Monday, 15 July 2013

Jetlag + Marilynne's Slow Cooker Chicken Cacciatore

I've arrived home from a 3+ week visit to the East Coast of the US. I saw family, family and more family which was very nice since I haven't seen many of them in years. We relaxed, shopped and ate and then went to the beach, read books and ate again. Now I am back to errands, chores and responsibilities - a shock. More shocking is the weather since I left a hot summer in the US and now I'm back to winter in Australia. Sydney is cold, damp and chilly. Our house doesn't have central heating but an array of heaters strategically placed in various rooms throughout the house. Going from hot to cold and cold to hot again is a daily experience I had quickly forgotten about after always being hot in the US.

After a 6 hour drive to the airport, then a 6 hour flight to San Francisco to catch a 14 hour flight to Sydney, we finally arrived home after an exhausting day+ of travel. I wish I could leave the travel behind and get on with reality but jet lag has reared its ugly head. Jet lag is basically a disruption to one's circadian rhythms. It is very primal as people, animals and even plants have these circadian rhythms. Consulting the web, I have been told to get out in the sun (ok), exercise (that's hard), avoid caffeine (seriously?!), drink lots of water (sounds good) and not take a nap (no fair). British Airways even has a jet lag calculator that says I should get light between 12-2 am which is quite funny as the only light at that time is the stars and even though they are many more stars to see in Sydney, they aren't that bright.

So, my day has been a blur filled with headaches, nausea, disorientation, moments of energy and moments of exhaustion. I had errands to run today and really had to concentrate. A bit of my mental stream of consciousness: stay on left side of the road....yes, back to rotaries right turn on, that isn't expensive; it's for a kilo (2.2lbs) not a pound....shoot, shoot, shoot - what's her name? that's your neighbour ....right, back to using Aussie lingo again.  So here it is 10pm and my family has been asleep since 7pm, and I am writing a blog. I am hoping I will fall asleep soon and stay asleep. However, in my blur of the day, I made a really good dinner and wanted to share this easy, nutritious and healthy dish. I learned this recipe 10+ years ago from my friend, Marilynne, who lives in California. It is a winner - a meal that can be served to your family or at a dinner party. Like most of my recipes, it can be adjusted to suit your tastes. Enjoy!

Marilynne's Slow Cooked Chicken Cacciatore

1 Slow Cooker/Crockpot

1.5 kg/3 lbs *frozen* Chicken breasts
1 medium Onion, halved and then sliced thin
1 Green Capsicum/Pepper sliced in long strips (julienned)
1 Red Capsicum/pepper sliced in long strips (julienned)
4 Garlic cloves crushed (optional)
2 jars/bottles of Pasta Sauce
1 dozen Brown Mushrooms, sliced thin
1 dozen Pitted Olives, sliced thin

1 box Pasta - *no Spaghetti or Fettuccine, a shaped pasta (Penne, Fusilli) absorbs sauce best*
grated Parmesan Cheese

1- Place frozen Chicken breasts in Slow Cooker/Crockpot. Because Chicken is lean/low fat, it cooks fast and can get tough in the Slow Cooker/Crockpot. Frozen breasts cook more slowly and result in moist, tender chicken.

2- Cut up Capsicums/Peppers, Onion and put on top of Chicken breasts in Slow Cooker/Crockpot. If using, add crushed Garlic on top.

3- Pour 2 small jars/bottles of Pasta Sauce or 1 large jar/bottles on top of Chicken and Vegetables.


4- Cover and cook on LOW all day. Stir a few times during day if possible.

5 - 30-60 minutes before serving, use knife and fork right in Slow Cooker/Crockpot to shred or cut up Chicken breasts into smaller pieces. This should be easy to do as Chicken will be tender from cooking all day. 

6- Add sliced Mushrooms and Olives and let them cook for 30-60 minutes. If you add them in the morning, the Mushrooms shrink too much and the Olives can make the dish salty. Or, I like to use pasta sauce with olives already in it and this seems to work well.

7 - Cook pasta according to box, drain.

8 - Serve Chicken Cacciatore over pasta and add shredded Parmesan Cheese.

9- Excellent with a glass of red wine, fresh bread and salad = nice dinner for yourself/family or easy dinner party.

Note - for those on Gluten free diets, serve with Gluten Free or no pasta; it is stew-like. For those dairy free, do not cheese at end. I usually get 2 dinners (2 adults + 2 kids) out of this. You can double the recipe and freeze or refrigerate for the future.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Stranger in a Strange Land & 1-2-3 Ice Cream Pie

(Note: I had the honour of being interviewed by InterNations, a website for ex-pats. Please click on coloured- InterNations Also, if a box pops up that says you need to be a member to see it, just click on the 'x' in the upper right corner to close the box and you can read it.)

I am back in the East Coast of the US for three weeks, visiting family. After 3+ years of living overseas and a few trips back, my homeland, the US, seems different. I'm wondering, what's different - me or The US? I still feel very comfortable here but I have observed more this visit. You know you are back in the US when:

Driving - people drive on the right side of the road, the cars are big, there are so many varieties of cars and lots of big cars, parking spaces are much wider, there are no roundabouts, there are no warnings of speed cameras, people honk their horns freely, police cars have brighter lights and more shocking sounds, and people jay walk testing fate as the cars come closer.

Shopping - wow, the shopping is fabulous! Most items are 50%+ off Australian prices and stores are open until 9pm. The customer service is better and the choices are endless - so many stores, so many sales. Step away from the mall! A real bonus too is that I have moved down two sizes as the US and Australia have 2 different sizing systems - bonus!

Coffee - the coffee of choice is drip coffee and the cups are huge. No wonder everyone in NYC is moving in fifth gear - they've just had 5 cups of coffee all in one giant cup! The choices are endless too. After a 13 hour flight from Sydney to San Francisco, I was delirious and asked for a coffee with milk dreaming of a flat white. Instead I had a choice of 20+ different types of coffee with various milk and sugars to chose from. Too many choices for a jetlagged woman; just give me some good strong coffee with a little milk please!

Food - I am amazed the choices and variety of foods and restaurants. I was hoping that by coming to the US and getting a break from my small cupcake business, I'd get a break from eating cupcakes but they are being happily replaced with pizza, frozen ice cream, Cheez-Its, goldfish crackers, See's candy, Godiva chocolate, Smartfood popcorn, soft pretzels, cold ice tea, real lemonade, California Chardonnay wine, chocolate chip cookies, brownie and more Ben & Jerry's ice cream.

Accents - everyone is speaking with American accents for a change. I am not fielding the common question that is nice but has become tiring over time, 'Where are you from in the US? Are you enjoying your visit?' I am also able to say things like, 'Que pasa?...Hola!...muy caliente' and other Spanish phrases I know instead of getting a curious look. Unfortunately, my yell outs in the store of 'Wow, that's cheap as chips!' and other Aussie slang falls on deaf ears and garners puzzled expressions. Well I am glad no one knows the meaning of 'wuckers,' the newest addition to my slang vocabulary.

Animals - I am actually missing the squaks and cries of the Australian native birds that are ever present in Sydney, especially at dawn and dusk. It is very quiet here with the cute little chickadees, robins, hummingbirds and doves. I have encountered squirrels, gophers, turkeys, deer and chipmunks all in my parent's yard which my children find fascinating.

Laundry - I forgot how spoiled you can be in the US with large washers and dryers. I also forgot that the dryer is the preferred method to drying clothes as oppossed to drying racks and sunshine. I must admit, I really miss the big washers and dryers of America. I hate laundry with a passion and would love to do my laundry in those big Mommas.

At the end of the day, although many things seem different, the real reason we are back in the US is to see family and friends. They may change just as I have changed but they are still people and they are my people no matter where I choose to live in the world.  My tribe is getting older which means I am aging too - stop the clock, please! As I sleep in the bedroom I've had since I was young and stare at the green shag rug, nostalgia and memories of my youth flood back into my mind like an old song on the radio or perfume once worn. I look at my parents who are almost 80 and realise they are no longer 60 like I picture them in my mind as I live on the other side of the world and I am no longer 25 either (damn!). It is not the 'things' part that make living on the other side of the world difficult, it is the 'people' part that pull at your heart strings and often make me feel guilty for living so far away. This will always be a constant struggle as I live overseas.

The getting-too-serious alarm has gone off so time to move on to some cooking although this recipe is not really cooking but it is easy and delicious. Since I have been enjoying the ice cream in the US and it is 84 degrees and humid as I type this, I thought an ice cream pie is a super easy everyday recipe to make. I have not brought my phone (on husband's laptop) with me so I must apologise for not having my usual recipe photos and how-tos. However, I have used some photos from the internet and think this 3 ingredient recipe is easy to follow. The only work here is that it is a bit more time consuming to make as you have to take the pie in and out of the freezer until complete.

My daughters request Ice Cream Pie as their birthday party cake each year and it is devoured by all. This recipe can be customised too as you can use whichever ice cream flavour and decoration you like. I do recommend using Oreo cookies for the crust because unlike cookie crust recipe where you need crushed biscuits, sugar and butter, you only need the Oreo cookies for the crust. The white filling in the middle of the Oreo is creamy enough to bind the cookie crumbs and make a tasty pie crust.

1-2-3 Ice Cream Pie

1 box Oreo cookies ( sold in both US and Australia)
1 gallon/3.7 liters of Cookies & Cream (or your favourite ice cream)
1 container of chocolate sauce for decorating

1- Place 1.5 sleeves of Oreos in a bowl and begin to crush into fine pieces with your hands. I like to use a soup can/ tin to crush the cookies. You also can put some cookie crumbs aside to sprinkle/decorate the top of pie later on.

2- Take crushed cookies and put into a mound in middle of pie tin/glass pie. Use fingers to press and cover cookie crumbs to cover all inner surfaces to form a pie crust. You can use more or less cookies depending how thick you want your crust.

3- Place pie crust in freezer to harden for 30+ minutes.

4 - Meanwhile, take out ice cream and let thaw until mushy and soft

5 - Take pie crust out of freezer and pour ice cream in. Smooth with a spoon or spatula to even the top and sides of pie.

6- Return ice cream pie to flat surface of freezer and freeze for 30 minutes or more.

7 - Decorate - Take pie out of freezer and decorate with chocolate sauce. You can spread a layer across the top or around the pie edge or I like to do several zig zags. For a birthday, I get an edible decorating pen/icing  in the baking section of the grocery store and use it to write 'Happy Birthday' on the pie.

8 - Return decorated pie to flat surface of freezer to set.

9- Take pie out of freezer 15 minutes before serving to soften, 20+ mins before serving if it has been frozen overnight. Store leftover pie in freezer, covered with aluminium foil.


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