Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Loaded Barbecue Chicken

I had this for the first time years ago at a restaurant in Cooper City, Florida; today versions of it are on tons of menus including Longhorn Steakhouse.

This is too easy to make at home to spend the money on it at a restaurant. For the cost of one serving at a restaurant, you can feed four at home. The chicken can be seasoned ahead, and "pre-cooked" microwaveable bacon can make the preparation easier. If you use the microwaveable bacon, don't microwave it; cut it into little pieces and saute in a tablespoon of olive oil so there are flavorful drippings for sauteing the onions and chicken.

To feed four:
  • Four 4-6 ounce boneless chicken breasts
  • 1 teaspoon EACH onion powder, garlic powder, chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4-6 ounces bacon, preferably center cut, diced into 1 inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup sliced onions
  • 1/3 cup favorite bottled barbecue sauce
  • 1 cup shredded colby-jack/cheddar cheese blend

Coat chicken with olive oil and seasonings. Let marinate, refrigerated, at least one hour and preferably at least 12.

Preheat oven to 400. Fry bacon in a large skillet until very crispy. Drain on paper towels. Saute onions in bacon drippings until softened. Remove from pan and spread in the bottom of a baking dish.

Brown seasoned chicken in the same skillet. Cook three minutes on each side. Remove from pan and place on top of the onions. Bake for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, coat chicken pieces with half of barbecue sauce. Bake another 10 minutes. Coat with remaining sauce. Top with bacon and cheese. Bake until cheese is melted and bubbly. Let stand five minutes before serving.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Tangy Herb Chicken

I feed some very picky eaters, so I am always on the lookout for tasty recipes that use boneless chicken and are easy to make after work. I found a recipe called Bistro Chicken on Kraft Foods website, and since I always consider recipes to be just a starting point, I added some extra herbs and Dijon mustard to it and fooled with the preparation method a bit. Warning: this contains Miracle Whip! I too was a little hesitant, but since it was already in the fridge, I figured "why not give it a try?"

Although it was viewed with a little suspicion, the reviews were raves! I served the chicken with green beans simmered in chicken broth, and my own version of Boston Market's Garlic Dill Red Potatoes. The potatoes cooked in the same time as the chicken, and it was a very nice and easy meal.

To make four servings:
  • 4 boneless chicken breasts
  • 1/3 cup Miracle Whip Light
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon each dried dill, thyme, rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Dried or fresh parsley to sprinkle on chicken

Combine all ingredients except chicken and parsley. Pat chicken dry with paper towels and coat with Miracle Whip mixture. Marinate, refrigerated, up to 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 375. Shake excess marinade from chicken. Do not discard marinade. Spray a baking dish with cooking spray or line it with foil.

Bake chicken 25 minutes or until internal temperature is 165 degrees. After 25 minutes, remove from oven. Switch oven to broiler on high. Pat remaining marinade over top of chicken pieces. Sprinkle with a little parsley and some freshly ground pepper. Pop under the broiler and WATCH carefully. When chicken coating is browned and bubbly, remove and let stand five minutes before serving.

Note: the picture above is for Kraft's version of this dish. Mine tastes different, but looks exactly the same! It all got eaten before I could take a picture!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Garlic Dill Red Potatoes

This is my version of Boston Market's famous side dish. Since the potatoes do not need to peeled, preparation time is short and cooking them is incredibly easy. Boston Market claims they use new potatoes, but regular red potatoes are just fine and much easier to come by, all year round.

I use garlic powder instead of fresh garlic in this dish because the garlic does not cook and some people are intolerant of (or just don't like!) fresh raw garlic.

  • 3 pounds red potatoes
  • 1/4 cup butter or margarine
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon dried dill weed, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt for cooking potatoes

Wash potatoes and cut away any bad spots on them. Slice into wedges or cut into large cubes. Rinse well after cutting.

Cover potatoes with cold water and add salt. Bring to a boil and cook for about 12 minutes or until tender when pierced with a fork. I like my red potatoes cooked a little more than most Boston Markets do -- I've had some that were frankly underdone, but that is a matter of taste.

While potatoes are cooking, melt butter or margarine in the microwave and add seasonings. Mix well, let sit for a few minutes and taste. Adjust seasonings as desired. I don't add any salt until after I mix the butter with the potatoes and taste. The potatoes will absorb salt while cooking, so keep that in mind!

When potatoes are done, drain and set back over the turned off burner for a minute. That will let them dry out as remaining water cooks off. Add butter mixture, mix gently, taste and adjust as needed. There is no going wrong with this dish -- add more butter if you want it, add more pepper. Serve immediately!

Leftovers, if there are any, are wonderful browned and scrambled with eggs.

General Cooking Hint: Because potatoes do absorb salt, throwing a quartered potato into a soup or stew or even spaghetti sauce will quickly absorb extra salt! Let cook and discard.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Guacamole, Three Ways

I love avocados. On anything and everything. Sandwiches, salads, just sprinkled with salt. LOVE THEM! There is nothing else in the world like a perfectly ripe avocado.

Of course the most common way people eat avocados in the US is in guacamole. I love it, and I have three VERY easy recipes to make it. I can't pick a fave among them because they all suit different moods and tastes.

No matter which guacamole style you like, it can and will turn brown if exposed to air. To make guac ahead of time and keep it fresh and bright looking, you need two things: acid (from the lime juice) and plastic wrap, pressed TIGHTLY onto the surface of the guacamole. Putting the pit from the avocado into the dish is a useless old wives tale. Never make guacamole in a metal bowl.

Do not, under any circumstances, use "Slimcados" or Florida avocados for guacamole. They have a higher water content, which makes them lower in fat and fine for sandwiches and salads, but also makes watery guacamole rather than creamy. NOT GOOD!

How to tell if your avocado is ripe? First of all, a Hass avocado will be black when it is ripe, but it can be black without being ripe. Press your thumb into it. If it leaves a SLIGHT depression, it's perfect. If it feels soft and mushy or lightweight for its size (which means it's close to rotten!), skip it. Over-ripe avocados are as bad as under-ripe ones. If all you can get are under-ripe ones but you have a couple of days, put them in a paper bag on the counter and they will ripen in about two days.

Simple Perfect Guacamole:
  • 1 avocado
  • 1/2 lime, juiced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

Blend all three ingredients until smooth or just mash with a fork for a chunkier guac. THAT'S IT! I first had this simple guacamole at a Mexican restaurant in Clarksburg, WV (yes, WV) in 1999 and fell in love with it. It's amazing - don't let the simplicity fool you. Of course, you can multiply this as much as you like. Two avocados and one lime makes enough for an accompaniment for a fajita dinner for six.

Easy Spicy Guacamole
  • 2 ripe avocados
  • 2 teaspoons Cajun/Creole Seasoning (try Tony Chachere's, Emeril's Essence or Zatarains)
  • 2 teaspoons lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro leaves, optional

Again, blend until smooth or mash with a fork. Taste and adjust as needed.

Loaded Guacamole
  • 2 ripe avocados, mashed well with a fork
  • 1 plum tomato, with seeds removed, diced
  • 1 green onion, sliced thinly, white and light green parts only
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped jalapeno pepper
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced, or 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon Creole seasoning (for spicer flavor)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt or Kosher salt (if NOT using Creole seasoning!)
After mashing avocado well, blend in lime juice, Creole seasoning or salt and garlic. Gently mix in diced tomato, onion, jalapeno pepper and cilantro leaves.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Tzatasiki Sauce

No matter how you choose to spell it, tzatsiki sauce is a food of the gods. Most Americans experience tzatsiki sauce as topping on a gyro or with souvalki; it is also amazing on its own as an appetizer dip with pita chips or as a sauce for other kinds of grilled chicken.

The bright flavors of dill (fresh or dried), cucumber and garlic, accented with a little olive oil, vinegar and pepper, elevate plain yogurt or sour cream to amazing heights. If you can find good cucumbers, this dish has the flavors of summer any time of the year. The optional mint is used in other Mediterranean/Middle Eastern versions of this sauce and creates an ever-so-slightly-sweet note in the sauce.

  • 16 ounces sour cream (not fat free) or plain yogurt
  • 1 medium cucumber
  • 3-6 cloves garlic, depending on size and to taste
  • 2 teaspoons dried dill or 2 tablespoons fresh dill weed
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • Sea salt for salting cucumber
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • Optional: 1 teaspoon dried mint leaves or 1 tablespoon minced fresh mint leaves

Grate cucumber using either the coarse side of a box grater or the shredding blade of a food processor. Salt cucumber and place in a colander; let drain at least one hour, pressing occasionally to force liquid out.

When cucumber has drained well, pat with paper towels to blot away any excess liquid and some of the salt. Mix cucumber with remaining ingredients. Stir well and refrigerate, covered, at least one hour. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Serve with grilled chicken or lamb, with pita chips, or on top of grilled beefsteak tomato slices.

For a recipe for pita chips, see yesterday's post: Tomato Bruschetta. Simply use garlic power, dill and black pepper to season chips.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Tomato Bruschetta

With the last of this year's tomatoes in stores and at farm stands now, I wanted to share this absolutely amazing way to enjoy them. This requires some chopping of the tomatoes, but the rest is just a waiting game for the flavors to blend.

Besides on garlic toasts, pita or bagel chips and bread, this tomato bruschetta makes a great cold pasta sauce -- toss with hot bowties or other short pasta for a quick and easy room temp pasta dish. Chill for pasta salad. Add slices of grilled chicken or pre-cooked chicken strips for a main dish. This is the perfect starter for that last barbecue for those of you up north and perfect all-year-round for those of lucky enough to live in the Sunshine State (except during hurricane season!).

Note: I like to make this with fresh herbs but they don't always look great and can cost a fortune, so dried are FINE. Just make sure to buy as small a quantity as possible so they get used before they lose their flavor. You might as well mow your yard and throw the clippings into your food at that point!
To make three cups or so bruschetta:
  • 10 Roma (plum) tomatoes. Use about 2 1/2 pounds other tomatoes if you can't get Romas or others look better.
  • 3 green onions, sliced -- dark green parts too!
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, finely minced, or 1 tablespoon jarred
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil leaves or 2 tablespoons fresh leaves, finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • A pinch dried chile flakes (pepperoncini)
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil - the best you can get

Rinse the tomatoes and chop them. Try to get as much of the seeds and glop (that's the technical term!) out of them as possible. Put tomatoes in a glass or plastic bowl - NO metal! -- with the rest of the ingredients. Toss to combine. Let sit for 30 minutes, covered, at room temperature. Taste and adjust seasonings to your taste. Let sit another 30 minutes at room temp if serving soon; if not refrigerate until serving time -- overnight is best!

  • Add five or six marinated artichoke hearts, drained and finely chopped
  • Add a roasted red pepper, diced
  • Omit garlic and add 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, or more to taste
To make homemade pita chips:
Cut pita breads into 8 triangles with scissors. For thick chips, leave alone. For thin ones, separate each triangle into two pieces.

Spread chips in a single layer and spray with olive oil cooking spray. Sprinkle with garlic powder and other herbs as desired (Italian seasoning blend, basil, oregano and rosemary are all good!). Bake at 425 for about 5 minutes or until desired crispness. Let cool and store in gallon sized plastic bags.

FYI, in the north and central parts of Italy, ordering bruschetta will get you grilled bread rubbed with a clove of garlic. The tomato version we are familiar with is unknown there!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Easy Lemon Chicken "Risotto"

Risotto is creamy, slow-cooked Italian rice dish made from special types of rice (usually arborio) that are short grained and have a high starch content that releases as the rice cooks, making a wonderfully warm and comforting dish. However, the time that risotto takes to cook -- every ingredient must be pre-chopped so it can be thrown in without taking away from the constant stirring required to make risotto cook completely and evenly -- means that it is not on most home menus, or at least not often.

I came up with a cheater way to make an almost risotto dish that has a spark of lemon flavor contrasted with creamy butter and Parmesan cheese. What's the cheat? Rice A Roni! Yes, the San Francisco treat. Any other rice pilaf type dish will work too -- I really like Publix brand rice pilaf -- as long as it has the orzo pasta or vermicelli in it for a different texture than rice alone.

Chicken breast, marinated in lemon juice and black pepper, adds a real punch, with no additional salt or fat, to the rice mix. The small amount of parmesan cheese added at the end makes it really creamy and softens the sharp edge of the lemon.

  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice (bottled is fine!)
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 packages Chicken Rice-A-Roni or other rice/pasta mix
  • 3 tablespoons butter or margarine, divided
  • Water according to package directions for rice/pasta mix
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup grated (NOT shredded!) parmesan cheese

Marinate chicken in lemon juice and pepper for at least 20 minutes in plastic bag or dish or a glass dish.

Heat 1 tablespoon butter or margarine in a large skillet or spray liberally with non-stick cooking spray. When hot, add chicken to skillet. Use a slotted spoon to remove chicken from marinade and leave lemon juice behind. Brown chicken on all sides and remove from pan along with all juices.

Heat another two tablespoons butter or margarine in pan and brown rice and pasta mix according to package directions. Add water called for on the package directions as well as lemon juice reserved from marinating the chicken. Add chicken and juices back into the pan; bring to a boil.

Reduce heat, cover and simmer about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. After 20 minutes, test rice for doneness. If needed, add a little more water and continue cooking. When rice is done but creamy, remove heat and add Parmesan cheese. Let stand five minutes, covered, and serve.

  • Halfway through cooking add 1 cup frozen green peas and 1/2 cup roasted red peppers, diced.
  • Add 2 cups frozen broccoli and 1/2 cup slivered almonds halfway through cooking time.
  • Add 1 cup sliced mushrooms with chicken; reduce cooking liquid by 2 tablespoons.