Tag Archives: Chicken

Easy Weeknight Chicken Ideas

I suspect that most families (those who aren’t vegetarian, anyway) opt for chicken at least twice a week. We often fall into the chicken rut because my husband doesn’t like fish and is allergic to shellfish, and I don’t like to eat pork or beef. So when we eat at home, we eat eggs, vegetarian dishes and chicken. I get my seafood and he gets his steak on the outside.

I probably don’t need to tell you that chicken every other night can get boring fast. Not too long ago, I could barely face the prospect of eating chicken again. When we get bored, we tend to go out to eat, which is not healthy for the wallet or the waistline. So I had to find some way to jazz up plain old chicken while still getting dinner on the table in a half-hour or so.

I mined my cookbooks for ideas for quick chicken dishes that I could easily vary from week to week. Here are five very simple chicken dishes I found that were a hit with everyone else at the table. All of these recipes make use of that staple of weeknight cooking: boneless chicken breasts. If you find yourself getting bored, try varying the seasoning or vegetables to create entirely new dishes.

Honey baked chicken: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix ½ cup honey, ¼ cup mustard and 1 tablespoon seasoning mix of your choice. Lightly spray a baking dish with cooking spray and arrange 6 boneless chicken breasts in the dish. Brush both sides of the chicken with the honey-mustard mixture and bake until cooked through, about 30 minutes. This homey meal goes great with a big salad and baked or mashed potatoes. Slice leftover chicken breasts for sandwiches.

Cheesy chicken: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Whisk together 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon chili powder, 1 minced garlic clove, salt and a dash of cayenne to taste. Toss 4 boneless chicken breasts in this mixture and place them in a baking dish lined with foil. Toss each breast with a mixture of diced bell pepper, onion and tomatoes. Roast until cooked through, about 20 minutes. Top each chicken breast with shredded colby-jack cheese and return to the oven until the cheese is melted. Serve with plain rice for a full meal.

Braised chicken: In a large skillet over medium, add 2 cups chicken stock, 2 sliced onions and 2 tablespoons butter. Simmer uncovered until the onions are tender and the liquid is reduced, about 10 minutes. Season 4 chicken breasts with salt and pepper, and place them on top of the onions. Place a couple of rosemary sprigs on top. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes. Remove the chicken and onions to a platter, raise the heat, and add 2 more tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Bring to a boil and pour the sauce over the chicken to serve. This dish goes well with a green salad and French bread.

Chicken tacos: Poach the chicken in barely simmering water until cooked through. Let cool and then shred (or substitute ground chicken). Season the chicken with taco seasoning mix, and warm with jarred salsa for a few minutes. Wrap soft tortillas in foil and warm them in a low oven. Let everyone fix their own tacos with plenty of shredded lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, onions, sour cream and guacamole for fixings.

Grilled chicken and bacon: For this recipe, you need a hinged grill basket. Season boneless chicken breasts with salt and pepper, and place sliced onions on top. Wrap each chicken breast with 2 slices of bacon and place in the grill basket. Close the basket and grill, turning once or twice, until the chicken is cooked through and the bacon is crispy, 10-12 minutes. Serve with a big dish of grilled vegetables and some crusty bread.

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Nachos

As a special Memorial Day holiday weekend treat, last night I made chicken nachos. You don’t really need a recipe for nachos. It’s more of an assemblage of tasty things you like to eat on top of an extremely unhealthy mound of tortilla chips.

This time, I made chicken nachos. I used rotisserie chicken purchased already cooked from the grocery store. I pulled off the skin, shredded the meat and tossed it with some barbecue sauce, a little bit of apple cider vinegar and a tiny bit of Tabasco. (I didn’t use all the chicken, so the rest I’ll eat in sandwiches and salads throughout the week).

I spread the chips out on a baking sheet and piled the chicken mixture on top. I then added my favorite nacho fixings: pickled jalapenos, diced tomatoes and lots of cheese, including cheddar, Monterey Jack and queso. Heat in a 400-degree oven for 10 minutes to melt the cheese and crisp the chips, then pile onto a platter. I garnished these nachos with scallions and served freshly made guacamole on the side in place of sour cream.

As you can see, nachos are an infinitely adaptable recipe, and the kind you make at home are every bit as good as the appetizers you get in restaurants. Even better, because you choose what goes on top. Some other ideas we had for topping nachos include refried beans, corn, ground meat cooking with taco seasonings, chopped onions and sour cream.

It’s not the healthiest dinner, I’ll admit, but for a once-in-a-while treat, nothing could be easier.

Super-Simple Chicken Soup with Vegetables and Pasta

I have been trying to eat more soup recently, and not just because it’s winter. There are so many reasons why soup is a great meal that we should strive to eat every day. Soup is easy to make and adaptable to whatever ingredients are available. It’s easy to get a daily serving of veggies in — just throw them in the soup pot. Also, soup is satisfying and filling, a boon if you are trying to eat less and lose weight (which many of us are after the excess of the holidays).

Chicken soup is a classic that everyone loves. I don’t follow a recipe to make this soup, but rather use the vegetables I already have on hand. With small pasta such as orzo or macaroni and boneless chicken breasts, this soup can be prepared in less than 30 minutes.

It’s perfectly okay to use store-bought stock for this soup; I prefer the organic brands, such as Swanson’s or Pacific Natural, which are sold in aseptic containers. However, it is easy to make chicken stock, and it only takes about an hour. Homemade stock tastes much richer than any stock you can buy, so why not make your own?

To make a quick chicken stock, cut up a three- to four-pound chicken and put the pieces in a large pot. Roughly chop 1 large onion, 1 large carrot and 1 celery stalk (don’t bother to peel), and add them to the pot, along with 1 bay leaf and a few whole peppercorns. Pour in 14 cups water. On high heat, bring just to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer. Cook for at least one hour and no more than two hours. Cool slightly and strain out the solids. Reserve the chicken breasts to use in any recipe calling for cooked chicken meat. If you are not making soup right away, refrigerate the stock and use within three days, or freeze it for up to three months.

Now, to make the soup, peel and chop several kinds of vegetables into small pieces. Carrots, celery and onion are classic choices, but use whatever you have available. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large pot over medium-high. Saute the vegetables to lightly brown them. Add 1 garlic clove, minced, and saute another minute or two. Add 4 cups chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Cut 1 boneless chicken breast into small pieces and add to the pot, or if you made your own stock, shred the cooked breast meat and add that. Also add ¼ cup uncooked orzo, macaroni or other small pasta. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer, covered, until the chicken and pasta are cooked, about 15 minutes.

Sara Foster’s Southern Kitchen: The First Recipes

As I promised, I’m cooking from my brand-new Sara Foster’s Southern Kitchen over the next month and sharing the results here. At the end of the month, I’ll post a full-fledged review, but until then, you’ll just have to ogle the pictures. Try not to drool!

Last night, our theme was a warm-weather barbecue. From the cookbook, I made this gorgeous and delicious Salt and Pepper Skillet Cornbread. Honestly, this is going to be my main cornbread recipe from now on, it’s that good.

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To accompany, my husband grilled chicken slathered with West Tennessee Thick and Sticky BBQ Sauce. This sauce was so easy to make, and it tasted delicious. We had simply grilled eggplant slices to accompany.

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I also made Sara Foster’s Pimiento Cheese. Pimiento cheese is not my favorite thing, but it tastes miles better when it’s homemade, as opposed that florescent orange stuff they sell in the grocery store. No photo, but the recipe is online, and you can serve it on toasts made from the cornbread, which here’s my little one very much enjoyed.IMG_2014

Thanks to my husband for doing the grilling and taking the photos!

Chicken Nuggets and Fries

Ok, I’ve been putting off this challenge way too long. First, I put off making it — illness and holidays got in the way — and then I put off writing about it.

To tell you the truth, a meal of homemade chicken nuggets and fries was not one I was looking forward to making. I think of this as typical restaurant kid’s food, not a meal I would likely order for myself. I don’t even like to order it for my kid, although sometimes choices are limited. Since this isn’t a meal I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat, I didn’t think it was one I would enjoy making either. But I was challenged to make it, and I did.

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Homemade chicken nuggets.

I don’t ever deep-fry at home. My rationale is that deep-frying is unhealthy, messy and expensive when you consider how much oil is required. And it’s very easy (all too easy) to find good-tasting deep-fried foods when we go out to eat. It just doesn’t fit into what I consider good home cooking.

So I didn’t want to deep-fry either the nuggets or the “fries.” For the nuggets, after researching many different recipes, I decided to take a combination approach. I shallow-fried them for a few minutes to get the breading crispy, then transferred them to the oven to finish cooking.

Based on the recipes I read, it seemed that the best results came from soaking the chicken first in buttermilk, then rolling it in a hearty coating (heartier than flour), such as cracker or bread crumbs. I chose panko bread crumbs, which I spiced up quite a bit with paprika, cayenne and salt. I cut boneless chicken breasts into approximate nugget size before letting them soak in the buttermilk for a few hours. Then I rolled them in the coating and shallow-fried them in vegetable oil just until the coating browned. I transferred them to a baking sheet to finish cooking at about 425 degrees.

The nuggets were crispy, but certainly not as crispy or as yummy as their deep-fried counterparts would be. (I said I don’t like to deep-fry at home, but there’s no denying that deep-fried foods taste very good.) The breading had a tendency to slide off, too. I think the extra spices were essential. Otherwise, the dish would have been rather bland.

I added two dipping sauces to help with the blandness factor. One was a simple honey-mustard sauce: two parts mustard whisked with one part honey. The other was lemon juice whisked with a little olive oil, Italian seasonings and plenty of grated Parmesan. I actually liked the second sauce better with the crudites (raw broccoli, carrots, cherry tomatoes and celery) that I served with the chicken, but my husband preferred it on the nuggets.

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Two kinds of oven fries.

Now for the fries. I decided to try “oven-frying” them two different ways. I cooked both batches for about 30 minutes at 425 degrees.

For one set of fries, I used peeled Yukon gold potatoes. I cut them into wedge shapes and sprinkled them with a little oil, salt and some sugar. This was based on a recipe I found online, and I think the intention was to mimic the look of French fries. The potatoes did turn spotty brown where the sugar caramelized, but they didn’t taste at all fried; they tasted sweet. My husband liked them, but I didn’t.

For the other batch of oven fries, I used unpeeled russet potatoes. I tossed them with a bit more oil, coarse salt, paprika and cayenne. Again, these didn’t taste fried, although they more closely resembled the thick-cut steak fries that you find at some up-scale restaurants. I liked them a lot better, though.

For me, this meal rated about a C. I doubt I would make it again unless it was requested, although I would make the oven fries to serve with other dishes. My husband rated it a B+/A-. He was disappointed that I didn’t make more dipping sauces, particularly a barbecue sauce. My toddler declined to eat any of it at all. I guess it’s not real chicken nuggets and fries when your mom makes it.

I haven’t received this week’s challenge yet, so stay tuned. Also, now that the recent spate of holidays has passed, I promise to get back on a weekly cooking and posting schedule, at least for a while.

Cheesy Chicken Sandwiches

This week’s challenge was inspired by an article my husband saw in the New York Times Magazine, extolling the virtues of those cheesy, meat-filled sandwiches that taste so good after a night of drinking. Every college seems to have its own specialty, and the grandfather of them all is the Philly cheesesteak. My husband wanted me to create such a sandwich.

To be honest, I am not a fan of these types of sandwiches, as they are usually too greasy and heavy for me. So I tried to come up with a sandwich that pays homage to the cheesesteak and its ilk, but is still something I would like — that is, lighter and more flavorful.

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While the resulting sandwich is not a true cheesesteak in any sense, we both still enjoyed the results. It begins with a toasted hoagie roll (my husband says the bun would not be toasted in a real Philly cheesesteak, but I am a Southern girl and didn’t know this; besides, I like a crusty roll). Before toasting, I pulled out much of the doughy insides, leaving a bread shell in which to stuff the filling. This keeps the sandwich from spilling out all over your shirt as you eat it.

Inside the bun, layer sauteed, thinly sliced chicken; sauteed red onion and mushrooms; sliced sweet piquante peppers; and sliced provolone cheese. The whole torpedo is put in a hot oven for a few minutes to warm it through and melt the cheese. Meanwhile, spread on the top bun a homemade chili mayonnaise of my own concoction to add flavor and creaminess. My husband doesn’t like mayonnaise, but that doesn’t seem to apply to homemade, flavored mayos, which don’t taste anything like the jarred variety.

This challenge was a definite hit, and pretty easy to make too. Serve with a pickle and oven fries. Next week: a Mexican menu!

Chili Mayonnaise

I made this mayonnaise with a hand blender, but it can also be made in a blender or food processor or, if you are very industrious, whisked by hand.

Combine in the blender:

  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Cayenne pepper to taste (about a dash)
  • Juice of ½ lemon

Blend until well combined. While the blender is running, slowly pour in ¾ cup vegetable or canola oil. The mayonnaise should emulsify to a thick, yellowish-white consistency as you pour in the oil.

Mix into the finished mayonnaise:

  • ¼ cup chili sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • ¼ cup roasted red pepper, minced
  • ¼ cup scallions, minced
  • additional salt, cayenne and lemon juice to taste

The finished mayonnaise makes 1 cup and will keep in the fridge for about 1 week. In addition to eating it on the chicken sandwiches, I used it as a dressing for salad greens and for chicken salad, and I spread it on turkey sandwiches. Yum! I think it would also be very good as a dipping sauce for fried fish or boiled shrimp.

Happy Anniversary! A Simple Italian Meal

This past Sunday was our wedding anniversary (six great years!). We held our wedding at a charming Italian restaurant in downtown Raleigh, NC, called Caffe Luna. The main reason we chose Caffe Luna was because we love their food. They feature simple but delicious Italian cuisine that changes according to the seasons. I’ve always had a great meal there.

For my challenge last weekend, my husband wanted me to make some food we might have had at our wedding. You see, we didn’t actually get to eat much of the lavish buffet Caffe Luna put on for us. We were too busy being bride and groom that we barely sat down. But we heard from everyone else how great the food was, and it certainly looked good.

The problem with this challenge was that I couldn’t recall any specific dishes that were on the buffet. I remembered vaguely a few things — mixed vegetables, smoked salmon, poached salmon — but nothing more specific came to mind. Unfortunately, Caffe Luna’s website is not a big help. While they do have a catering menu online, it’s pretty bare bones: cheese and crackers; marinated chicken; marinated flank steak. That’s as much description as you get. To tell you the truth, I don’t think the menu is set in stone, but is rather based on what’s in season and available, which is how it should be. I remember that the buffet table was groaning with food. There certainly was a lot more than seems to be listed on the website menu.

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So I turned to my mainstay for Italian cooking, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan. If you like Italian food and you don’t have this cookbook, you are not cooking the best Italian dishes you could be. Every recipe I have made out of this book has been molto squisito. These recipes are very simple, as good Italian cooking should be. They let the ingredients shine and highlight the flavors with restrained additions, such as olive oil, fresh herbs, wine, salt and pepper.

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Unfortunately, because these dishes are so simple, my husband thought I cheated in last weekend’s challenge when I presented him chicken in white wine and lemon and a platter of baked vegetables. But even though the dishes weren’t a challenge to cook, they are a model of restraint, and the results were mouth-watering. They also reflected what I remember of Caffe Luna’s food at our wedding: good food and lots of it, simply prepared, wonderful to eat.

First up, the vegetables. Nothing could be easier. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Select an assortment of seasonal vegetables. I chose Yukon gold potatoes, red peppers, tomatoes and onions, but almost any vegetables will work. Peel the potatoes, peppers and onion. Cut everything into wedges (discarding the seeds and ribs from the peppers). Arrange on a large, oven-proof platter. Drizzle all over with very good olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss gently to make sure everything is well coated. Roast for 25-30 minutes, until the potatoes are browned on the edges and tender. The oil and juices from the vegetables combine in the bottom of the platter to make a delicious sauce, so don’t forget to drizzle the juices over the vegetables before serving.

While the vegetables are cooking, prepare the chicken. You can use bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces or boneless chicken breasts for this recipe, although bone-in chicken will take longer to cook. In a large pan, heat some olive oil and butter over medium-high. Brown the chicken pieces on both sides, about 2-3 minutes per side. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Add to the pan 3 peeled garlic cloves, the minced leaves from one rosemary stalk, salt and pepper. Pour in about ½ cup dry white wine. Partially cover and let cook, turning the chicken pieces once or twice, until the chicken is cooked through. Remove the chicken to a serving pan. The juices remaining in the bottom of the pan should be thickened and browned. Add the juice and zest of 1 lemon. Stir and scrape up any browned bits. Spoon this sauce over the chicken to serve.

Nothing could be simpler. But serve with good, crusty Italian bread, and you’ll have a meal fit for an anniversary celebration.

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