Posted in Freedom Friday, Other Things

The Shed

The other weekend I was tearing down the shed in our backyard and realized along with the sweat, sore muscles and tender hands gained, I was also learning a few lessons along the way. As part of my Freedom Friday series, this is what I’ve learned.

The Shed
The Shed

Tearing down a shed sounds like an easy task to accomplish. The instructions couldn’t be simpler:

1) Take hammer
2) Pull hammer back
3) Apply great force to hammer
4) Hit surface of shed where applicable
5) Repeat 1-5 until shed fully broken into pieces.

Simple. Right? Not so much.

First, the shed’s composition consisted entirely of wood, reinforced with four-inch planks, fastened together by two-inch nails that in case of a meteor assault the roof would not cave in. Second, I needed more than a hammer to take the beast down. I needed a Bobcat utility vehicle. Since I didn’t have one of those I settle on a three-foot crowbar complete with a hook that would withstand a massive beating from my hands. Last, this was not a weekend activity. I ended up taking half of it down on the weekend, leaving the rest for the week ahead.

As I was working, my brain wandered on silly things. The shed I once admired for many years had fallen apart. It deserved a final resting place before replacing it with a newer and shinier version. Similarly, there are things in my life I’ve had to remove in order to push forward. That meant replacing the bad with the good. Habits are like that. I wrote about toxic perfectionism a year ago. I had to tear apart my inner being as a means to throw away that which was causing me the greatest stress. Eventually, that old part is now gone, tossed in the dumpster. And like the shed, where I can still see bits and pieces of it littering the spot where it once stood majestically, the old self, the one wanting things in a perfect, organized box, appears every so often to remind me of the way I had once viewed life—through the doors of a rotting shed.

The remains of the shed
The remains of the shed

I also learned that with much banging of a crowbar on an immovable object, the energy I had expended needed replenishing. Drinking water. Sitting in the shade. Wiping the sweat from my brow. They all contributed to that replenishment. Again, as it is in life, I’ve had to take time away from the day-to-day grind in order to replenish my soul. Every Saturday, I disappear from Social Media and spend time with the family doing real things such as enjoying a special meal together or visiting with family and friends. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, this web site can all wait until I return online on Sunday. Saturday is mine to rest and do what I want. If I didn’t do that, then like tearing apart the shed, not taking a water break or rest in the shade, I’d collapse with a guaranteed stroke. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’d like to think I have a lot more to accomplish than make my final resting place six feet under way before my time.

My final lesson I had learned that weekend is to be patient and never give up. No matter what. Slugging the crap out of a shed wall took every ounce of energy I could muster. At times, I wanted to toss the crowbar and forget about the whole thing. I stuck to it. Every hit was one hit closer to success. Every drop of sweat was one more fraction of determination spent. I would not let failure overcome my ambition to slay the beast and win the battle.

The shed died a slow death, but I learned so much from the experience. I’m sure once I raise the new shed I will also have learned something interesting about life I never knew before.

Isn’t life an amazing thing?

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, on sale now.
RANGER MARTIN AND THE ALIEN INVASION, on sale now.
RANGER MARTIN AND THE SEARCH FOR PARADISE, on sale October 20.

Have you had something you were doing from which you learned a lesson? What is it about life you find the most fascinating of all?

Posted in Food Favorites, Freedom Friday

Curry Chicken II

I’ve been looking forward all week to tell you about my curry chicken recipe. If you’re keeping track, this is my second curry chicken recipe I’m sharing with you for my Freedom Friday series. Born from the many Saturday afternoon meals I cook for the family, this dish will boost the spirit of any crowd looking for something fun to eat. So, sit back, put your feet up and allow the sweet smell of flavor to take over your imagination.

Curry Chicken
Curry Chicken

If you read my post Curry Chicken, then you will know I love cooking and eating. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. The big difference with this recipe has to do with the way I cook it. I wish I’d taken shots of the entire process, but I’m sure if I provide you detailed instructions, you’ll have no problem cooking it yourself. I’ll get back to the way I cook this a little later on. I don’t bake it like the first recipe, that’s for sure.

Let’s start with the ingredients:

  • Black pepper
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Coconut milk
  • Curry powder
  • Garlic powder
  • Onion powder
  • Paprika
  • Salt

You’ll notice one ingredient missing from the original recipe and two ingredients added. That’s right I pulled the ginger from the list because I already had two different heats competing for your palette, black pepper and cayenne. You’re also correct if you’ve guessed I added paprika and coconut milk. You’ll see what I’ll do with those later.

Now for the directions:

Buying the right chicken makes all the world of difference. If you can afford organic skinless thighs, then I’d suggest saving some cash in order to make it a special treat. If you can’t go organic, try Costco chicken. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, and not wanting to sound like an ad, but they give you a lot for your money and you’ll have leftovers to boot.

The prep is super easy. Cut the thighs into smaller pieces about two inches in length all around. You’ll notice once you begin cooking, the pieces will shrink to bite-size portions. Toss your chicken in a cooking pot, preferably one of those deep two-handle ones with the glass cover. If you don’t have one of those, any deep pot will do. Make sure it can hold the chicken and the coconut milk.

Fries
Fries

This is the fun part, besides eating of course. Place the pot with the chicken on the stove and begin cooking it at a medium heat. No oils, butters or anything like that. Add half a can of coconut milk and stir with a wooden spoon. Plastic spoons do not do justice to this dish. Next, add the rest of your ingredients. Now, I have to say this, I’ve never measured how much of one thing versus another I should add. I always say “to taste” but you see the problem there, right? You don’t want to taste raw chicken as you cook it since doing so would make you violently ill or even worse, kill you. Don’t do it.

Then how do I measure the ingredients to add? Well, imagine all the chicken laying on the counter in a straight line. How would you go about sprinkling the ingredients on them? That’s how I imagine it. I add a lot of curry powder enough to cover each piece. As for the rest, add a few shakes of each ingredient except cayenne pepper. You don’t want to make it too hot. If you have fresh ground pepper, go with that. Nothing quite beats the flavor of fresh. Regarding the salt, up to you how much you want to add. If you add a little, it’ll taste bland. Imagine the chicken spanning the counter again. You’ll get the hang of how much to add.

Keep stirring the chicken in the milk every few minutes or so on medium heat. Leave it uncovered because what you’re trying to do is to allow the milk to reduce to a creamy gravy, which will contain all the flavors you’ve added. Cook for about forty-five minutes but it may be less depending on the stove. I tend to cook it until I see a thick gravy forming and that’s when I reduce the heat to simmer and cover.

On this particular Saturday, I made shoestring fries in the oven to compliment the dish. Rather than slapping the fries on a tray and shoving them in the oven like the instructions say, I add a couple of ingredients to the mix. I sprinkle onion powder and salt on the fries, then toss them in the oven. Believe me, if you have kids, they’ll love the restaurant quality fries you’ll serve them and may even brag about it to their friends.

Peas
Peas

As for the veggies, up to you what you want to serve with the dish. I had peas on hand and made those by steaming and adding some butter to them. They actually tasted great with the dish.

Before serving the chicken, grab a fork and knife and cut through a piece of chicken to make sure it’s cooked. If it’s white inside and the knife cuts the meat evenly without it feeling rubbery, then you know you’ve got yourself a winner. Try it before plating. If it’s missing flavor, more than likely you didn’t put enough garlic or onion powder. Add the missing ingredient to the pot and stir until dissolved.

When you’re serving the dish, make sure to add in the gravy, it makes for an awesome dip for the fries. Other than that, that’s all there is to it. I hope you enjoy this dish as much as I had writing about it!

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, now on sale.

Have you ever had curry chicken? What do you like about it the most?

Posted in Food Favorites, Freedom Friday

Curry Chicken

Having watched the Food Network for a full year made me appreciate the culinary delights of cooking with a few simple ingredients. No, this is not a zombie post. Nor is it a piece dedicated to strong chicks that kick butt. But this Freedom Friday entry is about a quick and easy recipe you can try at home with minimal to no chef experience. Yeah, that describes me, all right.

Curry Chicken
Curry Chicken

Real Jamaican curry chicken is hard to make. I know because some of my best friends are Jamaican and theirs is beyond description. Does the term “mouthwatering, savory dish” mean anything to you? It will be once you taste the real thing. Mine is a cheap imitation knock-off. But, as my kids have indicated several times, “Is this ever good.” It’s an ever-good, cheap imitation knock-off.

Okay, enough with the chitchat, let’s get to my recipe, as I know you’re dying to get started on it!

You will need chicken. I always get my chicken from Costco since they package their meats in affordable units. For instance, in my neighborhood, 24 skinless chicken thighs is about $24. I’m paying a buck a thigh. I think that’s a good deal. If you don’t have a Costco, you can try the regular supermarket, although I’m sure you’ll pay much more for the same package.

Once I get my chicken, I tend to soak 12 pieces in brine overnight. Not to make it complicated or anything, my brine is salt water. You can use a pot, which works well. Load the pot with the chicken thighs, add water, and add lots of salt. I can’t say how much salt. I go with what I’m used to—about ten dashes. How’s that for a scientific measuring system? Make sure the fridge is cold enough so as the chicken doesn’t spoil. I can’t stress enough how important it is to ensure food meets health and safety specifications.

Before going on, the reason for soaking the chicken in brine is to plump up the pieces. Ever wonder how restaurants get their chicken to look so huge? They soak them in brine to get the meat to swell at massive proportions. Nice trick, eh?

Next, set the chicken in a skillet/baking pan—your choice. We use a glass skillet in our house and it works fine for our family. If you have something else, that’s fine too. It’s nothing to get hung up about.

Raw skinless chicken thighs
Raw skinless chicken thighs

Add your ingredients:

  • Cayenne
  • Curry powder
  • Garlic powder
  • Ginger powder
  • Onion powder
  • Pepper
  • Salt
Ingredients
Ingredients

And when I mean add your ingredients, I mean sprinkle to taste. You may only want to give a couple of dashes of cayenne, but pour on the curry. After all, it is curry chicken. Have a gander at the photo to get an idea of what it looks like before baking.

With ingredients
With ingredients

What you’ll want to do is set your oven to 375°F and cover the dish with aluminum foil. This will trap all the flavors inside the skillet to make the meat nice and tender when serving. Leave it in there for an hour and prepare the side dishes. I typically make peas or have some fries on the side. On this particular Saturday, my wife jumped in with some corn on the cob. It was goo-ood!

Covered
Covered

Once done, take the chicken from oven, let stand for about five minutes in order to allow it to absorb the juices from the skillet, then serve with side dishes.

Out of the oven
Out of the oven

In the photo at the beginning of the post you see the curry chicken served with corn on the cob, marinated egg plant, and green beans. What a wonderful, delectable dish!

Enjoy!

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

Have you ever cooked Jamaican-style curry chicken? If so, how do you do it? Do you have any chicken recipes that have become a staple with your family?

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?