bathroom are scary. All of that is irrelevant when the server drops a plate of food in front of you.
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As hard as I try, I am unable to create that flavor at home, although it isn’t for lack of effort; I make stir fries quite often as it’s a really good way for me to get Griffin to eat a big plate of vegetables without any fuss but I’ve always had to lower my expectations of that Village Wok kind of flavor as I raise the first bite to my mouth. It comes close; it’s delicious and it takes care of the craving. That’s what I strive for in the kitchen.
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The origin of this recipe is vague but no matter; it’s been reincarnated so many time that the original is mostly lost. It’s an excuse away from the everyday, although by no means anywhere near authentic; just a tiny slip of flavor that can tend to a craving for the genuine that I’ve neither time nor energy to seek out. The work of chopping and slicing is therapeutic, bowls all around me brimming with fresh vegetables, the rice cooker humming on the counter, blues music keeping me moving. It serves multiple purposes too; even with the vegetable content it’s one of Griffin’s favorite meals, and the look on his face when he knows I’m pulling this together is worth every knife stroke, every specific moment of timing that a good stir-fry requires. It can’t be soggy or overcooked- the best thing is the crunch- and for this go-round, it crunched and sang like I hoped it would. Watching him devour his large portion and sit back with such a satisfied look on his face was another part of the process to satisfaction and it wasn’t just about taking the edge off my craving.

Chicken Asparagus Stir Fry
(original version)

1 T. toasted sesame oil
1 bunch fresh asparagus, tough ends trimmed, cut into 1″ pieces- tips separate
1 # chicken tenders or boneless breasts, cut into 1″ pieces
2 scallions, trimmed and cut to 1/2″
1 shallot, sliced
1 red pepper, cored seeded and cut into 1/2″ pieces
1 c. snow peas, strings removed and cut in half
2 T. minced fresh ginger
1/4 c. oyster sauce
2 T. garlic chili sauce
1/2 c. shelled salted pistachios, coarsely chopped

Heat oil in large skillet or wok over high heat. Add shallot, asparagus and red pepper, stir fry for about 4 minutes, then add snow peas and stir fry 2 minutes. Remove to bowl, cover and keep warm. Swirl a scant 1/2 t. more of oil in pan and add chicken, allow to cook until browned on one side, then flip over and cook until you can’t see any pink. Add sauces and ginger, stir to combine. Add vegetables and stir to coat. Cook about 5 -8 minutes longer or until chicken is no longer pink. Serve over rice, if desired.

KATE’S NOTES:
The oyster sauce can be swapped with black bean sauce, as I did in this particular preparation. I’ve found that even a short amount of time marinating the chicken in the sauce can add a lot of flavor.

Obviously a stir fry is open to endless interpretation. Add more chili garlic sauce for extra heat; swap out the vegetables or the meat or remove the meat altogether and add some seared tofu. Change out the sauce or the crunchy nut garnish. The pistachios are amazing with this- who knew??

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Spring seems to be taking it’s time, again, to come full into itself in Minnesota. It’s early still, but those few days of balmy sunshine have teased us into wanting more. Can’t blame anyone for being tired of winter, tired of snow and ready for a change. It’s kind of a metaphor, if you think about it.

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We weathered, and are still weathering a tough time with nary an end in sight. It’s a vicious cycle and quite frankly, it’s beginning to wear me down. I’m tightening every string I can find and pushing myself to find more to pull taut but there aren’t many left to either eliminate or reduce. While we seem to manage, and I continue to put out feelers for employment that don’t go anywhere, there are times like I am now where I just want to pull a thick hood over it all and disappear. My insomnia doesn’t help it at all, and often makes it that much worse.

There are many things that if I choose to look at them will push my perspective into a brighter, sunnier spot. Mike is gainfully employed and as his own boss, he’s not facing the threat of layoff. He has a lot of work- almost too much sometimes- and he’s exceptionally good at what he does. We are blessed with excellent health, which is such a god-send because our insurance deductibles have increased from ‘much too high’ to ‘scary-high’ and all it would take would be one bad accident or a serious illness to send us spiraling into a deep shade of red. This is something to really be thankful for, and I credit our foods and eating habits with much of this piece of good fortune. And even before this woe settled upon us all, we had pledged to live simply and without a lot of the luxuries that many others have had to cut out lately in order to get their finances under control. For us, the idea of simple living isn’t born from our current hardship; for us it’s been a way of life. It’s a nice thought, but it doesn’t help during some of the lean times.

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So with Spring in the air, the sunshine feeling warmer on our faces and the earth awakening all around us, I try to stretch for a more hopeful point of view, one where the chill of an emotional winter and the constant snowfall of economic strain disapears into the warmth of a springtime renewal. I have, if nothing else, always been an eternal optimist. My glass is always half full; it’s just been lately I’ve had the sense that I could drain the last drop from my wellspring of hope and the tap to refill it would be empty. Still, despite it all, I remain hopeful. Maybe not positive all the time, but I am, with all else lacking, eternally hopeful that when it’s all over we’ll come out better, stronger and far more resilient. And that maybe I’ll find a job.

And the sense of seeking comfort in my meals has been strong. On a recent night when my planned recipe didn’t pan out for lack of one necessary ingredient, I turned a proposed Green Chile Rice and Beans meal into a Zesty Italian Chicken and Rice, and with one bite was transported back to one of my favorite childhood dishes.

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A one pan meal, Baked Chicken and Rice was a perfect and inexpensive dish to feed our big family. A cut up chicken was placed over a bed of rice mixed with cream soup and enough water, then baked until it was all moist and tender. It wasn’t perfect; sometimes the water proportions were off and it was either too dry and hard, or too mushy. And almost always, the chicken was overcooked. No, there was no perfection in the kitchen of my childhood. But I still loved the meal, and quite honestly, my most favorite part was to pry the crispy edges of baked rice off the pan and crunch my way through them. Later on when I was in college, I fell in love with a simple recipe of chicken marinated in italian dressing and then grilled, to be topped with a slice of melted mozzarella cheese.

This rice dish, the one that morphed itself into existence that night, gave me a comfort and sense of well-being that’s been lacking lately, all for the reason that it took me back, in my mind, to simpler and easier times. It had the flavor of childhood without the overcooked meat; it had the taste of my first years of freedom in college, and yet it was served and enjoyed with my two most favorite and treasured people, the ones that are holding me all together in this mess we call life. For a small moment it instilled in me a belief that everything would be all right- maybe not right away, but in time- and filled my gnawing hunger not only for sustenance, but for some hope as well.

(recipe after the jump)

(more…)

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soup

Photographing soup is frustrating. And I tend not to do it. A picture can paint a thousand words and I fully believe that, but not with soup. A bowl of soup has a depth that can’t be discerned in a photo; it’s got more flavor in a tiny spoonful than many dishes have overall and to try and photograph it to convey that message is impossible. If you’ve got any great tips, please share.

How I wish you could taste what came out of my soup pot last night. It was one of those days where I had a lot of stuff to do and suddenly it was 3:30 in the afternoon and I didn’t have a dinner plan. I hate that, but it does sometimes rev up my inner Iron Chef and I spend some time flinging open the freezer, the pantry and the fridge to see what’s available to utilize. I was pretty low on vegetables and lacking in any leftover grains. Soup was definitely an idea, but what kind?

Something drove me to open my recipe folder and on the very first page of the Soup category was a clipping from a magazine for Chipotle Chicken and White Bean soup. The plan basically evolved itself. Within 45 minutes we had a steaming pot.

And it was delicious!

Spicy Chicken Chipotle Soup

1# boneless chicken breasts, cut to bite size
1 large onion, diced fine
1 stalk celery, diced fine
1 jalapeno pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 15-oz can great northern beans, rinsed
1 15-oz can diced tomatoes with liquid
1 4-oz can diced green chilies
2-3 t. chipotle en adobo
1 qt. chicken broth

In the work bowl of a food processor, place drained and rinsed beans, tomatoes with juice, green chilies, chipotle and about a half cup of water. Process until smooth, scraping sides as necessary. Pour into a bowl; it should be about a quart.

In a stock pot, heat oil and add onions and celery. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until onions begin to brown. Add in jalapeno and cook about 5 minutes more. Stir in the garlic, turn down the heat and cook until very browned and fragrant. Keep stirring to avoid it sticking and burning. When all the vegetables are nicely caramelized, scrape them into a bowl. Add a little more oil to pot. Season the diced chicken with chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper and add to hot pot. Allow to brown, stirring occasionally, until all the pink is gone. Add in the vegetables and processed tomato mix, stir to combine then add chicken broth. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 15 minutes.

This can be served with broken tortilla chips, a dollop of sour cream, chopped fresh jalapenos or any other appropriate condiments.

KATE’S NOTES:

The pureed bean/tomato mixture gives this soup a decent thickness without added cream or a flour/butter mix. You can alter the chipotle to make it less or more spicy, substitute black beans, navy beans or pinto beans  for the great northerns. I like the deep flavor that the caramelized onion mix gives it, but it isn’t completely necessary. Diced red or green pepper would be very nice in this as well.

(photo courtesy of 550-Soup recipes)

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Officially, we’re looking at National Chicken Soup Day and National Pizza with the Works (except Anchovies) Day.

k, thanks…..bye

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Oh right, sorry there Chicken, a little humor insert, but that’s the extent of what I feel for these particular days- not a lot of excitement. How can you get excited about Chicken Soup? Or pizza overloaded with too many toppings? Ho hum…

I love Chicken Soup, don’t get me wrong. Little else can soothe so universally as chicken soup, made fresh with lots of vegetables and soft dreamy noodles. It’s a well known fact that it’s good for colds and sinus infections, but whether or not it’s beneficial isn’t always the reason to indulge; eat it because it’s delicious and a simple and healthy option. Soup is such a great way to offer a meal that is low in calories and high in substance; you can add in a multitude of vegetables and easily achieve a large amount of your RDA in vegetable consumption with one meal. A little goes a long way too.

Soup is a much beloved and oft repeated meal in our house and the sky is the limit for what goes into the pot. I didn’t cook up anything new for this post, but here are some of my favorite soups ever-  Chicken Tortellini Alfredo Soup, a lively Smoky Chicken Tortilla Soup, and a rich and creamy Chili Blanco, then a completely random but delicious Chicken Corn Potato Chowder. This last one isn’t a chicken soup, but it’s wonderful anyway, and as long as we’re talking soups, you should give this Pesto Vegetable Soup a shot.

And now….Pizza.

I’m a minimalist when it comes to pizza; the less on the crust, the better I like it. I’ve had those Everything Pizza’s and it’s just too much stuff. I’m not a fan of onions on my pizza unless they are beautifully caramelized; mushrooms aren’t a favorite either. I don’t like hamburger on it, or canadian bacon, or pineapple or pickles or jalapenos or cheddar cheese or potato or beets……

All right, those last two might be considered a long shot, but the rest is not. A classic combo that I love is sausage and green pepper; I also love just pepperoni with nothing but cheese. I love chicken, tomato and green pepper, I love fresh tomato and fresh mozzarella, with capers and kalamatas. And I love vegetable pizza. But these days, with dairy being on my avoidance list, pizza has taken a backseat in my culinary repertoire and I seriously miss it. Indulge in a slice or two for me, would you??

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{{chicken photo courtesy of Easy Chicken Recipes}}

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