Family Eats Challenge Jim and Janet, Houston Update 3

by Laura on January 31, 2010

in Family Eats Challenge: Janet and Jim

Jim and Janet’s Family Eats Challenge is well under way. They provided Chef Miki with five recipes they found on the site that they would like to try, along with a list of produce.

Their choices are:


Here is what Chef Miki had to say:

Let’s start with the recipe that is most familiar to your and Jim’s palate, an Italian hunter’s stew, Chicken Cacciatore.  Jim, don’t panic as this can be a chicken with an Italian style sauce.



First of all, since we’re trying to cut down on excess food, instead of purchasing a whole chicken, just purchase a package of bone-in thighs or breasts with rib meat.  Leave the skin and bones on them as they will provide more flavor. The skin will loosen from the flesh as the chicken cooks and be easier to remove.  Depending on size, use only two breasts or four thighs. Wash, rinse, and pat dry the remaining chicken pieces, store in zipper bags with the air removed, and freeze.


Also, add to your list 16 oz or 12 oz of penne pasta or rotini as the pasta to serve with this.


If you could also purchase some good chicken or vegetable stock for your pantry, that would be helpful for this recipe and for the future.  Some good brands (no endorsements here) are Kitchen Basics and Swanson NATURAL broth.  They are both in quart-sized cartons, so you’ll need to refrigerate the rest and use within the week.  Unless you’re making a soup, you’ll probably use only 8 ounces at a time.  You can also put the leftover in a small zipper bag, squeeze out the excess air, and lay flat in the freezer.  Don’t forget to mark the contents with a Sharpie, or you’ll have mystery ingredients!

Another alternative is to use Better Than Bouillon Chicken Base and use as the jar directs as needed.  You’re basically looking for the most natural soup base with the fewest additives.


I like to use the grated Parmesan as it can thicken the sauce as well as add some zing and garnish.


Keep all of the other ingredients at the same quantity.  You’ll have more sauce to serve over your chicken and pasta.

Here are some other ingredient tips:

Olive oil:

Purchase virgin.  No need for an expensive one as you’ll be using it more for cooking than for flavoring as in a salad dressing.


(brown or sweet)- Select those with firm root and stem ends.  No cuts or mold.


Firm with no cuts, limpness, or spots.


We can experiment with deeper flavors here later.  For now, use the fresh, standard button mushrooms (usually in a blue foam or cellophane wrapper, or bulk) pick the whitest ones (they’re the freshest). If you get the small ones, about the size of a quarter, wash and cut them in half.  This way they’ll still add flavor while cooking, and be big enough to pick out if you don’t like to eat them. To wash, place in a medium size bowl.  Sprinkle about 1 tablespoon baking SODA over them.  Run cool water over them while tossing.  The dirt will wash away quickly.  Don’t allow the mushrooms to soak in the water, they’ll lose flavor and take on the water!  This method also works well for large bunches of grapes!

Rocambole garlic:

(substitute with regular garlic if not available.) Take the two cloves from the head, smash them with the flat of the knife, then the peel will easily remove and the root end.  Mince.

Diced tomatoes:

Get the plain Jane.  You can also purchase whole and crush them with your hands (like Mario Batali) over the pan, but it can be messy.  If you feel adventurous, purchase the one that is seasoned with basil or other ‘Italian’ herbs.  Don’t purchase garlic seasoned — too much garlic!

Low salt:

isn’t an issue.  Get it if you want, because it is easier to control salt if you add it than if you buy it in the product.


Tomato Paste:

Pick up a 6-ounce can .  When you get it home, cut open the top and bottom.  Remove one of the ends.  Push the paste through using the other cover and put about 1 inch into separate small baggies, or plastic wrap.  Wrap up each ‘ball’ and freeze.  You now have 1 Tablespoon of paste ready to use with future recipes!  The paste will help to thicken as well as add tomato flavor to your food.  To use, just unwrap the ball and add frozen to the dish.  It’ll melt in no time.

Dry Italian Herb:

from Spice department.  If you’re in the produce dept and they carry Melissa’s Organic Italian Herb, get it. It is handy to just grind at table or stove.

Fresh Parsley-check our web on how to store:

Recipe Preparation:

1.  Cook the chicken as directed.  LEAVE THE SKIN ON.

2.  Lightly oil the baking dish before adding the chicken so you’ll have easier clean up.

3.  Leave the chicken drippings in the pan and continue with the onions, carrots, mushrooms, and garlic.  DON’T ADD TO CHICKEN.

4.  Make the sauce separate and taste it before adding to chicken. Add other ingredients, turn down heat to medium and taste.  You should have some chicken flavor, but mostly tomato flavor.  If the sauce is too thin for you, add one Tablespoon of paste, or allow the sauce to ‘reduce’ by letting some of the liquid to evaporate by gently boiling.  Then add 1 Tablespoon of Italian seasoning.  Taste again.  You can add a smidge of brown sugar or honey if it is too acidic.  My school chef always used red wine vinegar to balance his flavors (of course, he was Italian!).

5.  Transfer the sauce to the dish with the chicken and bake it.  Put a pan under the dish so the spills won’t make the oven messy.

6.  Leaving the dish uncovered will allow the sauce to thicken, but if you see it losing volume, then loosely cover with foil.

7.  In the meantime, cook and drain the pasta.  If it has to set for a while, re-run it under hot water to loosen.

8.  The chicken will be tender, but not mushy.  You can serve it on the bone, or off, next to the pasta, or over it.  Remove the skin.  Sauce both the chicken and the pasta, and sprinkle the Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley.

9.  TO CHOP PARSLEY- Gather a small handful of stalk and leaf-about 5 sprigs.  Chop off stem end.  You could add this, minced, to the sauce if you want and let it cook in.  Gather leaves tightly in your hand and chop.  When they’re in a tight ball, there is more density.

10. Serve with a fresh green salad including tomatoes, red onion, shredded carrots, cucumbers, etc.  I like an Italian dressing, but use what you like.  In restaurants, the average portion is 1 ounce of dressing (2 Tablespoons) to every 8 ounces (two woman-sized handfuls) of salad.  The dressing is supposed to enhance the flavors of the greens and veggies, not the other way around.

11. For dessert-Spumoni ice cream!  Italian Neapolitan-section of chocolate, pistachio, and cherry. Or, choose fresh cut seasonal fruit for dessert.

After finishing their dessert (they chose the Spumoni ice cream), here is what Janet and Jim had to say about their Challenge:

We are writing this after finishing our dessert. We thoroughly enjoyed our Chicken Cacciatore, Penne Pasta, and Tossed Salad.

Says Jim of the experience: The sauce that Chef Miki suggested was what I liked about the recipe. I enjoyed the Italian flavors over the chicken and the pasta.

You know, grocery shopping was looked at as another job someone in the family had to do. We really always got it done quickly because we were on the run with the kids or I had to work late. Due to our schedules it was easier for Janet to take care of this “job”. I think we have now slowed it down and we actually shop for groceries. Not just run through the store and pick up essentials.

Janet: That is what got us into a food rut. To get the job done, I would just get what we needed, purchasing the same things week after week. Now by slowing down and actually shopping, it allows us to learn what is available and plan what we want to prepare for the week. Trying new recipes was always a game of chance. I would purchase it, prepare it and wait to see if everyone liked it. A lot of times they did not like it. By shopping together we are able to discuss what we want to eat that week. Together we can decide if we want to try something new, which leads to more buy in to meal time.

Added Jim: Actually, the two of us participating in this process, it doesn’t seem like a job we need to get done, and it has become a pleasurable outing for the two of us.  And since we are both involved in planning the meals and purchasing the food, I find myself more interested in the preparing of the meal. Before, I might make breakfast or prepare something on the grill, but I find if you are involved in the entire process you are more interested in the end result. I’ve enjoyed it.

We would love to hear your comments about the Challenge. And, let us know if you try the recipe. Stay tuned as we follow Janet & Jim through out the year.

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