Posted in Freedom Friday

Holiday Decorations

Nutcrackers fill our house. I don’t know where this deep fascination with these inanimate objects came from, but all I know is that they’re everywhere. Nutcrackers guard our fireplace mantles, they stand at attention at the entrance of our doorways, and they even keep watch over the landing of our stairs to the second floor. They’re everywhere, I tell you.

Holiday Decorations
Holiday Decorations

Stuffed snowmen fill our house, too. They hang on our home’s front door in the form of a wreath. They sit as decoration on the landing into our basement. They even grace our little winter town display on the bay window. They’re everywhere, I tell you.

If you’re wondering what I’m talking about for this Freedom Friday article, wonder no more. It’s all about this season’s decorations.

Tinsel is a big feature in our home this winter. I don’t think anyone is safe going anywhere without encountering the red, silver and gold decoration. It travels along the railings of the staircases. It covers our furniture. And it’s in places I didn’t even think it would appear. But that’s another story.

More Holiday Decorations
More Holiday Decorations

And the lights? The seemingly endless strands of lights? There’s no end to them. I’m sure you’re going to ask where they lie. But I’m afraid to say. I’m afraid. Are you ready? They run along the staircase, they cover the fireplace mantles, and they rest on a small table in the foyer to light the way for us when we come back from visiting friends in the late evening hours. They cover the bay window, providing color to a cold winter night. They’re in the form of trinkets spread through the house, and they’re always ready to amuse after our evening meal when all we want to do is lie on the couch and relax. I’m sure they’re in other places. I just don’t know where. After the holidays, it’s like an Easter egg hunt. We wonder where we put them all only to find them in July wedged in a corner somewhere before a visit to the park or after a family BBQ.

But you know what? I like this time of year. Not so much for all the decorations, although they make the winter months seem warmer, but for the feeling I get when sitting by the fireplace with a hot drink in my hand. It’s calming. Relaxing. Soothing. Especially with the wind howling outside, the temperatures dropping to sub-zero, and snow filling our driveway. I don’t know, it’s just—just perfect. If only the feeling would last all year round.

Wouldn’t that be something?

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ALIEN INVASION, on sale now.

Do you decorate for the season? What do you do to make the year end special?

Posted in Food Favorites, Freedom Friday

Salads

Summer’s almost over. I know, I know. Where are the fanfares to send the kids back to school? All joking aside though, what I’ll miss the most from the hottest season of the year are the salads. Some may say BBQ, which is cool and all, but for me, a fresh salad with assorted ingredients makes my summer. I’m going to give you a few quick tips about salad preparation for Freedom Friday, and I hope your next experience with the delectable greenery is a delicious one!

Our feta, onions, cucumber salad, Apr. 2013.
Our feta, onions, cucumber salad, Apr. 2013.

Living in one of the most agriculturally diverse provinces in Canada, Ontario, our backyard has gone through various transformations throughout the years. When I say our backyard, I mean Casa Flacco’s backyard, as in, behind-our-house backyard. This year, we have made the most ambitious attempt at farming yet. In past years, we’ve had a small strip of land by the side of a fence dedicated to vegetables and salads. This year we’ve increased the size of the original and added two more sections, each section separated by green space.

I don’t know what it is with our backyard. Somehow, whatever we plant turns into these gianormous jungles we attempt to tame but bless us with a bounty of crops we never had intentions of growing.

At the beginning of the season, my wife asks, “What do you think we should grow this year?”

I typically answer, while flipping the channels, “I don’t know. Tomatoes would be good. Cucumbers. Salads. We have to have salads. Definitely have to have salads.”

That’s how it starts. Next thing you know, near the middle of the season, our salads look like leaves from the Cretaceous Period. Our tomatoes look like pumpkins that need trucks to transport. And our zucchinis like, well, I’m not sure. Take a look at the photo.

Zucchini plant in our garden, Aug. 2009.
Zucchini plant in our garden, Aug. 2009.
Zucchini from our garden, Aug. 2009.
Zucchini from our garden, Aug. 2009.
Tomato from our garden, Sep. 2008.
Tomato from our garden, Sep. 2008.

Seriously, sometimes I feel as if our yard has radioactive soil. If you ever hear reports of a man climbing buildings in Toronto and spinning webs, you’ll know what happened to me. Anyway, talk about getting caught up in the moment, let’s get back to the point of this post—salads.

We grow radicchio and the regular garden-variety salad. The radicchio is my favorite because it’s easy to prepare and mouth-watering on its own.

Here’s what we do:

  • Cut the leaves from the garden, plopping them in a pot or bowl, dirt, grime, slugs and all—yes, slugs
  • Take it into the house, wash the leaves thoroughly, getting rid of the slugs—you didn’t think we’d eat those things, did you?
  • Add some olive oil and salt
  • Munchtime!

Radicchio is a naturally bitter salad. The salt accentuates the flavor along with the olive oil. Fresh from the garden is something special to savor in the summer. Can’t be beat.

Now, as for the long-leaf salad, which is oh, so sweet and crunchy to the taste buds, the washing prep is pretty much the same as the radicchio. So, I’ll just give you the recipe we have year-round.

Ingredients:

  • A generous amount of crumpled feta cheese
  • Half a sweet white onion chopped
  • 1 peeled and sliced cucumber
  • Olive oil
  • Salt

Directions:

  • Make sure you wash and dry the leaves properly. Invest in a good salad strainer; it makes life so much easier. Besides, leaves will not come out all soggy. You want them to crunch.
  • Add in your ingredients except the feta and olive oil.
  • Before serving, add your olive oil, toss the salad, then add your feta on top otherwise the feta becomes mushy and disappears in the salad as a nice white coat over the leaves.

And there you have it. Casa Flacco’s two salad recipes I’m sure you’ll enjoy trying before the summer’s over.

Buon appetito!

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, on sale October 22.

Do you have any salad recipes you’d like sharing? How about ingredients? What do you like putting in your salads?

Posted in Food Favorites, Freedom Friday

Eleven-Spice Chicken

Saturdays is a big thing here at our house. While everyone in our neighborhood shovels the snow from their driveway, goes shopping or runs errands, my family unplugs and relaxes with good food, great conversation and awesome friends. This is my Freedom Friday post, and this is my Eleven-Spice Chicken recipe.

Eleven-Spice Chicken Dish
Eleven-Spice Chicken Dish

My family lives a hectic lifestyle. I can’t tell you how busy my wife gets hauling the kids back and forth to their activities or how I manage to stay sane doing the same thing in the evenings. But the day we look forward to the most is Saturday. Saturday is our day. Actually, it’s my wife’s day, since I get to treat her with one of my most delicious recipes. She enjoys the food. I enjoy the cooking. And when we have company over, it makes for a delightful evening of giddiness and good time.

Born from my many Saturday food experiments comes my Eleven-Spice Chicken recipe. Yep, this is a true-blue, Jack Flacco original just like the sushi recipe I wrote about a few weeks ago. How this recipe came about was from watching nothing but the Food Network for a whole year and trying various BBQ recipes from multiple hosts. I tried a myriad of spices to get the right mix of what I liked. Some meals come out from the oven smelling incredible. Some—not so much. I would tweak the ingredients slightly and try again until I got the combination right. I did this until one day, my son said, “Boy, is this ever good!” That’s when I knew I had something. When I finally tasted it, he was right, “Boy, is this ever good!”

Now, if anyone ever asked, I used to hold on to my recipes like gold. Never quite revealing everything I’d put in them. Then I thought, that’s kind of selfish. The whole point of cooking is to share a great experience with people and have them try something unique. Something they never tried before. What better way to do that than to share it with you all!

Here we go, then…

Ingredients:

  • Black pepper
  • Brown sugar
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Coriander
  • Cumin
  • Curry powder
  • Garlic powder
  • Ginger powder
  • Onion powder
  • Paprika
  • Salt
  • Skinless chicken thighs and/or chicken legs

What prep looks like:

Chicken in a Glass Skillet
Chicken in a Glass Skillet
Chicken Prepared for the Oven
Chicken Prepared for the Oven

Directions:

  • Buy quality, skinless chicken. I tend to purchase my chicken thighs and legs from Costco. They have them packaged nicely and the thighs are already skinless, so you’ll save some time with prep. Also, you get a lot in the package, which will allow you to save money in the long run.
  • Get yourself a deep skillet and set your chicken in there. Some have argued chicken tastes better in a metal skillet as opposed to glass. I’ve tried both and I can’t really tell which tastes better. It’s going in the oven, not the BBQ. I’ll leave that up to you. Live on the wild side!
  • Spice the chicken. You’ll notice all the ingredients are powders. There’s a reason for this. With powders, you can control how much of a spice you’d like to taste in the meal. My rule of thumb is to put in what you like. Here is how I do it: Salt the meat. Nothing worse than tasting bland meat. Then sprinkle liberally all the other ingredients except for the brown sugar. Do it for both sides. Once you’re done, take a teaspoon of brown sugar and sprinkle it on one side as your last ingredient. When the dish comes out of the oven, you’ll find the sugar will have melted and caramelized over the chicken, helping to seal in the juices. I also use brown sugar because it contains molasses, which gives the dish an extra edge of rustic flavor over white, flavorless sugar.
  • Finally, preheat the oven to 375°F/190°C, cover the dish with tin foil and slip it into the oven for an hour. Once complete, take it out and enjoy!

If you like this recipe, pass it along.

Do you have any chicken recipes you’d like to share? If you’ve cooked this, how did it turn out?