Homemade Chicken Tacos

This is going to seem like a really trite way to begin a food blog post, but nonetheless, here it is:

I am so thankful for food.

taco ingredients

I started thinking about it this month, when Tim and I began doing a weekly cleanse/detox day and I saw, again, how food affects my body. I thought about it when I read some recent posts (which you really ought to check out if you haven’t already) over at Roost and Honey & Salt, which tell the stories of people totally changing the way they eat in order to improve their health.

Also, there have been long conversations about nutrition on Friday nights, random chats on the phone and with roommates about digestion, the ever-growing and expanding sea (ocean!) of food blogs out there, which continually blow. me. away. with the diversity and scope and perspectives and recipes.

taco fillings

But mostly, it’s just been the food itself.

I mean, man.

tacos

Sometimes I’ll look at a blueberry or a lemon or an egg and think, you know, God didn’t have to give us so many different colors and tastes and textures to eat. He didn’t have to design food to provide pleasure or to be the tool that offers nourishment to us. He didn’t have to create natural, whole foods that grow on trees and bushes, or the animals that provide dairy and meat. There could have been a different system—maybe a button to press or an IV line to hook up or, I don’t know, computer-like systems that monitor our levels of things and adapt automatically. Seriously, think of it: There could have been no flavor, no concept of sweet or tart or spicy. No variety in colors, just gray or brown mush.

These are really things I think about sometimes.

But we get juicy red strawberries! And fermented dill pickles! We can make homemade stock and grass-fed sloppy Joes!

It’s so good. I’m thankful.

And right now, I am specifically thankful for these homemade chicken tacos we made recently, stuffed with some of my favorite chicken and a hodge-podge of other ingredients we had on hand, packaged in sprouted taco shells.

I am thankful to eat these things and be full, to be satisfied, and, most of all, to be well.

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Homemade Chicken Soup

chicken soup

Last week, I spent the better part of two days holed up in my barely furnished room, watching TV on my laptop—because apparently, nothing says, Welcome to Nashville!, like a stomach bug that knocks every shred of every thing out of your body in the course of one evening—and the whole time, there was one thing I couldn’t stop thinking about: homemade chicken soup.

You know what I mean when I say homemade chicken soup, right? I don’t mean chicken soup from a can or even packaged chicken broth that you add vegetables to. I mean roast-your-own-chicken-and-turn-it-into-stock soup. The kind that is soothing and comforting. The kind that is loaded with nutrients. The kind that “puts vigor in the step and sparkle in love life” to quote folklore.

I’ve tried to make my own stock before with bad results. I actually remember an entire conversation Jacqui and I had about this: not enough flavor, not what we expected, what were we doing wrong? But it was just a month or two ago that I made it with great results: rich, flavorful, perfect for adding vegetables and rice to. Now this is kind of my go-to version, and exactly what I was craving. The key seems to be the same thing that changes relationships, careers, opinions, and experiences: time.

chicken soup

As soon as I had the strength to leave the house and visit a local grocery, I bought a chicken, a bag of carrots, a bag of celery, and an onion. And the next morning, I set to work, putting the chicken in the oven as soon as I woke up.

The carcass and pan drippings went into a pot that afternoon, covered with water and, here’s what’s so important: given hours and hours to cook down. By evening, that chicken-submerged water had become darker, thicker, much more akin to the stuff you expect to see when you think of chicken stock. And, most importantly, strained and combined with vegetables and shredded chicken, it was perfection: pure comfort in a bowl.

chicken soup

I ate it for three days straight.

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Chicken Roulade

The truth is, I’ve been wanting to tell you about this chicken roulade recipe for over a week now—ever since last Tuesday, when I pulled chicken out of the fridge and wondered what to make for dinner. I’d gone through all the usual options in my mind, things I’ve had before, things I’ve made, but nothing sounded like it would be worth the high price tag of the Amish, antibiotic-free poultry I’ve been buying, nothing until this beautiful, impressive chicken roulade.

sauteeing nuts and cranberries

Chicken roulade, if you’ve never heard of it, is essentially rolled chicken: the meat gets pounded and flattened into a large surface area; topped with cheese and a filling made of greens, onions, dried fruit, and nuts; rolled tightly; tied up with string; browned and baked. When it’s finished, you slice the bundled breasts into slices stuffed with flavor and color, and it’s the kind of thing that makes you go wow.

chicken roulade filling

This version comes from the lovely Angela of Spinach Tiger: she’d posted it as an idea for a spring picnic back in April; I’m posting it as a weeknight dinner in December. That’s what’s great about this dish: it’s versatile. Not only is it timely year-round, but it’s also adaptable to the ingredients you like and/or have on hand, whether type of greens, nuts, dried fruit, or cheese.

browning chicken bundles

As for why it’s taken me more than a week to post here, all I can say is I’m sorry. I could say I’ve been busy, but then so are you, and you’re reading this. I could say it’s the holidays, but truthfully my family’s Christmas is pretty low-key. So the best explanation I can give you is the same one I’m always giving, it seems: I didn’t know what to say.

chicken roulade unsliced

I keep wanting to tell you about how things are going around here, I mean beyond chicken roulade for dinner, but the words just don’t come. Do you ever feel like that? Like you’re full of stories but speechless? Sometimes you just have to wait it out. But sometimes, in blogging at least, when you’ve already posted the series of photos to Flickr and already typed up the adapted recipe and then still have nothing else beyond that, you just admit it.

chicken roulade sliced

So it’s like this: If we were on the phone today, you and me, or sitting across a table, or pounding some chicken breasts together while we worked on dinner, this is what I’d tell you: right now, even as we do this, there are a lot of things I’m trying not to think about, things like worry and doubt that I feel like I fight more often lately. And I’d say there are other things, things like these, which I’m repeating to myself over and over again. I’d say I’m, as always, overwhelmed by good gifts, don’t misunderstand, but hey, how about you talk for a while? And you could do me the favor of telling me about your day and what you’re doing for Christmas and how much you’ve whittled down on your shopping list. We could also make roasted carrots—baked for about an hour with coconut oil and drizzles of maple syrup—and maybe a salad loaded with vegetables.

chicken roulade and roasted carrots

And then, when we were done, I’d say, let’s eat.

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Chicken Waldorf Salad Wraps

chicken waldorf salad wraps

These wraps, which I’ve had for lunch for the last three days, illustrate one of the best parts of working from home. Because, are you ready? When you call your kitchen table your office, this is what happens: you pull open your Google Reader on a casual Tuesday afternoon, see a recipe you’d like to try and, instead of just bookmarking it for later, you walk to the kitchen right that moment, pull out ingredients and, in minutes, see exactly what it tastes like.

chicken waldorf salad

Like I said though, that’s just one of the best parts of working from home, and since a couple of you have been wanting an update on the self-employment situation anyway, it’s probably time I told you about some of the other benefits.

First of all: It’s been almost five months, can you believe that? Five months since I set my alarm for the same time every morning. Five months since I said, Oh, I can’t; I have to work. Five months of setting my own schedule and working fewer hours (and, admittedly, also making less money). People ask me all the time how it’s been going, and I’m sorry to say my standard answer is awful—something about how things are up and down, how I’m still learning what I’m doing, that I’ll reevaluate after six months. I’ve got to work on that because, really, the truth is: it’s been good.

chicken waldorf salad wraps

I went through my financial records last week, determining my average monthly income and budgeting time for upcoming projects, and you know what? It’s been really, really good. I’m not rich, I’m not all sunshine and roses all the time, but every one of my needs has been provided, I’ve gotten several new clients when I lost one, I have the free time like I’ve always wanted. So while I know myself and therefore realize things may seem very glass-half-empty come tomorrow morning, right now, this moment, I am thankful—thankful to sip homemade chai tea lattes at my computer, to run errands in daylight, to have time to work out or clean or, no kidding, take naps in the afternoon. I am thankful to not be making a lot but to always be making enough. And I want to remember this feeling.

holding a wrap

In a recent post at A Sweet Spoonful, Meg wrote about remembering forward to next November, imagining what you’d like to change about your life as if it will really happen. And ironically, it got me thinking about last November, when I never would have guessed I’d leave my job or, launch into something risky or, work for myself like I’d always wished I could. I’m so glad these changes came, for as long or as short as they end up lasting, and I’m so glad to find myself where I am right now—working in blue jeans while I eat homemade chicken salad wraps, counting my blessings.

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Chicken Fingers

chicken fingers

Supersize Me was on TV the other night. Despite the fact that it was created six years ago, I’d never seen the documentary until this year, a few months ago when I streamed it to my computer during my one-month free trial with Netflix. This past Sunday night, I caught the couple minutes where the main character weighs in after a few days of eating a McDonald’s-only diet, something he tried and documented for a full month, gaining weight and hurting his health just as you’d expect. I also caught the scene where he orders chicken nuggets, and the movie does a quick aside, complete with a cartoon illustration, of how chicken nuggets are made.

It’s not pretty.

chicken fingers

A while ago (was it last year?), I also watched Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution (I’m guessing a lot of you did, too?), and saw him explain to children where chicken nuggets come from. And of course I’ve seen this image (click at your own risk and don’t say I didn’t warn you) floating around the Internet and people’s Facebook profiles. I know where commercial chicken fingers or tenders come from; you probably do, too.

But like with everything else we already know is bad for us, chicken fingers have one small thing going for them, and sometimes that’s all it takes to win us over: they taste good. So what are you supposed to do?

Enter homemade, boneless, skinless, marinated, covered-with-homemade-breadcrumbs and then baked chicken tenders.

homemade chicken fingers

I have to say, I love remaking something with good ingredients, taking a fast-food idea and redeeming it with whole foods, whether it’s a chicken panko recipe or french fries. It’s like recovering a chair you got from a garage sale, not that I’ve ever done that, or like renovating a living room, not that I’ve ever done that either. I imagine those things to be all that this is: encouraging, exciting, empowering.

Not only is this homemade version of chicken fingers better for you—not to mention you know which part of the chicken it comes from—but it’s also delicious: crispy and flavorful, perfect for dipping in honey just like we used to. I made mine with a side of roasted sweet potato circles (just wash the sweet potatoes, slice them into rounds or half circles, bake with coconut oil for about an hour). Whether you care about the health benefits or not, these are chicken fingers you can feel good about eating—and while eating, and I think that’s pretty great.

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