Gift Basket Clean-Out

 
 
This marmalade  Plus This  the main players 
 
Equals  ↓dinner

Whenever you get those gift baskets at the office or home, all the good stuff is immediately eaten. (cookies, crackers, nuts and candy) But the little hotel size jars of jelly and marmalade always seem to get left behind. Maybe because making toast at the office just isn’t an option! I like to use them to make a sauce or glaze.

I grabbed a few things from the cupboards to mix in and you can basically take any direction…I went a little Asian with my last one. Soy Sauce, vinegar, chili flakes, Chinese 5-spice and ground ginger powder (not shown) and some crushed dried rosemary… just because. Unfortunately a sesame allergy prevents me from using any type of sesame oil but that would be just perfect to add to this sauce for a distinct Asian flare.

The Recipe

6 oz orange marmalade

1/4 cup warm water

1 1/2 tbsp champagne vinegar

2 tbsp low-sodium, gluten-free soy sauce

2 tsp ground ginger powder

2 tsp chinese 5-spice powder (divided)

1 tbsp dried rosemary

1 tsp chili flakes

2 large chicken breasts cut into 1″ pieces

1/4-1/2 cup diced onion

2 tbsp oil of choice for saute

1 1/2 cups +/- diced onion

Whisk the top 8 ingredients using just 1 tsp of the Chinese 5-spice powder. Coat the chicken pieces  in the remaining teaspoon of Chinese 5-spice and salt/pepper to taste. Sauté the chicken and onion in the oil on med-high heat till each side has a bit of brown. Add the sauce and cover for a few minutes to let the chicken cook thru. Remove cover and add peas and let sauce reduce for a few minutes more. Serve over rice.

Light And Bright

That’s how I like my chicken soup.

I like a broth that is flavorful and rich but still light and little sparkle from some lemon never hurt any chicken soup.

This soup makes a nice cheerful bowl in March, especially when winter never seems to end !

chicken soup

This soup couldn’t be easier…

I started out with some diced chicken breast and onions in a slow cooker with enough water (fortified with a bouillon cube)  to fill the cooker. (I was out of box stock but you could use that too or homemade if you had it!) I added carrots and lima beans from the freezer about halfway through.  I cooked the light egg noodles separate and just spoon the soup over at serving time with plenty of salt and pepper and a generous twist of lemon when you serve. If you had some leftover rice, that would be nice too. Cooking times vary depending on your slow cooker and whether you use the low or high setting, but basically you need the chicken to be cooked through and frozen veggies too.

January Is “Tostada Month”

Only (and unofficially) in my house anyway. There must be something about the cold, snowy month of January that has me craving food from warmer regions. Because when I went back to look at my other posting on Tostadas I noticed it was January of last year. That version was a wonderful light, bright spicy combination of chicken, tomatoes and golden beets. You can see that here.

This is the brand i use and can find readily in my urban-area stores. Picture courtesy of www.mexicorp.com

This is the brand I use and can find readily in my urban-area stores. Picture courtesy of www.mexicorp.com

The word “tostada” [tosˈtaða] means ‘toasted” in Spanish but usually refers to a particular dish made with a crisp fried corn tortilla on the bottom with yummy, spicy ingredients piled on top. There are many regional varieties.

You can get your tortilla maker out, along with your fry-daddy junior and knock yourself out making them from scratch or you can just buy the corn tortillas and fry them in a little oil in a large pan or better yet get your hands on some already done for you like I do!

This time around I used some re-fried beans to make them a little more ‘filling.” I also marinated some chicken strips in a quick marinade of oil, lime juice, hot sauce, salt and pepper, and a little dry BBQ seasoning and ground cumin. I reserved some of the marinade to use as a base for a pineapple, avocado and sweet onion salsa to put on top.

The chicken only was in the marinade for an hour or so and then I quickly cooked it in a hot skillet, to order, for each couple of tostadas. They cook really quick because they were thinly cut but, you could certainly do this ahead in a large batch.

Assembly just consisted of: Tosada on bottom, a smear of re-fried beans, the hot chicken with a few bits of sweet onion thrown in the skillet to cook too. Fresh salsa on top and some fresh minced cilantro leaves. ( or parsley if you hate cilantro) Shake on additional hot sauce as you wish!

chicken tostada

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!

chicken dinner

This was my prize after cleaning out the refrigerator and freezer !

In preparation for the big turkey day I like to clean out my fridge/freezer and make room for the leftovers to come. So yesterday while the temperature dropped into the 20’s and the wind blew so hard I thought the grill was  going over this time for sure…I got started early with a cup of coffee and cleaning.

First thing I found was a couple of “splitters.” At least that is what the package said. I promptly opened the forgotten frozen chicken halves ( thus “splitters”) and submerged them into a brine to help flavor and defrost. Meanwhile as I continued on,  I discovered two small containers of forgotten homemade pesto from who-knows-which-summer. And of course I always have dried pasta and some sort of tomatoes on hand. The tomatoes were starting to get a little past their prime, mostly because they had been pushed to the back of the fridge. ( out of sight-out of mind)  I knew I had do something fast with them.

After a long bath (all day) the chicken got patted dry and massaged with butter. Then coated in a liberal dusting of seasoned salt, black pepper and dried rosemary. A perfect spa day for a chicken. I placed them on a rack and into a hot 400 degree oven. I kept a close eye and covered the tops with foil as soon as they got brown, so they wouldn’t get too brown. I always use a thermometer and cook until a 165 degree internal temperature is reached.

As for the side dish I just placed the sliced tomatoes in a bowl with the pesto and a little butter and when I put the hot pasta on top, it did all the work. I tossed it to combine things, added plenty of grated Parmesan cheese and a little reserved pasta cooking water to keep things moist.

Having a a bath and my discoveries from the fridge/Freezer!

Having a a bath and my discoveries from the fridge/Freezer!

P.S. Wondering about that title? Well me too. According to “urban dictionary”-
The legend tells that years ago every casino in Las Vegas had a three-piece chicken dinner with a potato and a veggie for $1.79. A standard bet back then was $2, hence when you won a bet you had enough for a chicken dinner!

Fall Pairings

There are many fall food pairings that go together so well.

A few that come to mind.. apple pie and ice cream, sweet potato and apples, pumpkins and apples…. oh wait…everything goes great with apples!

One of my fall favorites is sage and apples!

I started growing sage in a backyard pot a few years ago and I have really discovered the power of fresh sage! You can see some of my other sage pairings here, and here!

After apple picking the other day, I could think of nothing better than a nice fall dinner of roasted chicken with sautéed apples and sage! I threw in some small diced red onions to perk things up and of course I sautéed in everything in butter for the full “fall weather cooking” effect!

saute pan

I seared the chicken in a hot pan first and then after setting the chicken aside, I added the veggies for the saute. Next the chicken went back in and a little apple cider to deglaze the pan. I put the whole thing into a hot oven with a cover for 20-30 mins until the chicken was cooked through. (I uncovered the pan for the last 10 mins or so to re-crisp the chicken skin.)

The apples and onions melt down to a wonderful “savory” apple sauce and a couple of fried,whole, sage leaves added an artistic garnish. Serve with brown rice and crisp green salad.

 Fall on a plate!

Hmmm... where is that crisp green salad gone too? :-)

Hmmm… where is that crisp green salad gone too? :-)

Tomato Problem

Have you ever noticed how many posts I do that involve tomatoes? ( 75 so far) Specifically have you  read all 6 of my previous posts professing my love for tomatoes? (and some great recipes featuring tomatoes)

I might have a problem. A tomato problem. But the problem isn’t that I try to eat a tomato or tomato product at least once a day, and it isn’t because I grow enough tomato plants each summer in the garden to produce for a small army. (unless of course it rains or is a heat wave all summer like this one)

The actual problem is coming up with a catchy blog topic to disguise the fact that I am posting my 76th entry featuring tomatoes….

ahhh... never a more beautiful sight than tomatoes and basil!

ahhh… never a more beautiful sight than tomatoes and basil!

This meal couldn’t have been easier. I just tossed the cubed, fresh tomatoes and torn basil leaves with a little oil, red wine vinegar and S&P. Than I grilled up a medley of chicken pieces and chunks of veggies all coated and seasoned too. (kinda like a kabob without the stick) When it all comes off the grill, just toss it into the bowl on top of everything and watch the hot stuff warm the tomato juices and release the basil fragrance! Yum!

Serve warm as is, or over rice or pasta.

Whatever you do, this is an easy “one bowl” dinner that is sure to impress the tomato-lovers in your life!

tossing in grilled veggies and chicken

Mexican Lasagna

or maybe Enchilada casserole? But if I call it that than we have to immediately break into the a rendition of “Desperado” – replacing the word “Desperado” with “Enchilada.”   What!   You are not familiar with the 1973 soft rock hit by The Eagles?!  Well give it a listen here.  You won’t regret it.

Anyway I digress…Back to dinner.

I simply diced up a small onion, cut 2 small chicken breasts into small pieces and browned them in a pan with oil. ( or butter or whatever you like) Prior to going into the pan, I coated the chicken pieces in little mixture made with 2-3 three tablespoons of AP flour mixed with 1/2 tsp -1 tsp each of these ground spices: cumin, chili powder, salt/pepper, oregano, and a little smoked paprika. (Kinda like you might coat stew beef pieces in seasoned flour before browning them.) Once everything was browned and getting delicious I “de-glazed” the pan with a small amount of warm water and some healthy dashes of hot sauce. This formed a small bit of a thick sauce. ( add some more water if you need to) Turn off the heat and add 1 regular size can of drained black beans.

Now the assembly: Spray an oven proof dish with non-stick spray, coat your flour tortilla by dipping it into a bowl of enchilada sauce** and place it as the first layer. Be generous with the sauce on the tortilla. Now spoon some of the saucy chicken and bean mix on top, add a thin slice or two of your favorite cheese (I used Munster) or a small handful of shredded. Top with another coated tortilla and repeat. End with a tortilla on top, pour the rest of the enchilada sauce over the top and down the sides and top with a little more cheese. ( I switched to a handful of shredded for the top.)

Exhibit 1:

mexicanlasagana prepped for oven

A couple stray black beans got on top!

Now bake covered in a preheated 375 degree oven for about 25 mins, uncover and bake another 10-15 mins till browned, bubbly and extra sauce around edges seems thicker. Like all lasagna this will cut and taste better if allowed to cool a bit at first. (Will somebody help convince my husband?!) Or better yet cool completely, cover and freeze for another time or reheat later and bring this to your next potluck party!

I made mine using 2 quite small chicken breasts and 6 small tortillas as I was practicing cooking for two instead of my usual 10 but this could easily be made in a huge batch!

** Enchilada sauce can be made easily using a recipe such as this one. Or you can purchase it in cans/jars in the supermarket. Try the “ethnic” aisle or wherever the taco kits are sold in your store.

I used about 1 cup +/-  Any extra sauce can always be frozen and later thrown into soups ( spicy tomato soup!) or used as a marinade or glaze for meat or veggies.

hot from the oven

Waiting for it to cool a bit before cutting into it!

Old Standby

Here in New England, once grilling season starts, dinner means lots of fresh veggies, meats and experimental marinades instead the “same ol’ same” casseroles.

And for me, grilling means putting every possible veggie and meat option on the grill. (Weather permitting, I not very hardcore!) I even put potatoes on the grill!

But one of my “old standbys” is grilled asparagus. Especially good when the bunch you have on hand is on the thick side in terms of stem. (The little thin ones tend to escape between the grates and they are delicious just raw anyway!)

But I am sure I’m not revealing anything new here – everybody puts everything on the grill these days right?

For the record, I rarely never blanch or precook the veggies before the grill – that just seems like too much work and defeats the simplicity of dinner on the grill outside. I like to make it as simple as possible with do-ahead sides!

check out a recent “stand-by” dinner…

Old Standby of grilled chicken tenders, asparagus and strips of sweet red bell pepper served with "make ahead" pasta salad, makes dinner time a cinch!

“old standby” of grilled chicken tenders, asparagus and strips of sweet red bell pepper, served with “make ahead” pasta salad, makes dinner time a cinch!

Grilling Tips

I find that a simple drizzle of oil, salt, pepper and garlic powder adds just enough pizzazz to vegetables. For any meat I enjoy an overnight marinade whenever possible but even a 30 minute bath is better than nothing!

One cooking tip I can offer is to set up “sides” to the grill – as in a “hot” side and a “cooler” side. Also good to put things onto the grill at different times to accommodate for longer or shorter cooking times needed.

I often let the veggies remain wet from the washing so that residual water on them kinda “steams” them at first, before charring a bit – this is good for thicker cut veggies.

Final tip: if you have the grill going anyway – go through the fridge and find anything you can put on the grill. (Some examples would be: miscellaneous veggies, random sausages, yummy steaks, spare chicken parts or even leftover bits of bread for grilled “croutons.”)  I figure I might as well make firing up the grill worth it and leftover grill food makes fantastic lunches, snacks and dinner later in the week. You can even toss the cut up grilled bits into the pasta salad to turn that into a “meal” on its own.

What will your “Old StandBy” end up being?

Wrap Versus Fold

The question at hand…

is a burrito really a quesadilla that has been wrapped instead of folded? Or perhaps a quesadilla is really a burrito that has been folded?

Either way they are delicious on the grill – which is exactly what I did with my burritos the other night.

I actually took the step of grilling my marinated chicken tenders on the grill first, then stuffing them with some other  fresh ingredients into a flour tortilla, rolling it all up burrito style before grilling the whole thing again.

I felt the need to secure them with a toothpick during the grilling because I am a classic “over stuffer” and I was worried everything would end up at the bottom of the grill. I also took liberties and sprayed my favorite butter “product” on them before grilling just to keep things tasty. Don’t judge me because I use this product – it is just really convenient, especially when I am “un-frying.”  If you are feeling “au natural” you could brush them with olive oil or melted butter.

Here is what I put in mine…

the filling

Yup – you are not seeing things, those are indeed lentils. Why? Cause that is what I had hanging around in my freezer, leftover from my last lentil purchase from TJ’s.

Just as yummy as black beans and hey even “Mikey liked it.” ( oh and in case you were wondering that is Cilantro)

Here is how they got assembled….

the assembly

Please don’t notice that I may have left the chicken on a teensy bit long. But it was still somewhat juicy and good due to the long marinade!

And here is what they looked like being served after grilling….

the presentation

I took the toothpicks out before plating and added a lime-cumin cream made from Greek yogurt. ( just add salt, pepper, lime juice and cumin to the yogurt)

And here is what you got when you ate them! Yum…….

the inside

(See, that chicken held up even with all its “charred bits.”)

The best thing about these that I realized is they could be stuffed, wrapped and grilled ahead of time and then you can wrap them in foil for reheat later when the party crowd arrives. ( or frozen for that matter) I used an 8-10″ tortilla size and stuffed each with 1 good size chicken tender plus the fresh ingredients. This meant that 2 burritos per person with dipping cream/salsa makes a great portion especially if served with rice and sliced fresh avocados!

Production Notes:

The Marinade…good for about a 1.5 lbs to 2 lbs of chicken cuts of your choice

1/2 cup of fresh lime juice

1 -2 tsp of seasoned salt ( your favorite brand)

1 healthy Tbsp of minced garlic

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1 healthy Tbsp of agave nectar ( or sweetener of choice, like honey, maple syrup etc)

couple healthy squirts of Sriracha ( use another kind of hot sauce if you like it better)

Whisk it all together and marinade the chicken at least 2-3 hours. The heavy amount of lime juice might “cook” the chicken a bit if you go overnight but I think it would still be okay.

Chicken Paaaarmm

This actually means  “Chicken Parmigiana” in a Boston accent!

I was watching one of the many cooking shows that are on these days and one of the cooks ( I won’t name names since I like her and it isn’t her fault that she doesn’t have good Italian food in the boondocks!) made Chicken Parmigiana. Which of course made me immediately crave it. After all this IS the stick by which I measure all Italian restaurants the first time I visit them. I also found it weird to actually hear it pronounced properly. It has been so long since I have actually heard it fully pronounced that I almost thought it to be a different dish. Even the small local joints around Boston spell it “Chicken Parm” on the signs! But the most interesting thing about watching her make it that day, was she never used any Parmesan cheese in the crust of the chicken! I swear she didn’t use any at all, but when I cross checked the recipe on her website, I noted that she added some to the fresh marina sauce and then as a sprinkle on top. But not on the crust of the chicken.

But no worries – I still like her and it inspired me to do a quick posting to set the record straight.

You must dredge your chicken cutlets in a combination of seasoned breadcrumbs and finely grated Parmesan cheese. ( The good stuff too, don’t cheap out here.) Than you simply pan fry the cutlets in a shallow bit of olive oil or if you are feeling a little like a Boston pizza joint; you drop them into the fryolator. But the goal is a crispy, crispy Parmesan crust. (and fully cooked chicken)

Exhibit A…

crispy chicken

Now you can do a couple of things with this…

You can put it on a nice Italian roll with some Provolone cheese and some red sauce for a “Chicken Parm Sub” or you can serve it with red sauce and your choice of pasta for a “Chicken Parm Dinner.” And yes, we like to melt some Provolone cheese on top too.

Exhibit B….

chick paaarm

You can get fancy and add some fresh chopped herbs on top – but they don’t do that in Boston. Just saying.

Chicken Corn Stew

chicken corn stew

Ingredients:

1 forgotten random frozen chicken breast on the bone (split breast)

1 large-ish onion peeled and quartered

a pinch of whole peppercorns

1 peeled but whole garlic clove

salt – liberal amount

water – about 6 cups

slow cooker and about 4-6 hours to run it on high

“almost-caramelized-but-not-quite” onions – start with about 1/2 of a large fresh one.

2 +/- tbsp butter

couple diced bacon strips if you happen to have some on hand.

couple cups of frozen corn

roux:  2  +/- tbsp flour   Or   slurry: 2 +/- tbsp water and 2  +/- tbsp arrowroot, mixed

chopped up leftover fresh herbs hanging around the refrigerator from who knows when. (thyme, sage, rosemary, etc)

a couple of red potatoes. dice small and/or parboil if you wish.

Method:

Combine the top 6 ingredients together in the slow cooker and turn on high for 4-6 hours. Turn off and let cool while you brown-almost caramelize- a fresh 1/2 onion sliced thin (In the bacon fat/slices if you are using  – plus 2 tbsp of butter) in a heavy-bottom large pan. Now add the flour for the roux method and cook a minute.  (otherwise skip this step and move on)

Deglaze the pan with the strained stock from the slow cooker. Whisk and cook a few minutes. If using slurry method instead of roux, add your slurry now and whisk.

Add the fresh herbs, the cooked chicken meat from slow-cooker breast, the frozen corn, and the potatoes. Salt and pepper liberally. Thin with plain hot water if need be.

Simmer, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are cooked and you can no longer stand the yummy smell filling the house. Serves 4 heartily.

The Not-So-Lucky Chicken

There are a lot of lucky “food traditions” surrounding New Year’s Day.  Across the world certain lucky foods are eaten on the first day of the year (Hoppin’ John) or at the stroke of midnight. (12 grapes)

But chicken wouldn’t be one of them. And a surprise to many New Englanders… Lobster! Lobster is considered a poor choice because lobsters move backwards and could lead to setbacks, regrets, and dwelling on the past. Chickens also scratch and move backwards too and could lead to the same kind of year!

Oh! And chickens also have the added bonus of taking all your luck as they fly away. Basically any “winged” food is off-limits on New Years Day.

Phew! Good thing I made this chicken dish well before New Year’s Eve!

red and green chicken

This is just seared chicken breast that I cut down and dusted with some basic seasoning blend before browning in a hot skillet. (Because everything needs to be “browned” in this house.)

After that I combined the chicken with cooked al dente  pasta, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, chopped fresh green onions and put it all into an oiled baking dish. I whipped up a quick basic white sauce (flour,butter roux – add warm milk) and then emptied the cheese drawer of its bits-n-pieces. Pour this cheese sauce over all, toss to combine and at this point you can either bake it for 30 mins at 350 degrees or refrigerate and bake-off for a later dinner time or even freeze it for another day altogether.

Just don’t eat it on New Year’s Eve or Day!

Hot Sauce And Cereal

Sounds weird, but not what you think…

Corn-flake fried chicken tenders flavored with Frank’s® Buffalo Wing Sauce!

Served with homemade diner style mac-n-cheese and bleu cheese dressing for dipping.

SO YUMMY if I say so myself!

The whole thing started with a stroll thru the hot sauce aisle  – that started an immediate craving for wings. But being a bit lazy I decided that I didn’t want to deal with bones. So as I picked up some chicken tenders, I thought about how I would get a crisp exterior on them before tossing them in the tasty mix of hot sauce and margarine. (That’s tradition, don’t mess with tradition.)

As I was putting a box of corn flakes in the cart, I noticed on the back they had printed their recipe for “corn-flake” fried chicken. (If you haven’t tried this kind of fried chicken, try it.) So it was fate. I knew exactly how I would make my crisp chicken tenders. Buffalo-style.

I marinated my tenders in a mix of milk, hot sauce, salt and pepper. I think an hour is a minimum and longer would be better. Buttermilk would be good too, instead of milk, but who has that lying around?

Crush up plenty of corn flake cereal. It is good to have most of it pretty small, like bread crumbs, to get good coverage. But you also want some not as finely crushed so you have all the texture of the “crevices.” Now set up your stations: flour* – egg – crushed cereal. (standard breading technique, ya’ll) Tip: Let them rest on the rack for a few if you plan on shallow or deep-frying, so the coating can really adhere.

I was baking these – so I sprayed my pan and the rack I would be baking on with non-stick spray. Lay the tenders carefully on and now spray those with some “spray butter.” (This is a great – but – chemical- laden product that I keep on hand for “healthy” un-frying in the oven – you can lightly drizzle the tenders with some melted, organic, low-sodium, butter instead) It is important that the coating on the tenders have some kind of “fat” moisture so they will crisp up in the oven.

Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 30-40 mins depending on the size/thickness of your tenders. Watch carefully to be sure they don’t burn. Flip once if you dare – carefully – to crisp the other side. Drizzle with melted margarine-hot sauce mix and serve more on the side for dipping if you want.

The leftovers make spectacular sandwiches!!

Production Notes

The amounts I used…

2 lbs +/- boneless chicken tenders

1 cup milk

1/2 cup +/- hot sauce

*flour (or for gluten-free: use cornstarch or masa) for light dredging

1 egg

3 1/2 cups corn flake cereal (measured pre-crush)

Non-stick spray

“Spray butter”

For the sauce:

1 stick of margarine and 3/4 cup +/- hot sauce – melt together on low in sauce pan

Stuffed Three “Different” Ways

For anybody reading along, you might remember the trio of stuffed mushrooms I made back in April this year.

Well I made more than enough stuffing for the mushrooms that day and I froze the extra stuffing – thinking I would defrost and stuff more mushrooms at some point.

However I decided to use it up in other ways – mostly ones that involved puff pastry!!! Oh how I love anything stuffed into puff pastry! And some chicken. That was good too.

The Chicken -

Simply oil and season the chicken with your favorite spice blend, split it open and stuff, bake in preheated 375 degree oven until cooked through. (165 degrees on the thermometer) Serve with veggies and starch of choice.

The good stuff -

Simply roll out the two squares of puff pastry that come in the famous red box to make them just a bit larger and get rid of any seams. Fill each down the middle and flap the sides together.

If you leave the top open a bit as I did, then no need for vent holes. If you don’t, make vents. One style note – if you really seal the edges, especially the overlapped flaps than it makes a nicer presentation. The top one (creamed spinach filling) puffed WIDE open in the oven because it wasn’t secured enough. But really you could do this in any configuration you want: Individual size, round, square, whatever.

Be sure to let cool a bit before cutting or the filling will ooze out onto the pan!

Can These Two Be Friends?

I had some chicken thighs defrosting and a hankering for some “Indian food.” So instead of following a recipe, I just got out two spices I think of  as “Indian.”

In reality “madras curry” is a British invention and “Sate/Satay” is from the Indonesian islands, not actually India. Fusion cooking right?

I coated my chicken in a heavy dose of the Sate seasoning and browned them in the skillet first.

After that, I removed the chicken and tossed in some sliced onions and my very own green peppers grown in my garden! (Toot-tooting my own horn!)

After that I added diced sweet red bell pepper, a couple fresh garlic cloves, lots of curry powder and some tomato paste and let that kinda “toast” for a minute. If you like it hot, add something hot like chili flakes or hot peppers. I de-glazed the pan with some stock and threw everybody into the hot tub! (slowcooker)

Cook for many hours, until you can’t stand how good it smells and add some frozen peas (my husband is obsessed with them) about 30 mins before serving (not shown here) and serve with the Naan you found in the freezer this morning, which started this whole fusion-travel-food journey in the first place!

To Brine Or Not To Brine

I am a “briner.”

But with two conditions.

1: only when I am going to grill the meat

2: only with chicken and occasionally pork. (Now that I think of it, would there be any other meat that would be brined?)

Brining is when you soak your meat in a salty solution so that later when you cook it, it will have more juice and flavor. Kind of like marinading right? This is why I don’t understand this hotly contested topic of brining. Marinading seems to be widely accepted and lots of people do it. No judgement.

Is not soaking your meat in a solution of salt and some seasonings the same as a marinade?

Without brine there would be no grilled chicken in my life. I just simply couldn’t cook a juicy chicken leg on the grill before I discovered brining.

And patience. Because that is the other key to juicy chicken. Start them hot to get those nice grill marks but then move them off to an indirect flame and let them go. For a long while. Use a thermometer and you can’t go wrong! Of course I also enjoy a robust dry rub!

Yes I shot this picture on purpose so that I could subtly show off my fantastic blue Hydrangea bush!

Grilled Chicken Cancelled Due to Weather

To be honest, I don’t mind midweek rain. As long as it is sunny on the weekends, it can rain every week, Monday thru Friday only.

But it can put a “damper” on my grilling activities. So last night, I had to change my original plans for grilled chicken and punt. It turned out to be better than I had planned and was a great way to use up a few veggies hanging around the fridge and a few pantry items too. Plus it freezes well for another meal, on another rainy night!

The recipe

1 to 1.5 lbs chicken cuts of your choice (thighs or breasts work well)

1 can (10.75oz) Campbell’s Healthy Request Cream of Chicken Soup®   I am not afraid to use a can- just keeping it real here at Cabinet Stew!

1 small onion, diced

2-3 small stalks of celery, diced

1/2 of a bag (about 5oz) shredded carrots

1 cup half and half (fat-free)

2 cups milk (I used 2%)

2 Tb dried Marjoram

1/2 or  a whole can (10.5oz) creamed corn-low-sodium. (I just happen to have half a can hanging around, but a whole can would be great to use.)

1 cup rice (measure uncooked), rinsed. Brown or white – your choice.

Salt & Pepper to taste, small amount of oil for browning chicken

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Brown the salt/peppered chicken in oil in a heavy-bottom, oven-proof dish. Remove temporarily and saute the carrots, celery and onion for a few minutes till just starting to color and soften. Add uncooked rice and saute a few minutes to “toast” it. Add in milk, half & half, soup mix and corn. Mix thoroughly. Add marjoram. Nestle chicken and any juices back into pan in the mixture. Bring to a high simmer.  Cover and finish in the oven for 30-35 mins. Check once during cooking to make sure it is not too dry and stir to make sure it is not sticking. Add water if needed. Use a thermometer to check chicken if unsure.  (165° F)

Serve with sautéed zucchini, sprinkled with lemon-pepper spice.

“Restaurant Style”

Lately I have been trying to improve my “plating” as the fancy chefs would say.

You know when it actually looks pretty on the plate as well as tasting good too.

So recently when I presented this dish to my husband, I was particularly pleased to hear him say “this looks like a restaurant dish!”

Spicy stuffed chicken breasts served with cilantro rice and sliced avocados.

This dish was result of avocados being on sale ($1 each!) and having tons of cilantro hanging around from another recipe as well as defrosted chicken breasts begging for interest.

I cut big pockets in each chicken breast (they happen to be really huge ones) and stuffed them with a combination of a few things I had on hand:

6 “skinny” pork sausage (looks like breakfast style but they are not that flavor) removed from their casing.

1 tbl “33rd & Galena” spice rub from Penzeys.

12 dried apricots, diced small – I did not soak them first.

Mix all of that together and stuff inside the chicken pocket. Place the stuffed breast on a lightly sprayed baking sheet and sprinkle on top a little more of the spice rub. Bake at 375 degrees for 40 mins or so until chicken reaches proper temperature. (165 degrees F)

I “basted” the breast with the juice/fat that the sausage filling let out as it cooks to keep things moist up top.

I served this with rice fancied up with cilantro and diced red bell pepper and of course the avocados simply sliced.

“Vesuvio” Erupts Again!

yup that is right…”Vesuvio” as in “Chicken Vesuvio!”

Most likely this dish originated from the “Mount Vesuvius” region of Italy. That is the one that covered Pompeii and Herculaneum.

It was so delicious the first time around that I saved the leftover “au jus” and froze it. (Is that weird? Or maybe just excessively frugal?)

So I threw that in a slow-cooker with a couple of chicken breasts and about an hour before serving time; sliced up some potatoes into thick wedges and roasted them. Some folks call these “steak fries.”   Around these parts we call them “jojos.”

I threw in some frozen peas just to complete the look and voila…instant, easy dinner!

Cravings

We all crave for something at one time or another. Sometimes its attention we crave, sometimes we long for the past and sometimes we just need some chocolate.

Last week I was craving Buffalo Wings. It was no wonder with all that Superbowl hype! It seemed like every channel I turned to, had some guest chef on making their versions of spicy Buffalo wings.

Well my craving was finally satisfied. Two-fold. I made traditional spicy Buffalo wings and my neighbor made spicy buffalo chicken dip!

The wings…

I have never actually made wings myself – usually I leave that up to the experts at the bar. But they were easy. Just oven bake a couple of pounds +/- of wings until crispy – nothing on them not even a speck of oil! Meanwhile mix a 12 oz bottle of Frank’s® Redhot® new thick sauce with 1/2 stick of margarine (yes margarine was part of the original wing invention) and a dash of soy sauce and a dash of Worcestershire sauce.  Heat until bubbly and slightly reduced. Coat the hot, roasted wings and serve with the usual blue cheese dip and veggies.

The dip…

If you haven’t tried the “dip version” of this game day treat – well you better make friends with my neighbor or look up a recipe on the internet because it is delicious and even better than the actual wings because you can eat more at a time on chips than you can get from a little wing!

Thanks for sending that over, Joanie!

Tostada [tosˈtaða]

However you want to pronounce the word, you have to pronounce the dish “delicious.”

Warm and crunchy on the bottom and topped with delicious toppings.

(And fairly healthy in this case!)

I was hankering for some spice recently but didn’t want to go too heavy. (Read: oozing, cheesy goodness) Also I had just purchased some golden beets and was looking for a unique way to use them. Plus I had some rotisserie chicken on hand and what is easier than that?

So I simmered the chicken in a can of fire-roasted tomatoes from my pantry, plus a hefty amount of ground cumin and some “Arizona dreaming” blend from Penzeys that I got as a gift this past Christmas.

I simply peeled and quartered my beets; sliced and seeded one large Poblano pepper; and roasted them on a sheet with olive oil till tender and caramelized.

I also seeded and finely diced some fresh Poblano pepper on the side for a hot-as-you-want topping.

To assemble: Warm the tostadas in a foil pack in a low 250 degree oven. Spoon the warm chicken mixture on top, add sliced roasted beets, diced roasted Poblano peppers, chopped fresh cilantro, fresh Poblano pieces, and some salty, crumbly Mexican cheese like Queso Seco para Freir or use a more-commonly found Cotija Anejo.  (or just use a dry feta and don’t tell anyone!) Squirt with fresh lime juice and you are ready for a party in your mouth!

Warning: these can be very messy! If you want more of a “glue” to keep the toppings on, spread some re-fried beans on the tostadas first, but if you want to keep it a little lighter, than use napkins and don’t serve this on a first date!

“Wacky” Winter Salad

Now this dish is a true “cabinet stew.”

I had one leftover uncooked chicken breast in the fridge.  And a bag of those “Wacky Mac” pasta spirals hanging around in my cabinet. I have used them before and they are okay. They make an easy “flashy” pasta salad.

But the real instigator was the leftover half jar of Chimichurri sauce hanging in my fridge door. Yes, around these parts, I have the luxury of buying a very good version in a jar from my favorite spice brand – Badia. I sometimes make it from scratch in the summer when the herbs are fresh and abundant. And typically I use the Chimichurri sauce more traditionally with grilled beef but grilling season is over here in New England.  Even with the unseasonable but enjoyable mild weather we have been having – I haven’t had the urge to extend the grilling season.

So between the craving for Chimichurri sauce, the chicken breast and the wacky pasta – I decided to throw it all together and make “Wacky Winter Salad.”  Definitely not my usual “go to” recipe in early December. But it made for some excellent brown bag lunches at the office for a couple of days.

Of course two of my favorite pantry items had to make an appearance: canned black olives and canned tomatoes. Muir’s organic, fire-roasted, chopped tomatoes to be specific and they added some great flavor. And while I was at it, I threw in the leftover peas from dinner the night before. I simply pan-seared the chicken until done and cut it up into bite sizes pieces. Tossed it all together and used the Chimichurri sauce as my “vinaigrette” for the pasta salad. It is packed full of instant flavor. You can add a little olive oil and red wine vinegar to adjust this to your preferred level of dressing and sharpness but it might just need only a little salt and pepper, so taste it first. For a vegetarian option leave out the chicken and thrown in a can of chickpeas or chopped tofu.

Who says you can’t have a little taste of summer in winter?

Especially with the “wacky” weather we have been having!

Hunter’s Stew

Also known as…”chicken cacciatore.”

An oldie but a goodie. One of those dishes that everybody has heard of but can’t remember the last time they had it. Or maybe never had it.

In case you are not familiar with this dish; it is a rustic, Italian meal of peppers, onions, mushrooms and chicken in a red sauce. Or rabbit. Or whatever the “hunters” brought home that day. Serve over pasta.

I went ahead and just used chicken.

The Sauce

The freezer supply of homemade red sauce was getting low so I did go ahead and whip up a batch of fresh red sauce for this dish but you could just use your favorite jarred sauce. I am proud to report that the carrots in my mire poix are from my garden. (yes there is that big one that escaped the blade of the chopper – I ate it after the picture was taken) I kept this sauce really fresh and simple: celery, garlic and carrots sautéed real slow till they almost disappeared. Two big cans of crushed tomatoes and the rest of the fresh basil from the garden. Salt and pepper. That was it. Freeze what you don’t use.


The Cacciatore

I made mine extra rustic with large pieces of onion, mushroom and green bell pepper. I also used big pieces of chicken with the skin on that I seared really well first in some bacon fat. (Insert “gasp” here mom.) Saute each item on its own and in batches, then combine and add sauce. Let it finish stove top or in a low oven till chicken is cooked through.

I served it with roasted rosemary potatoes instead of pasta for a hearty change of pace. I shaved some Parmesan on top to be fancy. (But was not very artistic about it!)

Maybe next time I will try it with rabbit.

Chicken Vesuvio

I have a new “crush.”

Don’t tell my husband but I am head over heels about  The Sandwich King, Jeff Mauro. Besides being the latest Food Network Star winner and a fellow mustard-enthusiast; he is an all American good-guy, happily married with a little boy and can pop the top off a beer with his ring. You just know he is the coolest guy at the office. His recipes on his new show are making me want to book an “eating tour” of Chicago!

Recently, he featured a sandwich based on an entrée called “Chicken Vesuvio.” (That is his thing- turning meals into sandwiches.) I was already  drooling over the tangy garlic-lemon chicken cooked over potatoes that were essentially Jojos and then he topped it all off with some homemade giardiniera. This was my kind of meal!

Than a light went off in my head! I had some of that in my cabinet! I am ashamed to say that I can’t remember who gave it to me and when. It had no label but I immediately remembered that it must be homemade giardiniera. It has been hanging out in my cabinet waiting for just the right moment to be used!

The time is now!

So I got busy and hit the store for a few missing ingredients like chicken. I came home and proceeded to make “Chicken Vesuvio.”  Although his sandwich recipe looked great I wanted more of a Sunday dinner. So I made the meal version.

It turned out pretty darn good and of course my favorite part was the tangy, vinegar-y giardiniera on top of the browned and braised chicken! The fact that it includes peas and mushrooms in the recipe made my pea-loving husband very happy.

Now if only I could remember who gave the giardiniera to me so I can get another jar……

Summer Stuffing

This year I have a sage plant in my herb pots, along with a rosemary plant and all the typical basil, oregano and such.

I love the sage – I mean I always loved sage – but having the fresh plant in my yard is so much better and inspiring.

And of course sage means “stuffing” to me. As in Thanksgiving. I know what you are thinking…”it’s July and nobody wants a turkey dinner.”

Just because it’s summer doesn’t mean you can’t have stuffing. You just lighten it up and have it with something other than a turkey. (And yes, maybe you wait until a 65 degree rainy day instead of 90 degree day. I will admit to that.)

I find that keeping the stuffing recipe simple: fresh chopped herbs (sage and rosemary), fresh chopped veggies ( I happened to have celery, onions and mushrooms on hand), low-sodium chicken stock and no butter – all added to my bread cubes – keeps it “summer” light.

Also, stuffing a thin chicken cutlet instead of a turkey or even a whole bird keeps it light.

And what about some early season corn from Florida – who can resist!

I turned mine into some homemade creamed corn!

of course you could stop there; but I couldn’t resist a white and sweet potato mash too!

Freezer Clean Out

Lately I have been using up the forgotten items from the freezer. After all, I gotta make space for this year’s harvest!

So the other night I when I spotted a lonely, tiny container of homemade pesto from last year’s Basil…I knew just what to do with it.

What would you do ?

Thursday Night Chicken Club

I am part of this club and I bet you are too.

This is the club where you wonder yet again each week what to do with the ubiquitous chicken that you keep buying on the weekly shopping trip. Than you wonder why you keep buying this somewhat boring meat.

But then you get inspired. There are apples in the fridge just begging to be used up. The somewhat cold, damp, early May evening makes you want something fall-ish and comforting. Before you know it, you are preheating the oven and chopping stuff up.

At least that is how it works with me.

A roasting bed of apple and onion slices. Some comfort in the form of butter and cheese. The traditional flavors of sage and rosemary. Some potatoes on the side….

Wait a minute – this sounds familiar – do I detect a pattern here?

Okay I admit I am a “serial onion and apple combiner.”  What can I say – they go together like PB & J, bread & butter. Like the Captain and Tennille.  Anyway here it is ready for the oven…

…and here we are, all toasty and delicious! Cheese oozing from the chicken.

Production notes:

Apples – best with tart, firm variety but really any kind will do. Slice thick.

Cheese – I used Cabot Racers’ Edge Sharp Cheddar – whatever the brand, sharp is best.

Butter – A little melted butter and flour mixture over the top gives the pan sauce “thick richness”

Chicken – use a thermometer to check chicken for done-ness.

Apple juice – use some if you like a lot of sauce, don’t if you don’t.

“Philly Style” White Pizza

Full Disclosure: I have not been compensated in any way to endorse the new Kraft brand Philadelphia Cream Cheese line of “Cooking Cremes.”

However…I did get a free sample handed to me the other day as I exited the subway. (“T” for those of us from Boston.)

Ironically, I had just seen a magazine ad for this new product from the Kraft family a few days ago. So clearly the marketing campaign is working.

Now for those of you under the illusion that I eat totally organic and never any processed foods…you may want to cover your eyes now. That means you mom. I know you raised me better than this but I can’t help myself; I am intrigued with all things food and will try most anything at least once. And frankly I like some of it. In moderation of course. At least I am willing to admit it.

So I gladly held out my hand for the free sample of the 10 oz Italian herb flavor Kraft Philadelphia Cooking Creme with coupons for more.

My mind immediately started ticking – what could I make with this?

Since I already have a love for all things white-sauce, creamy and cheesy, I had no problem thinking of things.

Pizza

Could I spread this on a pizza shell? Would this work and would 10 mins in the oven be long enough time for this product? I checked out their website and only found 1 recipe for pizza – essentially a Margherita pizza with a white sauce. (Philly Creme)

So I used 5 ounces as my base and added my own variation on toppings.

I added tomatoes, thinly sliced red onion, cooked chicken and fat-free feta.

Of course I brushed my pre-baked thin crust, front and back, with a tablespoon of olive oil first and drizzled another tablespoon on top of the toppings just to keep things moist and yummy.

Into a well-preheated 450 degree oven – on to the screaming-hot pizza stone. (This is the secret to a crispy crust.)

10 minutes later a warm, toasty delicious and fairly healthy (low-fat) dinner!

(Kraft- you can email me for an address to send the royalties! Or at least some more coupons!)

Suggestions:

Leave off the chicken and add some thin sliced green bell pepper for a vegetarian option!

Black olives make everything better – add some!

Use a whole wheat crust for a nutritional boost!

I think some leftover blanched broccoli would be delicious!

More tomatoes = more juicy pizza – you decide how many!

Cowboy Up

For some of you that phrase brings to mind the 2001 film starring Kiefer Sutherland, Marcus Thomas and Daryl Hannah.

For others it might just simply mean quit your bitching and be a man.

For anybody who follows baseball it means the Red Sox are down and need get a few in the win column.

Today is the home opener at Fenway and the Sox are already 0-6 for the season. And they are playing the Yankees.

Need I say more.

This concern for the Sox inspired dinner last night. That and the fact that I had a package of Cabot Pepper Jack Cheese in the fridge. Which I love for snacking and cooking.

I shredded the whole 8oz block of cheese into a ton of mashed potatoes with 1/2 stick of butter, some milk and a package of Hidden Valley Ranch.

A little fattening, a lot delicious.

I dusted some cut up peppers and shallots with a little southwest style seasoning and olive oil, threw them in a baking dish to get all toasty.

A lot spicy, and a little sweet.

I opened a package of Bell & Evans gluten free, boneless, skinless chicken breasts made from chicken raised without antibiotics, air-chilled, no preservatives, no fillers, no artificial flavorings, no hydrogenated oils, and no animal by-products fed to the chickens.

Need I say more.

So hopefully today the Sox get the win and maybe my cowboy up inspired dinner helped.

Even “One-Eyed Susie” is root-root-rooting for the home team.

LATE UPDATE: WE WON TODAY!

(Must have been my inspirational dinner ;-))

Wishful Chicken

I wish that I was the kind of person who would put on mittens and a coat to go outside and grill in March. In New England.

(Yep that is snow – in fact it just melted enough to show ground finally!)

If I was a hardy year-round  “griller” than I could have this anytime……

And since it is March in New England and there is no chance of fresh tomatoes, basil and cucumbers from the garden.. I made this “Mardi Gras” pasta salad from stuff already in my cabinets.

Grilled chicken and summer pasta salad.  Wishful thinking.

Production notes:

Split chicken breasts (bone and skin intact) were brined for a day, rinsed and dried. Coat with olive oil and your favorite “house” grill seasoning. Roast at 425 degrees for 45 mins or until meat thermometer registers above 160 and juices run clear.

Mardi Gras Pasta Salad is a true cabinet stew. Invented on the spot by me. Elbow noodles cooked, drained and cooled. I used half of the 1 lb box. Mix in one 8 oz jar of Muffalletta mix from Karen’s Food Company.  Drain and chop one 12 oz jar of roasted red peppers.

Chill and re-stir before serving.