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Just finished News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her parents were killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of a old west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many.

Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong. Have you ever read about forensic dentistry? I sure had not, so I found it fascinating reading. It’s a debut novel for the author, and what a story. Halina, an Australian, with Polish roots, specializes in this obscure profession as a forensic dentist, and is asked to go to Poland, to help identify bone (and tooth) fragments, to put to rest a sad event in the story of this small town, when many, many people (Jews) were murdered. Was it the Nazis? Or was it the local townspeople who disliked the Jews. What a tangled web of intrigue, including Halina’s own mysterious past. I really enjoyed the read. The author does a great job of developing the characters (which I always like). This is no light read if you consider the subject matter, although it IS a novel (but based on fact). Nor is it a spy thriller – it’s more just an historical novel with lots of interesting people throughout. There’s a romance thrown in too, and a whole lot of angst about the discoveries found in the mass grave. But, the subject expanded my knowledge about forensics.

The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr. I just LOVED this book. I’ve never been much of a fan of Caravaggio’s paintings, although I’ve seen plenty of them (many are extremely large) in museums around the world. His paintings were dark, often with dark subjects. But as with many of the old masters, occasionally some obscure work surfaces, perhaps credited to another artist, even, that turns out to be one done by “the” master. In this case, Caravaggio. Although this book is written as a novel (with dialogue, etc.) it’s historical through and through. It begins with two young women art scholars, in Italy, who are asked to do a research project. One thing leads to another, and to another. All true.  If you enjoy books about art – I learned some things about the paint and the canvases of the time – you’ll be intrigued as I was.

Eye On the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press, by James, McGrath Morris. Each year my AAUW book club reads something related to Black History Month. This is a biography of a woman you’ve probably never heard of, Ethel Payne, and about her life-long journey in journalism, struggling to keep her head above water financially, but staying true to her purposes of telling the truth about the black stories and black racism of the day. Sometimes biographies aren’t all that riveting, but I found this one to be so, and I savored each new chapter. We had a really good discussion of the book, and the ups and downs of Payne’s life, especially during her years as a Washington reporter. You’ll not be sorry to have spent the time reading this book. It’s well-written, as well. I was thrilled when the author, Morris, left a message here on my blog, thanking me (and my group) for reading his book.

H Is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald. This one has been on the best seller list. It’s a memoir about a woman who takes on a personal challenge of taming a wild hawk. Prior to reading this book, I knew next to nothing about the entire subject of hawking, or taming any of the big, wild birds. The book is equally about the writer’s inner journey. She’s a consummate writer, and every page was a joy of words, for me. My only problem is my own – I found it hard, the more time that went by, and the more time the writer spent trying to tame this bird, to scream out “let the bird go.” Perhaps it’s because I spent time in Africa in 2015, seeing animals in the wild, that I felt more for the bird than I did with the writer’s discontent with herself and the taming process. Little did I know what a hard job it is to tame a hawk. I actually didn’t finish the book. It was a book club read, and highly recommended by several of our members. And I ended up not being able to attend the meeting as I had a cold. So perhaps there is some great ending to it that would have made me feel better. I haven’t gone to the end to find out. I just had to stop reading it. But I’m not NOT recommending it. If nothing else, read it for Macdonald’s sublime proficiency with words.

Also read George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, by Brian Kilmeade and Dan Yaeger. Here’s what it says on amazon: When George Washington beat a hasty retreat from New York City in August 1776, many thought the American Revolution might soon be over. Instead, Washington rallied—thanks in large part to a little-known, top-secret group called the Culper Spy Ring. He realized that he couldn’t defeat the British with military might, so he recruited a sophisticated and deeply secretive intelligence network to infiltrate New York. I won’t exactly call this book a riveting read, but it was interesting. Relating facts that few people knew about, this Culper Spy Ring. It’s a little chunk of American history researched in depth by the authors. An interesting read.

Also read The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel by Nina George. If you’re an avid reader, you probably have the same kind of longing as I do for a quaint, independently owned bookstore right around the corner. So few exist anymore. This novel is about a very unusual book store, and book store owner. In Paris. On a boat/barge. It’s not a typical book store, and the writer takes you on a journey of discovery about (likely) her own lifetime of book reading. You’ll learn all about a variety of existing books and why they’re a good read. But it’s all cloaked in a story about this book store and the owner. And the customers. Very fun. I’m reviewing it for one of my book clubs next month.

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Chicken, on December 5th, 2015.

pretzel_crusted_chicken_cheddar_sauce

Yet another way to creatively make a chicken breast into something distinctly special. Pretzels are pounded to make a kind of a rustic crust – oh so good – and then it’s served with a delicious cheddar cheese sauce on top. Decadent.

Right off the bat I’ll tell you that normally I’m not a fan of pretzels. If they’re served for an appetizer I usually pass them by. I don’t crave them, and they’re kind of empty calories in my book. But oh my, this way, making a crust with them, dipping chicken breasts in an egg-mustard mixture, then the pretzels are pressed onto the chicken. Sautéed in oil until the top and bottom are crusty brown, then baked in the oven for 8-10 minutes, then served with a very simple, but very tasty cheese sauce. Yes. Delicious.

Probably the most tedious thing about this is pounding the pretzels – do it in a plastic bag with a pounder or rolling pin until the pieces are still visible, but not like they’re crumbs. For sure don’t use a food processor for this step – it makes the pretzels too fine. You want all those little pieces that turn brown as it cooks in oil. There is a bit of prep to make this – prepping the chicken breasts (pounding them between 2 pieces of plastic wrap until they’re about 1/4 inch thick, maybe 1/3 inch), prepping the pretzel crust, making the egg-mustard mixture to dip the chicken into. Then prepping for the sauce – grating cheese (medium flavor, not sharp) and heating the milk in a separate pan so it comes together quickly once you start making it. The sauce is easy – just have everything ready before you begin.

Have the rest of your meal all ready too – a salad and veggie, perhaps – have the table all set – so then once you have the chicken in the oven, you whip together the sauce and when the chicken comes out, everything is done and ready to serve.

Don’t be tempted to add salt to this dish – the pretzels provide ample for it, and the cheese does too. Some cheddars have quite a lot of salt, so there’s another reason not to add any more salt. The dip into egg and mustard gives the pretzels something to stick to. Then they go into a wide pan with some fairly hot oil in it, and sauté just until the crust is brown, about 2 minutes per side. The chicken needs to be placed ON a rack – so you don’t make the bottom crust soggy, and it bakes for a short time in a 375° oven.

Meanwhile, get started on the sauce and it will come together while the chicken is in the oven. It comes together very quickly once you start, and it’s a great accompaniment to the chicken. Serve – to raves. I’m telling you. It’s delicious. Recipe came from a Phillis Carey cooking class.

What’s GOOD: you’ll be amazed that crushed-up pretzels could taste so good on chicken. It’s really special, and very different. People will not know what’s on the chicken – make it a guessing game and keep the bag of box of pretzels out of sight. I loved the crunch of the pretzel crust. Loved the cheddar cheese sauce too. Altogether wonderful.

What’s NOT: well, maybe all the prep time – more than usual, I guess. Sorry about that, but once you try it you’ll be glad you did.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 14/15 file

* Exported from MasterCook *

Pretzel Crusted Chicken Breasts with Cheddar Cheese Sauce

Recipe By: Phillis Carey cooking class, 10/15
Serving Size: 6

CHICKEN:
2 large eggs — scrambled
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 cups crushed pretzels — (put them in a plastic bag and pound them – do not use a food processor)
2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme
6 pieces boneless skinless chicken breast halves
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
CHEDDAR CHEESE SAUCE:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk — warmed
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1 pinch cayenne
1 1/2 cups Cheddar cheese — shredded

1. In a shallow dish, whisk together the eggs and mustard until smooth. In a separate shallow dish, combine the pretzels and thyme.
2. Trim chicken and pound between 2 sheets of plastic wrap to an even 1/4″ thickness. Dip the chicken in the egg mixture, letting the excess drip off. Dredge in the pretzel mixture to coat.
3. Preheat oven to 375°F.
4. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium heat until it’s very hot. Add half of the chicken and brown well on both sides, about 2 minutes per side. Remove to a rack set over a baking sheet. Repeat with remaining oil and chicken halves. Bake chicken for 8-10 minutes in the oven until cooked through.
5. SAUCE: Melt the butter in the skillet over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, whisking constantly, for 2 minutes. Slowly add the milk, whisking until smooth. Cook, whisking constantly, until thickened and bubbly, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the cheese and stir until the cheese melts and the sauce is smooth. Taste for seasoning and spoon the sauce over the chicken.
Per Serving: 553 Calories; 29g Fat (48.1% calories from fat); 42g Protein; 29g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 190mg Cholesterol; 887mg Sodium.

Posted in Chicken, on November 27th, 2015.

very_lemony_chix_thighs

There’s something so extra special (to me) about chicken with lemon. Lots of lemon. This fits the bill!

Recently I drove up to Northern California to visit with my daughter and her family who live in Placerville (California Gold Country). One night we went out to dinner, another night Dana did a spaghetti dinner, and the 3rd night I made this lemon chicken. It was really wonderful. And easy. I loved the lemon flavor that permeated the chicken (I used thighs) and the sauce was really wonderful on the chicken and on the rice we made to go with it.

I didn’t have a recipe in mind when I decided to do chicken with lemon, but went online and this recipe came up within the first few. It’s from Southern Living, back in 2010. If you want to make it according to that recipe you certainly can, but it won’t be as lemony as the chicken doesn’t get cooked with the lemon sauce at all. I altered the recipe just a little bit because I bought chicken thighs, not breasts, as was called for in the recipe. And I like the chicken cooked in the lemon anyway, not just as a side flavor or sauce.

So first you dip the chicken in flour with some pepper mixed in. Then the boneless, skinless thighs are sautéed in a bit of olive oil and butter just until they get golden on both sides. They’re removed to a plate while you concoct the sauce. Lemon juice and chicken broth are added in and cooked just a bit, then the chicken is added back into the pan, a lid put on and you simmer the thighs for about 20 minutes or so until they’re done. In that time, the sauce has cooked down just a little, and it’s thickened some because of the flour mixture used on the chicken. You can make a few very thin slices of lemon to put on top of the chicken as it cooks, then add a few for garnish also. And a bit of Italian parsley is sprinkled in and also on top when it’s served. We served the sauce on the side so you could decide where you wanted it – only on the chicken, or also on the rice.

What’s GOOD: I loved-loved the lemony flavor, but I love lemon any way, shape or form, so it was a no-brainer for me. I think everybody else liked it too. It’s easy to make – easy enough for a weeknight dinner for sure. The butter added into the sauce at the last made it special.

What’s NOT: the only thing I’d mention is that the breading you put on at the beginning and is slightly browned, gets soggy when it cooks in the lemon sauce – so don’t expect crispy anything. It’s all soft food, so to speak. Delicious nevertheless.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 14/15 file (click on link to open)

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Very Lemony Chicken Thighs

Recipe By: Adapted from myrecipes.com
Serving Size: 8

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons butter — divided
2 tablespoons olive oil — divided
1/3 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup lemon juice
8 lemon slices
1/4 cup Italian parsley — chopped
Garnish: lemon slices

1. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Lightly dredge chicken in flour, shaking off excess.
2. Melt 1 Tbsp. butter with 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Cook half of chicken in skillet 2 to 3 minutes on each side or until golden brown and done. Transfer chicken to a serving platter, and keep warm. Repeat procedure with 1 Tbsp. butter and remaining olive oil and chicken.
3. Add broth and lemon juice to skillet, and cook 1 to 2 minutes or until sauce is slightly thickened, stirring to loosen particles from bottom of skillet. Add chicken pieces back into the pan, coat with sauce by turning each piece over, cover with a lid, reduce heat and simmer for about 20+ minutes, until chicken is tender. You may add the thin lemon slices to the chicken during this cooking process if you’d like.
4. Remove skillet from heat and remove chicken from sauce onto a heated serving platter; to the sauce add parsley and remaining 2 Tbsp. butter, and stir until butter melts. Pour sauce over chicken. Serve immediately. Garnish, if desired with more lemon slices. Serve with rice, pasta or mashed potatoes to soak up some of the delicious lemony sauce.
Per Serving: 218 Calories; 15g Fat (61.4% calories from fat); 16g Protein; 6g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 79mg Cholesterol; 508mg Sodium.

Posted in Chicken, Uncategorized, on November 11th, 2015.

oven_fried_chicken_prosciutto_cheese

Not exactly quick, but not hard, either. In any case it’s delicious and worth making.

My friend Cherrie and I were finally able to find another class we could take with our favorite cooking teacher, Phillis Carey. Since the cooking school in San Diego closed some months ago – the one we attended often, Phillis is trying to find new venues to teach. But she’s always taught classes in other places and one is in Orange County, about once a month. (The downside is that the class is in a very cramped little space, hard, folding chairs, with a tray on our laps – i.e., not ideal.) This class was about Italian cooking at home.

Phillis is the queen of chicken breast cooking. She’s written an entire cookbook about it (her website is the only way to purchase it). And she continues to develop new and better ways to eat chicken. I don’t know about you, but I eat a lot of chicken and I love new/better ideas of ways to cook it. This one is worthy of a company meal – I might not go to the trouble just for a meal on my own.

The idea behind the oven fried part is that you lay the chicken breast (coated in eggs and bread crumbs) into a very little pool of hot oil in a rimmed pan and it sort of “fries.” How? Well, first you make a long, deep cut in the center of the boneless, skinless chicken breast half and open it up like a book. You don’t cut all the way through. Anyway, you fill the chicken breast (more on that in the next paragraph) and fold it together. Kind of squeezing it so it sticks together. Meanwhile, you will have heated the oven to 425° F. That’s HOT. Then you use a older, less attractive rimmed baking sheet (one that you don’t care how it looks and how the oil will mark it) and you heat olive oil (a tablespoon of oil per chicken breast) in that pan in the oven. When Phillis demonstrated this, after she put the baking sheet of oil into the oven to heat – it took about 4 minutes. It was smoking. That’s what it’s supposed to do. If you used canola oil (with a higher flash point) it wouldn’t smoke, and you can do that. It’s just that olive oil will give you a bit more flavor (more Italian, obviously). In the interim you will have coated the chicken breasts (dipped in beaten eggs and then a breadcrumb mixture that contains some Parm) and once the oil is smoking hot, you pull the oven rack out and gently – very gently – lay the chicken breasts, smooth side down (first) – in the hot oil. It will sizzle. If it doesn’t sizzle, then the oil didn’t get hot enough. That’s what creates the crust – you can see how beautiful it is in the photo at top. The chicken is baked in that hot oven for 7 minutes, then the breasts are turned over and baked another 6-8 minutes and they’re done. When the cheese (she used Fontina – a good melting cheese) begins to ooze out of the edges of the chicken you know it’s done. And you can serve it immediately, while it’s still hot as a pistol.

The filling – well, you could improvise if you wanted to. If you don’t like basil, use a different herb (fresh, though). If you don’t like Fontina, use Provolone or what you have on hand. A soft cheese, though, but not Jack or cheddar (tasteless). If you don’t like sun-dried tomatoes (these are the oil packed ones, drained) use fresh, but oven dried roasted tomatoes. Don’t use regular dried tomatoes – they’d be too firm even if you reconstituted them. And don’t use fresh tomatoes as they would give off too much liquid (would steam the chicken and you’d lose the whole point of the oven frying technique). She used prosciutto. You could use pancetta, but it won’t have the smoky flavor of prosciutto. But do remember that both of those Italian deli meats are salty. Use it judiciously.

So, you lay on a nice big leaf of basil on the open chicken breast “book.” Stack the filling on one side. Then you add the prosciutto. I’ve added into the recipe to cut it up in bite-sized pieces before laying it in the chicken. Phillis just laid a slice on the breast, but prosciutto kind of shreds when you try to cut it, so I think cut into pieces makes it easier to cut and eat it. Then the well-drained sun-dried tomatoes are added. I’d cut those up in small pieces also. THEN, you divide up the cheese and kind of cup it in your palm and place it on top of the filling. The other chicken breast half is laid over, pulled slightly and you press down (to compress the cheese) and so the edges of the chicken stick together. If you really wanted to do it right, brush the outer edge of the chicken with a bit of the beaten egg (used in the coating) to seal the edges. But it’s not really necessary to do that step.

The nice thing is that you can stuff the chicken a day ahead (covered, in the refrigerator). And you can coat the chicken an hour ahead (and refrigerate). So if you’re having guests, everything is ready except heating the oil and baking them. See? Easy, really. And it makes a beautiful presentation. That top turns a perfect golden brown.

Now, just a note about the CHICKEN. I buy my chicken breasts at Costco, and they’re big honkin’ breasts. Those are just too big for this recipe. So either buy smaller breasts (ideally about 6 ounces per serving), or if you use the big, big breasts, cut off the tender (you’ll do that anyway) and cut off some of the outer edges so you do end up with about a 6-ounce portion. If you were to use a bigger breast it will take longer to cook through and unless you’re feeding football players, they won’t eat it all. The chicken is very rich and filling.

What’s GOOD: the flavors are wonderful – very Italian for sure. I loved the crispy crust. I loved the oozing Fontina cheese in it. The flavor boost from the sun dried tomatoes was lovely. When I make it I will be sprinkling on just a tiny little bit of salt ONLY on the outside edges (where the prosciutto isn’t), as whatever chicken doesn’t have any filling needs just a hint of salt. It’s a beautiful presentation – serve on a platter if you want to with a sprinkling of Italian parsley and a few whole stems for color. The chicken is very rich, and is high in calorie with all those goodies in it and the oil it’s cooked in, too.

What’s NOT: only that it does take a bit of prep. But it’s not hard to do. Just a bit of time. The chicken probably won’t be great as leftovers. You’ll not be able to get the crispy crust the 2nd time around, so plan to eat it at the first sitting, if possible!

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 14/15 file.

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Oven-Fried Parm-Crusted Chicken Breasts with Prosciutto and Cheese Filling

Recipe By: From a Phillis Carey cooking class, 9/2015
Serving Size: 4

4 pieces boneless skinless chicken breast halves
4 slices prosciutto — chopped
4 large basil leaves
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, oil-packed — drained and chopped
1 1/2 cups Fontina cheese — grated (or use Provolone)
CRUMB MIXTURE:
3/4 cup dry Italian seasoned bread crumbs
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated (or Pecorino)
1 tablespoon fresh Italian parsley — minced
COATING and BAKING:
2 large eggs — lightly beaten with 1 T. water
1/4 cup olive oil — for the baking sheet
1/4 cup Italian parsley — chopped (garnish)

1. Using a sharp knife, butterfly the chicken breasts by slicing in half, horizontally, but not all the way through; just open it like a book. Lay on the prosciutto, a basil leaf and a tablespoon of the sun dried tomatoes on one side of the opened breast. Divide the cheese among the pieces, then fold top side over the filling. Press together firmly and try to seal the edges (chicken meat against chicken meat). May be refrigerated at this point up to a day ahead.
2. Preheat oven to 425°F. Combine the bread crumbs, Parm cheese and parsley on a shallow plate. Dip the chicken bundles in the egg mixture (keeping the edges together so they don’t open up) and then in the breadcrumbs, coating well. (At this point the chicken can be chilled for up to an hour.)
3. Once oven is at temperature, pour the olive oil (approx 1 T. per chicken breast) into a rimmed large baking sheet. Use an “old” one as the oil and the baking may discolor the pan. Place pan in the oven to heat – about 3-4 minutes. It will be VERY hot and the olive oil may be smoking slightly. Add the chicken, top side down and bake for 7 minutes. Turn the chicken over (very carefully) and continue baking another 6-8 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. The chicken is done when the cheesy mixture begins to ooze out of the seam. If you are baking more than 4 of these, use a separate oven and another baking sheet to roast the chicken. If you have a convection oven that has a convection/bake cycle, use that, same temp and same amount of time. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve.
4. It is best to use smaller chicken breasts for this – don’t include the chicken tender. If you buy very large breasts, trim some of the edges (and use for something else) to bring the size down to about 6-7 ounces per breast.
Per Serving: 983 Calories; 51g Fat (47.9% calories from fat); 107g Protein; 18g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 380mg Cholesterol; 6745mg Sodium.

Posted in Chicken, on September 24th, 2015.

herb_roasted_turkey_breast_wine

Simple preparation of a turkey breast – enough for 4 people – very tasty and easy.

I’ve been making an effort to eat some of the frozen meat and other stuff in my freezer. After my darling DH passed away, I hardly even cooked for weeks and weeks. I’ve entertained very little, and on any ordinary evening I never seem to have the interest in doing a really nice dinner that would feed 3-4 people with all the accompanying side dishes to go with it. But I’ve got good steaks that have been there for 18 months. A big honkin’ pork shoulder that’s been there for probably 2 years. I should give that one away as I couldn’t possibly eat it up and it probably shouldn’t be re-frozen. I’ve had plenty of chicken breasts, salmon fillets, chicken thighs and pork chops in a variety of shapes and sizes. But the beef is languishing in there.

The meat in these freezers – some are in the kitchen freezer and pounds and pounds of varied meat items live in my garage freezer. I’ve had several packages of casseroles or vegetables, or even a dessert. Today I decided to defrost a turkey breast half that I’d stuck in there some months ago. I have another recipe on my roast_turkey_breast_tobakeblog for a dry brined turkey breast that I’ve prepared several times since I first made it – and have loved it. Today I did some internet sleuthing and found another recipe from Taste of Home. It was a simple enough preparation and needed about 1 1/2 hours to roast.

The breast weighed about 2+. I slathered a mixture of lemon juice and olive oil under the skin, then patted a dry mixture on top comprised of dry thyme, dry rosemary, garlic powder and salt and pepper. It got laid upon a bed of sliced onions and a couple of stalks of celery cut up, and then I floated in about 3/4 cup of white wine. Into the oven it went and about 90 minutes later it was at exactly 170° on my Thermapen instant-read thermometer. There at left you can see the raw breast ready to bake.

I also made a zucchini casserole which I’ll write up next. That’s what I had for dinner – turkey and zucchini. No salad (had one of those for lunch). It was very filling and tasted delicious. I still haven’t been able to go into my dining room (alone) and set the table there to eat my dinner. Dave and I had dinner in there all winter long, and ate outside on our patio in the summer. I’ve hardly done any patio dining (alone) either. I’ve still got construction going on anyway, and furniture is pushed every which way. But I haven’t been able to eat in the dining room because it makes me sad. As good as I’m doing most of the time – it’s been 18 months – to eat dinner in the dining room, alone, staring at the windows or roast_turkey_breast_bakedmy plate, holds very little interest. In time, maybe. I love my dining room, and I sit there often to do homework for my bible study classes. I’ve entertained in there, no problem. But to be there alone to eat just floods me with too many memories.

So, this dinner was eaten at the kitchen counter with the 6 o’clock news on nearby. And it tasted really good. The zucchini casserole was a perfect side for the juicy, herby turkey. At right is the whole half-breast just out of the oven. Underneath it are some onion slices and chopped up celery – and the white wine was poured in to keep it moist.

What’s GOOD: it’s EASY – only about 5 minutes of prep required – the rest of it is baking in the oven. There’s enough of it (for me, just this one person) for another 3 meals, I think. Maybe I’ll make some kind of Indian curry with it, and perhaps a turkey sandwich. Will have to go buy some bread – I don’t even have any in the house!

What’s NOT: only that it took 1 1/2 hours to bake – not necessarily a quick weeknight dinner. But worth doing anyway if you can make the time.

printer-friendly PDF and FILES: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14

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Herb-Roasted Breast of Turkey

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Taste of Home, 2015
Serving Size: 4

2 1/2 pounds turkey breast
2 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 medium onion — thickly sliced
3 stalks celery — chopped
3/4 cup vermouth — or other dry white wine

1. Preheat oven to 325°F.
2. Gently wedge a finger or two underneath the turkey skin, being careful not to tear it or dislodge it. Make room to drizzle (or use a brush) in the lemon juice and olive oil that you mix up in a small bowl. Pull turkey skin back in place.
3. In a small bowl combine the pepper, rosemary, thyme and garlic powder. Using your hands, pat the herb mixture on the skin of the turkey breast, spreading around to the edges. It’s not necessary to do the under side as it’s almost all bones.
4. In an 8×10 inch baking pan (with sides) place the onion slices and the celery chunks. Make it mostly flat and place the turkey breast on top, skin side up.
5. Add the white wine to the pan and bake for about 90 minutes, or until the breast meat has reached 170°. Remove from oven and allow to sit for 5 minutes before slicing and serving. The drippings can be made into a gravy, if desired, or save it to flavor soup broth.
Per Serving (assumes you eat all the skin): 25 Calories; 12g Fat (30.2% calories from fat); 56g Protein; 6g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 139mg Cholesterol; 1103mg Sodium.

Posted in Chicken, on July 22nd, 2015.

moroccan_spiced_grilled_chicken_breasts

Another easy recipe for grilled chicken breasts. Make up the yogurt-based marinade with oodles of Moroccan spices at least a few hours ahead, or ideally the day before and chill the chicken in it. Grill and garnish with a bit of reserved marinade and some cilantro.

The other night I decided to cook at home for Dave’s best friend Joe. He was visiting (on business) as he does every couple of weeks. Usually he goes out to dinner with customers or an employee , but this night he had dinner with me. I defrosted some boneless, skinless chicken breasts and searched my recipes for some new way to make them. Elise over at Simply Recipes made this version. I changed it around just a little bit – I added some turmeric; I made a bit more of the marinade and reserved some to put on top (forgot to show that in the photo, sorry) and I garnished with more cilantro.

About the topping: I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a rare chicken breast that doesn’t need some kind of topping – like a chutney or a relish, or mango salsa, or a mustard sauce. Something. So on this one I merely made a bit more of the marinade and used it to help the chicken be more tasty and moist. Chicken can get dry so easily – especially so on the grill if you’re not watching it carefully. I don’t know if you have any secrets to maintaining moist chicken? My only technique is to pound the chicken breasts a bit thinner in that thicker part (Costco’s chicken breasts are really big, and very thick) so they cook more evenly. And I use a meat thermometer. Generally chicken is supposed to be cooked to 165°, but breasts are done at 150°. So when I grilled these I checked the internal temp about 4 times to make sure I didn’t overcook them. They were perfectly cooked. The yogurt marinade mostly cooks away during the grilling process – and much of it ends up burned on the grill itself.

What’s GOOD: I liked the subtle flavor of the marinade – it is not overpowering at all – in fact if I did it again I’d probably add more of the spices to the marinade. It needed a bit more. But it was good. It’s low calorie, and I’ll also tell you it’s delicious cold. I made a plum chutney (to serve with another meal and I’ll post about that in a few days) and ate the left overs with that, which was very nice.

What’s NOT: nothing, really. Just don’t over cook it, okay?

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Moroccan Spiced Grilled Chicken Breasts

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Simply Recipes blog, 2015
Serving Size: 4

2/3 cup Greek yogurt, full-fat — (do not use fat free)
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic — minced
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breast halves
3 tablespoons cilantro — minced (for garnish)

1. Mix the marinade ingredients (yogurt, lemon juice, cilantro, olive oil, garlic, cumin, paprika, turmeric, cinnamon, salt, and pepper) together in a medium sized bowl. Remove about a third of the mixture and refrigerate until serving time, to be used as a topping.
2. If chicken pieces are thick, pound them slightly so they are a more even thickness. Add the chicken pieces to the bowl and thoroughly coat with the marinade. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator from 2 hours to overnight.
3. Heat grill on high heat if you are using a gas grill, or prepare coals for direct heat if you are using charcoal. Allow for one side of the grill to be the “cool” side. If you do not have a grill you can use a cast-iron grill pan on your stove.
4. Grill the chicken breasts over direct high heat a couple of minutes on one side. Then turn them over and move them to the cool side of the grill. Cover and cook for a few minutes more, until the chicken is cooked through.
5. Use a meat thermometer to test and remove the meat from the grill when the internal temperature of the chicken breast reaches 150°F. Do not overcook, as chicken breasts can easily dry out. Dollop some of the reserved marinade on the chicken and garnish with chopped cilantro.
Per Serving: 309 Calories; 12g Fat (37.0% calories from fat); 42g Protein; 6g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 114mg Cholesterol; 403mg Sodium.

Posted in Chicken, easy, on June 6th, 2015.

chicken_in_milk_sweet_potatoes

Aren’t we all busy as can be sometimes and we need a quick dinner without a lot of prep? Here’s one.

Defrosting a package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts was all I’d done in preparation for dinner. I glanced through my to-try file, and knowing that I had a sweet potato, cilantro, milk, ginger, garlic and Dijon . . . well, that constituted enough to try to make a riff on a Jamie Oliver recipe I had. Really, about all I used from his recipe is the technique, the milk, garlic and cinnamon. The rest I made up as I went along.

You do need to know that when you cook milk, it separates. It just does, and Jamie (and many other great cooks) have shared recipes for meat simmered in milk, so it’s not a new idea by any means. But something chemical in the milk doesn’t allow it to be simmered (boiled) without separating. (If you use heavy cream, it won’t separate even when you boil it, but milk, yes it will.) You could add flour to it to make a thin-type sauce, which would avoid the separating, but I was too lazy. I could have dipped the chicken in some seasoned flour and that would have provided some thickening to the sauce too, that might have kept it from separating. But again, I was lazy and didn’t. I wanted to try it as-is, Jamie’s way. It provides a kind of lumpy, thick-and-thin sauce that’s not exactly pretty. But it tastes good, and especially if you have some kind of carb to put it on.

I had some zucchini too, that needed fixing, so that went in another pan with a chopped up slice of bacon and cooked away slowly while I made the chicken. First you brown (light golden-brown) the chicken in a bit of butter in a big skillet (that has a lid). Once golden brown, you remove it and set it aside. Then you add a shallot, cook that a bit, then add some big chunks of sweet potato, uniformly sliced about 1/2” thick, though, so they cook evenly. Those got slightly browned, then I added in the milk. I also added a little jot of cream – hoping it might help the milk from separating (no, it didn’t). Then I added my seasonings: Dijon mustard, garlic, salt and pepper, and the cinnamon. Jamie called for a stick of cinnamon – I didn’t feel like hunting for it, so I just used a pinch or two of ground cinnamon instead. Once simmering, I added the lid and let it cook slowly for about 10 minutes, until the sweet potatoes were just barely tender. You don’t want to overcook them. The chicken is added back in, simmered for 3-4 minutes is all – until it’s tender and juicy. Don’t overcook those either or it’ll be inedible. (I ordered a Cobb salad the other day, and the chicken meat served on it was so dry I almost choked on it – what a waste.) Just know that chicken breasts don’t need hardly any cooking – check it frequently to make sure you don’t overdo it.

In the cooking time, the sauce, as I mentioned, separates. It’s kind of like curds and whey. You can see some of the curds on the sweet potatoes in the photo. The milk becomes a kind of broth, almost, with the curds in it – my solution was to kind of mush-up the sweet potatoes a little bit, then eat a bit of that, with a bite of chicken and some of the milk sauce. All together. The flavors are subtle – even with the garlic – I expected the garlic to be pronounced, but it wasn’t. I made 2 servings and used 3 garlic cloves, mashed.

What’s GOOD: I loved the taste, that’s what’s important. The visual, well, not so good, and I’d probably not serve this to guests, just because people might be put-off by the separated milk/sauce. I was fine with it, especially since Jamie Oliver tells you right up front about what happens to the milk in his recipe. Milk is a lovely tenderizer of meat, even though the chicken didn’t spend that much time bathed in the milk. It was good. It was simple. All good reasons to make it again. Is it fabulous? Well, no, I wouldn’t put it in that category. It was quick, that’s what I was looking for.

What’s NOT: the only thing is the sauce – some may not like it. I can see children saying “ew, Mom, what’s that?” But if you mush up the potatoes (or serve rice on the side) and the sauce goes on the carb, they might not notice.

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Chicken in Milk with Sweet Potatoes

Recipe By: A major riff on a Jamie Oliver recipe.
Serving Size: 4

1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 chicken breast halves without skin — drained, blotted dry
1 small shallot — minced
2 medium sweet potatoes — peeled, halved, 1/2″ slices
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons grated ginger root
2 pinches ground cinnamon — (or use a whole stick)
3 cloves garlic — minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons cilantro — minced (garnish), or parsley

NOTES: If you have chicken with skin, by all means use it. Even better, use bone-in chicken. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts was what I had on hand. And chicken breasts cook in a flash, so be careful not to overcook them. You’ll NOT be happy with the results.
1. In a large skillet (with a lid) melt butter. When it begins to sizzle, add the chicken breasts and brown gently on both sides until they show golden color, about 2 minutes per side. Remove to a plate.
2. Add shallot to the skillet and cook for about 3-4 minutes until it’s translucent. Add the sweet potatoes and allow them to brown on both sides, just a little bit, 3-4 minutes.
3. Pour in the milk and cream, then add Dijon, mustard, garlic and cinnamon. Mix well, blending in the mustard. Bring to a very low simmer, cover and cook slowly for about 10 minutes, until sweet potatoes are nearly done. Test them with a knife – you want them to stay together but be barely edible at this point.
4. Add the chicken pieces in the skillet, cover and simmer for 3-4 minutes, until they are cooked through. Do NOT overcook them or they’ll be dry.
5. The sauce will have separated – it’s not exactly a pretty picture – but it tastes great. If desired, slightly mash the sweet potatoes with a fork or potato masher, place chicken on top of the potatoes, then pour the lumpy sauce over both. Garnish with fresh cilantro or parsley and serve immediately.
6. You can also make the chicken without sweet potatoes, but prepare rice or mashed potatoes – and drizzle the separated sauce on top.
Per Serving: 353 Calories; 15g Fat (37.7% calories from fat); 32g Protein; 22g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 113mg Cholesterol; 155mg Sodium.

Posted in Chicken, Salads, on April 25th, 2015.

zuni_cafe_roast_chicken_easy

Oh my gracious! This salad. This salad is going to knock your socks off! Trust me. Bread salad with lots of nice greens, some pine nuts, a few chopped raisins, a tart vinaigrette, and on top – well, just the most delicious chicken I think I’ve ever had. Bar none.

Having guests over for dinner a week before I left on my trip was maybe not the best idea I’ve ever had – I was kind of frantic getting everything done, items packed, friends and neighbors notified, bills paid, taxes done and paid for, and yet, I’d been wanting to have these friends over, and figured oh well, a week before my trip I’ll be fine. And really, it was. Joan brought marinated tomatoes. Jackie brought a delicious blueberry custard dessert. I made the main dish and an appetizer. I brought out one of Dave’s favorite wines from the cellar, an Amavi Syrah, which was wonderful with the chicken. Also served a Zaca Mesa Viognier for two of the guests who preferred white wine. I set the table, of course, chilled the water, made the appetizer the day before, and did the shopping 3 days before.

There is a caveat, however, about this recipe. You absolutely MUST start this at least 24 hours before you want to serve it. And 48 hours are still okay too. It’s not hard to do that step, but it’s imperative you do it. The whole chicken is drained, dried off, salted and peppered and a few sprigs of fresh herbs gently slid underneath the breast skin and the thigh skin. Then it’s left to sit in the refrigerator with just a paper towel over the top. It’s like dry brining. It just sits. See, I said that part was easy. It probably took about 10 minutes of prep to find the right dish to hold 2 chickens that would fit in my garage refrigerator. And 4-5 minutes to dry off the birds and pat the salt all over them. The cold air in the frig helps dry out the skin, but then the salt helps protect it and hug in the juices. Such a chemical term – hug in the juices. I don’t know how else to describe it.

It’s a recipe I’ve been wanting to try for a long time. I’d heard, many years ago, about the fame of Judy Rodgers’ roasted chicken. It was epic to her San Francisco restaurant fans when she published her cookbook with the beloved recipe contained within for her roast chicken. Judy Rodgers died a couple of years ago. Chefs and fans mourned grievously. She was a rock star in the chef world. I don’t own her cookbook – The Zuni Cafe Cookbook: A Compendium of Recipes and Cooking Lessons from San Francisco’s Beloved Restaurant [Hardcover] [2002] First Edition Ed. Judy Rodgers, Gerald Asher. The link just provided goes to an older edition that isn’t available for purchase, but you can find it in hardback. Amazon’s link is broken, somehow. Her cookbook is noteworthy for chefs, and very experienced home cooks. It’s not meant for the weeknight family dinner. You can find Rodgers’ roasted chicken full recipe online.  I copied it off from the ‘net, but wasn’t so sure I’d ever make it, as it’s an extremely complex masterpiece.

But, when I found an easy version of Rodgers’ famous chicken and bread salad, I downloaded it in a jiffy from a blog called NW Edible. It’s been in my to-try file for several years. Gosh, what a shame I hadn’t made it before since it’s such a winner!

Here’s what’s involved. Once you have done the dry brine, and a couple hours before you want to eat, bring out the bird(s) to reach room temp. Chop and oil the rustic bread and broil or bake until crispy but not hard. Make the vinaigrette. Get all the other ingredients ready. NW Edible used cast iron frying pans for her chickens. I don’t own 2 of them, so I opted to use my big Teflon coated turkey roasting pan, which was a perfect fit for 2 Costco chickens I’d prepared. I pre-heated the pan to 475°F. Now, that’s not a typo. The chicken IS roasted at 475°. Really. Once the pan was heated, I took it out and plopped the 2 chickies in the pan and they did sizzle. Probably not as much as in a cast iron skillet, but it worked fine in my book.

Into the oven the birdies went and I set the timer for 80 minutes. Meanwhile, I served an appetizer and wine and we would occasionally catch a whiff of the chicken roasting away. Once out of the oven, right on time – the chicken breast was at 170°, a little high, but it was fine. With help from Joan, we each poked a utensil into each end of the chicken and allowed the juices and fat to drain out into the pan. You also slice the skin near the legs to allow all those juices to drain. Then the chickens went onto a big carving board while I worked on the salad. The big roasting pan was drained (and saved) for of all its juices. I used a fat-separator, as I didn’t want the fat, just the juices. For the 2 birds, I think there was about 1/2 cup of juices and fat. That was set aside to do it’s separating and I went back to the pan. It went onto a stovetop burner and once heated up, with the residual fat in the pan, I added fresh garlic and pine nuts and they took a minute or two to get barely golden. Then 1/4 cup of the juices were poured in. That got poured over the top of the bread croutons in a big bowl. They are allowed to just sit for a minute or two – you want those pan juices to soak into the bread. The raisins were added (currants are called for, but I didn’t have any, so I used regular raisins chopped up fine) into the vinaigrette. A couple of huge wads of salad greens were added. The recipe calls for arugula, but Trader Joe’s was all out of arugula (gosh, that stuff is popular), so I used a multi-colored greens mixture that contains quite a bit of arugula anyway.

Meanwhile, I asked one of the guys to carve, which Don did, very kindly. I could have done it, but I thought I’d ask for help. Tom was the sommelier, we decided to call him and he kept our wine glasses filled. The two husbands handily stepped in to fill Dave’s shoes. Once the salad was tossed – the greens and the soaked bread, it was all on the big white platter you can see up top, and then Don put the chicken pieces – some thick breast slices, some dark meat and a drumstick or two on top, and it was ready. Done.

Almost always when I serve dinner, I serve it buffet style in the kitchen. On my huge island. Then everyone takes their plate into the dining room. We had a lively conversation about a variety of things. Travel, politics, religion. Two of those somewhat no-no subjects. We talked about our families, grandchildren and their busy schedules, travel destinations, etc. Anyway, it was just great fun, and the chicken was magnificent.

What’s GOOD: there is absolutely nothing that isn’t GREAT about this recipe. It takes a bit more prep than some, and you do have to start at least a day in advance. The vinaigrette is fabulous. The salad and slightly soaked crispy bread is magnificent. And the chicken. Well, it’s in a league of its own. Make this. It’s going onto my Carolyn’s Favs list, if that tells you how good it is.

What’s NOT: only the part about needing to start it at least a day ahead.

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Easy Zuni Cafe Roast Chicken and Bread Salad

Recipe By: NW Edible blog, 2013
Serving Size: 9

CHICKEN:
6 pounds whole chicken — 2.5 – 3 pounds per chicken
8 sprigs thyme — soft tip-sprigs, each about 1-inch long or rosemary (or both)
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
BREAD SALAD:
16 ounces bread — thick sliced, rustic style (like ciabatta)
olive oil — as needed
1/4 cup pine nuts
4 whole garlic cloves — chopped (2 to 3)
A few handfuls of arugula or similar greens washed and dried
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
VINAIGRETTE:
2 tablespoons dried currants — or raisins, chopped
2 tablespoons red onion — or shallot, finely minced
4 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 cup olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
1/4 cup chicken juices, drained from the hot roasted chicken

1. CHICKEN PREP – A day or two before you intend to roast your chicken, sprinkle it all over with kosher salt and a little black pepper. A 3 pound bird will use about a tablespoon of kosher salt. Slide an herb sprig under the skin pocket of each breast and thigh. Tuck the wingtips behind the neck but do not truss the bird.
2. Refrigerate chicken, lightly covered with a paper towel or two, for 24 hours to 3 days. This gives the salt an opportunity to season and tenderize the meat.
3. An hour or so before you want to start roasting your chicken, and about two hours before you want to eat, preheat your oven to 475° F and bring your chicken out of the frig so it can come to room temperature.
4. Preheat a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat for several minutes, until quite hot. (I used a large roasting pan, that happens to be Teflon coated and 2 chickens sat in the pan perfectly.) Place the resting chicken, breast-side-up, in the hot skillet. It should sizzle. Transfer immediately to the hot oven. If your skillet isn’t well seasoned, and you worry about sticking, add a bit of olive oil or lard to the skillet just before you add your chicken the skillet.
5. Roast chicken for about 40 minutes to an hour, until fully cooked but still juicy. (If you have a 5-pound bird, it may take 75-85 minutes.) The skin should be beautifully golden and paper thin across the thigh, and the thigh joint should feel lose.
6. When chicken is cooked, using a utensil poked into each end of the bird, carefully tip the bird so the cavity is down and drain the juices from the chicken. Slash the skin between thigh and breast to let out any trapped juices there. Transfer chicken to a platter to rest. Whisk the pan juices in the skillet to release any caramelized bits stuck to the bottom of the pan, then transfer juices to a fat separator if you have one (or use a small bowl) and set aside for 5-10 minutes to allow the fat to rise to the top. You’ll use about ¼ cup reserved juices (not the fat); if you have more, save extra for another purpose.
7. SALAD: While chicken is roasting, prepare the bread salad.
8. VINAIGRETTE: For the vinaigrette, add the currants and minced red onion to a bowl. Add red and white vinegar and set aside for about ten minutes, to allow currants to plump. Then, add Dijon mustard and olive oil and whisk until well blended. Set aside. This can be made a few hours ahead.
9. BREAD: Brush all bread slices liberally with olive oil and salt to taste. Place toast slices under a preheated broiler or in a dry skillet set over medium heat and toast until golden brown. Some darker and lighter spots are fine. (I cut the bread into cubes, and toasted them, lightly tossed with some olive oil in a 375° oven for about 12 minutes until golden brown.)
10. When toasted bread is cool enough to handle, tear into rough, bite-sized hunks if you didn’t cut the bread into cubes at the beginning. Some larger and some smaller pieces are fine. Put toasted bread pieces in a large bowl. (You can make the bread a few hours ahead, but once cool, place them in a sealing plastic bag to keep them crispy.)
11. Heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a pan. Add the smashed garlic cloves and pine nuts and warm all over medium heat until the pine nuts are toasty but not burnt and the garlic has softened.
12. Add garlic, pine nuts and any olive oil from the pan to the bowl with the toasted bread pieces. Set aside until you are ready to finish the salad.
13. FINISHING: Gather the bowl with the toasted bread, the vinaigrette, the reserved pan juices from the roast chicken and 4-6 handfuls of arugula.
14. Toss the bread with the chicken juices and add about half of the vinaigrette and stir to combine. You want the bread to soak up those juices, so give it a minute if needed. Add in the arugula, toss, and taste for seasoning. Adjust by adding salt, pepper, more vinaigrette, or a tiny splash of red wine vinegar if needed. (Mine was perfect, using about 3/4 of the vinaigrette.)
15. Serve the chicken pulled into pieces, over the bread salad. Good hot or room temperature. If you have extra vinaigrette (I did), serve it at the table and allow guests to pour a bit of it on top of the chicken pieces, if desired.
Per Serving (disregard it all – it shows high calorie because the recipe assumes you consume all the skin, and fat and the sodium is high because of all the salt patted on the bird during its dry brining): 730 Calories; 47g Fat (58.5% calories from fat); 44g Protein; 31g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 188mg Cholesterol; 1688mg Sodium.

Posted in Chicken, Soups, on March 18th, 2015.

lemony_chix_orzo_soup

 

There’s still a minimal amount of cooking going on at my house these days. I’m going to cooking classes occasionally, and I’m reviewing books, and I am cooking, but I’m not doing much cooking that’s all that noteworthy. Worthy of a blog post, anyway. But this soup, oh gosh, is it ever good. Such comfort food, good for cold weather and something to come in from the rain to enjoy.

Actually my daughter Sara and I made this several months ago. I realized that I’ve had the recipe up in my browser for a good long time and hadn’t ever transferred the recipe to my software (MasterCook). Then I went looking for the picture I’d taken of it. Couldn’t find it. So, the credit goes to Bon Appetit, whence the photo came, from the article they did on this soup years ago.

An equally long time ago – a couple of years ago, I’d think – I wrote up another recipe with a similar title (Lemon Chicken Soup with Orzo) , from my friend Linda. It’s a thick soup with oodles of orzo in it. This one is completely different – it’s a more brothy soup, with very little orzo, but enough that you know it’s there. It’s a very flavorful broth (from canned stock), and it has big shreds of chicken meat. And celery and leek, and a lovely sprinkling of fresh dill when it’s served. The day Sara and I made this at her home in San Diego, we were trying to make 2-3 dinners on a Saturday so she’d have some things already made for busy school nights with her family. We had this for dinner that night, and we just couldn’t get enough of it. It’s the lemon juice that makes it – and there’s almost nothing made with lemon juice that I don’t like – so it was a given I’d be head of heels in favor of this soup.

It’s not hard to make – just buy a leek, some fresh chicken thighs (or breasts), have celery on hand, chicken broth, and then some dill. Don’t forget the dill – it’s essential. Oh, and the lemons, obviously.

What’s GOOD: everything about this soup is delicious. As I mentioned, the lemon flavor was what struck me first, and I loved the fresh dill too. Hearty, but not thick. Remember, it’s a brothy soup. No cream or dairy in it. Healthy soup too, but you’d never think it because it’s so flavorful.

What’s NOT: nary a thing. I loved this soup. I have a small Ziploc bag in my freezer right now – Sara sent me home with one portion. I need to find it. I’m not making a whole lot of headway at cleaning out my freezer.

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Lemony Chicken and Orzo Soup

Recipe By: Bon Appetit, April, 2013
Serving Size: 4

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium leek — white and pale-green parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced crosswise 1/2-inch thick
1 celery stalk — sliced crosswise 1/2-inch thick
12 ounces chicken thighs without skin — boneless (or use chicken breasts)
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
Kosher salt — freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup orzo
1/4 cup fresh dill — chopped
Lemon halves (for serving)

1. Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add leek and celery and cook, stirring often, until vegetables are soft, 5-8 minutes. Add chicken and broth; season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer until chicken is cooked through, 15-20 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate. Let cool, then shred chicken into bite-size pieces.
2. Meanwhile, return broth to a boil. Add orzo and cook until al dente, 8-10 minutes.
3. Remove pot from heat. Stir in chicken and dill. Serve with lemon halves for squeezing over.
Per Serving: 226 Calories; 9g Fat (29.3% calories from fat); 29g Protein; 22g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 40mg Cholesterol; 117mg Sodium.

Posted in Chicken, on January 7th, 2015.

chicken breasts with an asian lemon sauce

What makes this Pacific Rim? The little tiny jot of soy in the lemon sauce. There are 3 steps to this (the sauce, the marinade and cooking the chicken).

My cousin Gary was visiting over the last 2 weeks of December, and I tried to do a little bit more dinner-cooking than I had been. And after having many very elegant and fancy meals over the holidays, I offered to fix some chicken. I looked through Phillis Carey’s cookbook, Fast & Fabulous Chicken Breasts, and found this recipe I’d not made before. The chicken is marinated in a simple mixture of oil, lemon juice, zest, ginger and garlic. If you want to make this up a bit ahead, you can – maybe 2-3 hours. Longer than that and the lemon juice will start to “cook” the chicken through the acid chemistry.

While the chicken marinated I quickly mixed up the sauce – very easy – chicken broth, lemon juice, zest, sugar, the tiny bit of soy sauce in this dish and cornstarch. It took 3-4 minutes to make and then I just left it sitting in the pan on the back of the stove until I was ready to plate this. Meanwhile, Gary and I made mashed potatoes, and I also made some fresh veggies – sugar snap peas and mushrooms sautéed in a bit of oil and butter, salt and pepper. Gary had never had cooked sugar snaps before – he liked them a lot.

When everything was coming together, I put the chicken breasts into a nonstick pan heated to medium-high (Phillis’ original recipe called for grilling the chicken, but it was gosh-darned cold outside, so I just did them in a pan) and quickly browned them on both sides (in the marinade), then turned down the heat and simmered them until they were just done to perfection (at 155°F)  using my Thermapen to measure the temp. I heated the plates, and oh, were they hot! But that kept the chicken and mashed potatoes warmer than they’d been on a cold plate. The sauce was reheated gently (and I ended up adding just a tiny bit of extra water because it was a bit too thick for me) and poured on top, then it was garnished with cilantro. In the recipe below I’ve doubled the sauce recipe because with the size of standard chicken breasts these days (big, from Costco) there definitely wasn’t enough sauce. If you use smaller chicken breasts, you can reduce the sauce proportion.

What’s GOOD: it was a healthy entrée; it was easy – relatively – although to some people if you have to make a marinade and a sauce, that constitutes difficult. I did have some help – Gary peeled potatoes and cleaned sugar snaps while I did the rest. I think this will be a good re-heat-able dinner – with the sauce kept separate. I’ll only need to microwave the chicken breasts and reheat the sauce.

What’s NOT: only that there are a few steps to making this.

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Chicken Breasts with Asian Lemon Sauce

Recipe By: Phillis Carey, cooking instructor and author
Serving Size: 4

4 pieces boneless skinless chicken breast halves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon cilantro — chopped
1 tablespoon fresh ginger — minced
1 clove garlic — minced
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 pinch red pepper flakes
LEMON SAUCE:
1 cup low sodium chicken broth
1 cup fresh lemon juice
4 teaspoons lemon zest
12 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
4 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt — (optional)
4 tablespoons cilantro — minced (garnish)

1. Trim chicken and pound to an even 1/2-inch thickness. Place chicken in a flat baking dish (or in a ziploc plastic bag). Stir together the oil, cilantro, ginger, garlic, lemon juice, zest and red pepper flakes. pour over the chicken, turning to coat. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes, or cover and refrigerate for 2-3 hours (no more or it will start to “cook” the chicken).
2. SAUCE: Whisk all ingredients together in a small saucepan, making sure there are no lumps. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly, until thickened. Set aside until ready to serve. If it cooks very long it will get too thick, so thin with a tablespoon or so of water to reach a pourable consistency. Reheat over gentle heat until bubbling.
3. Remove chicken from marinade and grill or pan saute for 3-5 minutes per side or until cooked through. Chicken breasts should be cooked to 155°F. Place chicken on heated plates (or a platter) and spoon on the sauce. Sprinkle with cilantro to garnish.
Per Serving: 439 Calories; 12g Fat (23.8% calories from fat); 31g Protein; 54g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 68mg Cholesterol; 780mg Sodium.

Posted in Chicken, Soups, on November 26th, 2014.

Easy soup in the slow cooker - chicken chili soup with a bit of bittersweet chocolate

Without a doubt, this soup could be made with leftover turkey – in which case you wouldn’t need to use the slow cooker. But the flavors are lovely. Simple to make. Hearty for a cold night.

Making this soup was a milestone for me in more ways than one. If you’re not a regular reader of my blog, you won’t know that I’ve been suffering from plantar fasciitis in my left foot, and the most painful thing I do is stand still. So standing at my kitchen counter is painful.

When I do stand there, usually for just a very short time, I put more weight on the other foot, which then makes my right hip talk to me. I also try putting more of my weight on the ball of my foot, which doesn’t hurt. But that isn’t exactly comfortable for any length of time, either. Anyway, I’ve purchased another pair of the shoes that are so much better (Brooks Glycerin 12’s) and now I’ve added in two more things: Aetrex arch supports (which have a cloud-like feeling to me) and Feetures cushioned socks. Those have made a huge – and I mean huge – difference in my walking ability. Even some of the standing-still ability as well. Of course, if I’d lose 50 pounds, my foot might not hurt so much.

I’m tired of eating out. Not that I’ve done that every day – I don’t. I’ve dug things out of the freezer lots of nights. I had more of that fabulous Moroccan Harira Chicken Soup, that I can’t get enough of, some lentil soup I made many months ago, before my injury to my foot, and I’ve defrosted some pork chops and have managed to stand long enough to cook those in a skillet. I’ll make some fresh vegetables – love Brussels sprouts with dried cranberries and a tiny bit of maple syrup drizzled in at the end. Or zucchini and onion with thyme. Nothing very exciting for veggies, but they’re something I can do without too much standing. I visit my local Mexican place once a week. And I buy any number of things at Trader Joe’s. I’ve poached salmon in my Lekue case on a number of occasions because it’s done in the microwave. And I stick a few veggies in there too, so it’s a meal in one. I discovered an ancient bag of soup in my frozen Soup Library that was made in 2009 – a Mexican Black Bean Sausage Chili. Oh my goodness was it delicious. I ate it 3 nights in a row. Who says frozen food doesn’t taste good after a year. I thought it was great, and it was 5 years old! I also make myself an omelet for dinner once in awhile. If I have a big lunch out, then I eat salad (often one from Trader Joe’s ready-made ones, my current favorite being Chicken Citrus Salad) or soup, or even cold cereal on occasion.

All that story leading up to the fact that the other night I WANTED to cook. That’s the other milestone. Since Dave died (8 months ago now), my interest in cooking has been only because I needed to feed myself. The joy of cooking had completely vanished. I won’t say that I didn’t enjoy eating the food I ate, I just didn’t want to cook it and if I cooked, it wasn’t fun at all. This particular morning, though, I thought about what I’d like to have and felt that I’d be able to do something in my small crockpot. I went to one of my crockpot cookbooks and found this one. I had all the ingredients, so that made the decision very easy. What appealed to me was beef stew, but I didn’t have any beef chunks in the freezer, so that idea went down the drain. I did have chicken, though. I almost always have chicken breasts and thighs on hand.

So with this recipe I’m celebrating the fact that I wanted to cook and that I was able to stand up at the kitchen counter long enough to do the food prep. Hooray! I had 2 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken thighs. I cut them up into large-ish bite-sizes. I sautéed the onions, added the garlic in at the end, sort of browned the chicken, then added in everything else and let it slow cook for about 2 1/2 hours. The recipe said 6-8 on low, 3-4 on high. Well, that didn’t work for me – this soup was completely done in about 2+ hours on low. I went online and read another website with this recipe (which came from Andrew Schloss’s Art of the Slow Cooker: 80 Exciting New Recipes). Others commented that the chicken was dry after that many hours, so I’d definitely not leave this to cook all day. Chicken thighs do have a lot more moisture, but chicken breasts would probably be done in an hour. You could slow it down by using chilled chicken broth, chilled canned tomatoes, etc.

Based on info I found in the comments at that website, I added a large can of tomatoes and more chicken broth. For myself, and because I’d added more liquid volume to it, I also amped up the spices just a little – rounded the teaspoons for all of them. I added regular grocery-store chili powder, which doesn’t have much heat – use your own judgment about that for you and your family. If I served this again, I might also add just a little bit of frozen corn (just to give it some color). Corn isn’t necessary, but it would be a nice addition. I’ve added it into the recipe below even though I didn’t use it. The chocolate – well, it wasn’t noticeable, to me. I think it would need more than an ounce. Someone else used chocolate chips, chopped up some.

What’s GOOD: how easy and quick it was to put together. You do need to sauté the onions (which gives them more flavor). My small crockpot allows me to sauté in the pot. I took out the onions then added in the chicken, then added all the ingredients (except the cilantro and chocolate added at the last). It was really delish. For a quick meal you could do this on the stove and it would be ready in about 30 minutes, I suppose. I decided to use the slow cooker because I was going to be gone for awhile in the afternoon (went to a movie). When I got home the soup was done to perfection.

What’s NOT: this isn’t really complex chili – although by adding your own type of chili powder (ancho? New Mexico?) it might change the flavors some. I was completely satisfied, though, for a quick dinner. I now have frozen half of it and will eat the rest for another 2 meals. If you’re feeing 6 hungry people, it might not be enough. Add another can of beans perhaps?

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Chocolate Chicken Chili Soup

Recipe By: Adapted some from Art of the Slow Cooker by Andrew Schloss
Serving Size: 6

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs — cut in 1/2″ cubes
1 large onion — finely chopped
4 cloves garlic — minced (yes, really 4)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin — preferably ground from whole seeds toasted in a dry skillet
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 teaspoons chili powder — your choice of type, mild to hot
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
3 teaspoons flour — (optional)
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
28 ounces diced tomatoes — preferably fire-roasted, with their juice
15 ounces canned white beans — drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen corn — (my suggestion)
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate — broken into pieces or chopped finely
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro — with more for garnish

Note: I did all of the cooking of this in my slow cooker as it has a saute setting. Then I added in all the ingredients (except cilantro and chocolate) and brought it up to temp (still on the saute setting), then I reduced the heat to slow-low.
1. Heat the oil in a large deep skillet and saute the chicken until it looses its raw color, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a 5-6 quart slow cooker.
2. Add the onion to the oil remaining in the skillet and saute until tender, about 2 minutes.
3. Add the garlic, cumin, oregano, thyme, chili powder, cinnamon, salt, pepper, and flour and stir until the onion is evenly coated. Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
4. Add the broth and tomatoes and stir until the liquid boils and thickens. Transfer to the slow cooker.
5. Add the beans (and corn, if adding), cover and cook for 2-3 hours on high or 3-4 hours on low. My soup was done in about 2 hours.
6. Reduce the cooker to warm. Add the chocolate and cilantro and stir until the chocolate melts, about 2 minutes. Serve immediately with additional cilantro on top or hold on warm for up to 2 hours. Serve with cornbread, biscuits or flour tortillas.
Per Serving: 430 Calories; 21g Fat (40.1% calories from fat); 37g Protein; 35g Carbohydrate; 8g Dietary Fiber; 120mg Cholesterol; 725mg Sodium.

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