Chicken Salad

Week 3 with no gluten. All is lost. My strength is fading, and as I crawl across the floor, reaching out for the last flicker of light...

Actually, it’s not that bad. Really. Pecans make it better.

I lead a charmed life. One of the best parts about living in the South is pecan orchards. They’re all over the place. There’s this little store out in the middle of nowhere that sells fresh pecans, and honestly, it’s a wonder they last long enough for me to put them in anything. I can eat half the bag on the way home, if I don’t stop myself. Nothing you will ever buy in a grocery store can compare. As it happens, my husband’s butcher shop is also out in the middle of nowhere, just down the road (relatively speaking) from the pecan shop, and there are pecan trees behind his store. I’ve often thought I should just go by there when they’re in season and pick up the ones we already own. But I buy them from the pecan store anyway. Why?

High school, that’s why. I spent two fall seasons picking up pecans in an orchard. Here’s how it works. You take a big net bag and walk out into the orchard. You stoop over and pick up each pecan. You examine each of them to make sure they don’t have holes or black spots. Then you throw the bad ones back down and the good ones in the bag. One. By. One. For days. I learned quickly not to throw the bad ones down where I was working, after I kept picking up the same one over and over again. And as you work, you drag that bag across the ground. It gets heavier and heavier. I was fifteen, and after all of that bending and straightening and dragging, my back hurt for days.

I haven’t been fifteen in a long time, and my back hates me a lot more now than it did when I was a teenager. So I cheat and buy them already picked, shelled and cleaned. I should feel a lot worse about that than I do. My husband has customers that ask him if they can pick up the pecans (and pick the blackberries) around the shop. I figure I’m doing them a favor. Whatever it takes for me to come away with a clean conscience, right?

Anyway, fresh pecans make an amazing addition to this chicken salad. So do the grapes. I’ve been tempted before to skimp and buy only red or green, since you don’t use all the grapes in the bag. Don’t. They each have a different flavor that gives the salad a fuller taste.

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Chicken Salad

1 rotisserie chicken, deboned, skin removed and shredded
½ c. light mayonnaise
15 pecan halves, chipped
20 green grapes (seedless), sliced
20 red grapes (seedless), sliced
Salt and pepper to taste

Dump all ingredients in a medium bowl and mix well.

Heart Attack Cabbage

My mother sent me this recipe. I don’t know where she got it from, but I know she didn’t create this on her own. When it comes to cooking skills, well, let’s just say mine are inherited. Hers are, too, to be completely fair. My dad’s mom was an old school country cook. My mom’s mom—not even a little. Her mother died when she was 8, in 1933. My mom told me once that her mother’s folks were farmers in Tennessee, and only the cook could be excused from working the fields. When grandma’s mom died, her oldest sister took over food duty. My great aunt was, apparently, a smart woman—she realized if her sisters knew how to cook, her ability to stay at home while the others worked the fields in the heat might be endangered. So, she guarded her skills jealously and doomed my family to generations of bad meals.

But I digress. In short, mom probably ate this at one of her old lady luncheons and asked for the recipe. She knows I’m on the gluten free wagon and wanted to help. I should note that my mom and I have a history with cabbage. Mom used to boil it on the stove with nothing but a little salt. She assured me it tasted better than it smelled. I told her it would have to. Talk about obnoxious.

She knows better than to ask me to eat cabbage. Yet she sent it to me anyway. There’s bacon involved. There’s a rumor out there that everything is better with bacon. The Internet surely can’t be wrong about that. Plus I’ve been into Brussels sprouts lately (roasted Brussels sprouts are amazing) and they’re in the same family. So, despite an aversion to anything green and slimy that isn’t spinach, I decided to try it.

Holy Moses. My mama really does love me.

I called it heart attack cabbage because mom’s version directed me to cook the cabbage in the leftover bacon grease. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. If I was going to make myself eat cabbage, it had to be because it was relatively good for me. A teaspoon of bacon grease? I could’ve handled that. But eating all the grease from 12 ounces of bacon seemed like a sure-fire way to make a banana split better for me, and if I was going to do that, I’d prefer the ice cream over cabbage. I drained the bacon and used some olive oil instead. The other version may have tasted better, but this was still pretty amazing, and I felt better about myself. But if you’re adventurous and want to cook this in true Southern style, omit the olive oil and cook the cabbage in the leftover bacon grease. Then head straight for the defibrillator.

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Heart Attack Cabbage

1 head of cabbage, cut cut into strips
1 onion, diced
12 oz. bacon, cut into pieces
1/3 c olive oil
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons Worcestershire
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
Pepper to taste

Cook bacon pieces on large skillet until crispy. Remove pieces to a paper towel to drain and pour off bacon grease. Add olive oil to skillet, heat, then carefully add cabbage. Cook cabbage over medium high heat, stirring constantly, until cooked down (about 10 minutes). Add onions and sauté until onions are clear. Add remaining ingredients and continue cooking until desired consistency.

Baked Vinegar Fries

I have Hashimoto’s. I’m not sure, but I think that name is Latin for “screws your life up in ways you could never have imagined.” It’s a hereditary auto immune disorder that jumps on you with both high heels whenever you experience an abnormally high amount of stress. That is, of course, absolutely epic timing—everything else is pounding on you, so your body decides to jump in and kick its own butt. It mostly affects women, but my younger brother had the good fortune to draw the chance card and come up with the disorder just after his daughter was born. Who would’ve thought having a baby around the house could be stressful?

My brother lives in Oregon. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Oregon, but I can tell you that it’s a different kind of place. The scenery is beautiful, and the people have a very different outlook on life (they don’t pump their own gas. Seriously. It’s been in the news lately. You should look it up.). So, apparently, if you want an endocrinologist in Oregon, you get a holistic doctor. That’s where things get interesting.

Hashimoto’s is very common, and the treatment is fairly standard. You get hormone replacement therapy, and that’s supposed to magically fix everything.

Ha.

Anyone that has it knows it ain’t that simple. The hormone replacement gets you back to about 80%, and you just have to learn to deal with the problems that remain. But holistic doctors have a much more “whole body/spirit” thing going than regular doctors do, and that remaining 20% really bothers them. For my brother, that meant adding a treatment that was intended for recovering addicts. There is supposedly a lot of science behind this move, which I won’t bore you with, mostly because I don’t really understand it. However, when I asked my daughter, an emergency room physician, about it, she simply made a noise—one that said, loud and clear, that she thought holistic medicine’s version of science was about as effective as sacrificing a chicken and drawing druid symbols on the floor.

But since my brother’s hippie-doc was the only medical advice he could get, he went with it. And, wonder of all wonders, those remaining issues started to abate. So, despite the fact that I paid for a substantial portion of the medical degree that looked down on hippie medicine with such disdain, I decided to jump on the bandwagon. I got my own hippie-doc. And the first thing he did was ban gluten for a six-month trial period.

Well, crap.

Do you have any idea how many things have gluten? Pancakes. Soy sauce. My favorite lasagna recipe. All gone. I even had to give up my gummie vitamins.

After I got over being a drama queen about it, I decided that if I had to endure, I would try to make the best of it. Chocolate doesn’t have gluten. Neither does wine.

I was feeling better already.

So I started experimenting with gluten free food. This is a dirt simple recipe. I love it. If you’ve ever been to a restaurant that serves malt vinegar with fries, you know what I’m talking about. I can’t have malt vinegar because of the gluten, but if you can, I would sub that for the white vinegar—I bet it would be amazing. You could also fry these, but I mostly avoid fried stuff, so I bake.

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Baked Vinegar Fries

Potatoes (peeled or not—your choice)
White vinegar (for a milder flavor, use apple cider vinegar)
Non-stick Spray
Seasoning (I use lemon pepper but straight up salt would work fine)

Cut as many potatoes as you want to serve into French fry sticks. Place them in a container and pour enough vinegar over them to just cover them. Cover and place in refrigerator for 3 hours. After time is up, preheat the oven to 375 degrees and spray a baking sheet with non-stick spray. Pour vinegar off of potatoes and pat the pieces dry. Lay them out on a baking sheet so that the pieces do not touch, then spray the potatoes with a little non-stick spray. Season as you like, then bake for 45 minutes or until done.

 

Gorgonzola Sauce

As I've mentioned, we're serious carnivores. Since my husband bought the butcher shop, not only have we had a limitless supply of whatever kind of meat we want, I have access to a bunch of stuff I wouldn't touch if I were stranded on a desert island and hadn't eaten in weeks. He sold raccoons once. I mean, actually sold them. I thought they would sit in the case until he had to throw them out. They were gone by the end of the day. There's hogs head cheese (I made the mistake of asking how that stuff is made--it sounds every bit as gross as it looks). And squirrels. And chitlins-chitterlings, if you want to be all proper about it. My husband calls them "exotic meats." 

Yuk.

But then there's the good stuff. Like steak. I love steak, and no one cooks a steak like my husband. When he puts the plate on the table, you can actually hear angels signing. You don't ever want to pollute a real steak with, well, anything. We eat a lot of ribeye around here, and when my husband is being extra sweet, he'll bring me a filet mignon (or a filet mignon roast stuffed with cream cheese and bacon. Sweet mother of meat.). That kind of steak is a gift from heaven that you just don't spoil with steak sauce.

However.

Every rule has an exception. This is it. If you've found a way to make filet mignon better, you can just go ahead and throw the bucket list away. You're done. I'm serous. I've had guys ask me for this recipe. I'm talking die-hard carnivores. We had a half a dozen of my husband's guy friends over for a cookout and every one of them was practically licking the leftover sauce off of his plate. It was adorable.


It takes a little time to cook down the cream, but it's so worth it. Just make sure you keep stirring. I've let it boil over more than once (left the kitchen. I guess I never learn), and it makes a mess.

Gorgonzola Sauce

Gorgonzola Sauce

2 cups heavy cream

2 ozs. Gorgonzola crumbles (blue cheese will also work in a pinch)
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 1/2 tbsp. parsley

Bring cream to a full boil in saucepan over high heat, then reduce heat to medium/high and boil, stirring constantly, for 45 minutes or until cream has thickened to a sauce-like consistency. 

Remove from heat and stir in remaining ingredients all at once, whisking until cheeses melt. Spoon over steak and serve while sauce is still warm.