by Sheridan Lane, interim director, LLCC culinary program and operations
As we welcome 2020, whether or not you believe that resolutions are important or you are facing the admonition of last year’s success or lack of follow through, the inherent reminder of reflection is especially apparent at the turn of the decade. The media provides us with a barrage of “decade in reviews” to reiterate the alterations, modifications or evolutions that have either become mainstream or have been forgotten. In the year of “perfect vision,” many of us may have the inclination to set new goals, to make changes and to live a bit better than the year before. That being said, I am making only one resolution this year: to simplify.
Da Vinci reminds us that, “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” and from home to food to recreation, our busy world leads us far away from being simple. Distraction is an every-moment invasion of our lifestyle in the 21st century, and I find that especially true when it comes to my family’s dining style as of late. We have gotten out of the habit of slowing down to enjoy the total dining experience which includes so many components: the ambiance, the pace, the presentation, not to mention the flavor. Being mindful of those components given a busy household sounds like something far from my goal of simplicity; however, I think I have devised a “recipe” to manage.
All of tomorrow is decided today. The crock pot is filled tonight for tomorrow’s dinner; the lunches are assembled, portions of heathy snacks are bagged, and even if the decision is to eat out, the plan is in place. I am by no means suggesting we should not be spontaneous, but a bit of planning really does make the work week more enjoyable when it comes to unwinding in the evening. Here is one simple crock pot recipe that I love to make:
Crock Pot Chicken Parmesan
Yield: 4 servings of 2 thighs each
8 or roughly 1.5 pounds of boneless skinless chicken thighs (You can make this recipe with chicken breasts instead of thighs, but take an extra second to butterfly them so that they are thinner and can layer more evenly.)
12 oz grated parmesan cheese
2 T Italian blend seasoning
1 T red pepper flake (Omit or use 1/2 if spice is not your preference)
2 oz olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp pepper
32 oz jar marinara
10 garlic cloves peeled
5oz bag of spinach or chopped baby kale
8oz bag shredded mozzarella
Fresh parsley & basil.
Choose your favorite noodle to enjoy with this roasted chicken.
Step 1: Prepare crock pot by coating the inside of the crock with olive oil.
Rinse thighs and pat dry. Smash the cloves of garlic by pressing the side of the knife to the cutting board.
Step 2: In a bowl, mix olive oil, salt and pepper, and then toss chicken thighs in bowl until well coated. In a separate shallow bowl, mix parmigiana with Italian seasoning and red pepper flake. Dredge each chicken thigh in the cheese and spice blend until all are coated evenly. Reserve leftover cheese blend.
Step 3: Layer ingredients. Place 5 cloves of garlic in the bottom of the crock. Add ¼ bag of greens and then add layer of chicken breasts. Top with 1/4th jar of marinara. Repeat layers until all ingredients are used. Top with mozzarella.
Step 4: Cook on low for 6 hours and serve over your favorite cooked noodles.
Step 5: When ready to eat, mince fresh basil and parsley to garnish the top.
It is NOT complicated to bring the ambiance of fine dining to our daily dinners, and there is a significant amount of research out there that says eating slowly has quite a positive impact on your health. Use the dinner table as a place of enjoyment and relaxation. Fixing the ambience DOES take a few quick simple steps, but it can be done in less than five minutes: light the candle, dim the lights, turn off the TV, play soft music and put the phone away. Then slow down to savor each bite. From eating less overall to better digestion to more overall satisfaction, there is no reason NOT to slow down to enjoy.
I just cannot get on board with fad diets nor with the craze of the latest workout trend, but as I am approaching 40, I am finding the scales are tipping in the wrong direction. Given my goal of simplifying in 2020, I decided I would make small improvements in my daily choices. I am committed to taking one simple healthy step forward each month. By the end of 2020, I will have improved 12 habits!
Here are a few health steps I will take in 2020. I love sugar and whole milk in my strong coffee or espresso. “Café con leche” was a habit I started back in college while living in Spain but find myself needing to cut back on calories and sugar. I know the sugar especially is not the best health choice first thing in the morning. Over the course of the last month, I cut back the amount of sugar I put in each cup and continued to cut it back bit by bit. Now I still enjoy very strong coffee with milk or cream, but without the sugar. While I took this step in December, I will continue it through the year. January’s healthy step forward is to drink more water!
Finally, in my plight to KISS (keep it simple stupid) my way through 2020, I am going to keep this quote by the British-born essayist and novelist, Pico Iyer, ringing in my ears: “In the age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention.” While the weekly schedule is busy, it does not have to be complicated if we take the time to tune in to our choices.
In closing, whatever your vision for 2020 may be, from all of us here at the LLCC Culinary and Hospitality Center of Excellence, best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year!