Aptly Named

Everyone, it seems, goes through a phase in which they detest their given name, wondering what possessed their parents to give such a truly horrid name when it could have been something sooo much better. I used to hate my name, Melody, which implies a musical ability that is utterly lacking but is actually my great-grandmother’s maiden name. I was a kid when the show ‘Mel’s Diner’ was on TV and I used to be so annoyed when people would say ‘Hey, Mel, how’s the diner business?’. Me: Oh, that was original! No, wait, you said that yesterday too. 😛  I used to think life would have been far better if my mother had used the ‘Rachel Nadine’ that was her second choice. Instead I used those names for a couple of my favorite sheep while in high school. 😉

Now I get to watch my kids go through this. Tartlet 1 would have preferred Eleanor, Tartlet 2 has picked Beth Kate, Katie Roelle and a few others for her future stage names, Tartlet 3 likes Daisy or wishes we would change her name to Emily since most people screw it up and call her that anyway, and Tartlet 4 just wants ‘Princess’ in her title, the name after it isn’t as important.

But these little delightful bites of chicken yumminess are definitely sporting the correct moniker, ‘Delicious Chicken Bits’. I first made these last week and have already made them a second time, doubling the recipe both times. The younger kids prefer less spice and certainly by decreasing or leaving out the pepper you can adjust the heat, but my eldest loves this. I served them first with toothpicks to pick them up and tonight I served the leftovers with some yellow rice and peas. Mmm, good stuff. The chicken is amazingly tender and tasty.

Delicious Chicken Bits
(from Quick and Easy Indian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey)

1 1/4 lbs boned, skinned chicken breasts (4 breast pieces)
1 t. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 t. ground turmeric
1/4 t. cayenne pepper (I didn’t have this on hand so I used dried chipotle)
1 t. ground cumin
1 t. dried thyme or 1/3-1/2 t. ajwain seeds (which she says are difficult to find but I didn’t even bother to look as I had plenty of thyme)
1/4 t. garlic powder
1 t. bright red paprika
3/4 t. salt
1 Tbsp. oil (I didn’t add this either time and it was just fine)

2 Tbsp. oil for cooking

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Cut each chicken breast into thirds, lengthwise, and then crosswise into 3/4-inch to 1-inch segments. Put in a bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients. Mix well and set aside for 10 minutes or longer. (I put this in a zip bag and let it sit in the fridge for a couple of hours while I did some cleaning.)

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a wok or large, nonstick frying pan over very high heat. When the oil is very hot, put in the chicken. Stir and fry quickly until the chicken pieces are lightly browned or turn opague on the outside. Put in a baking dish, cover loosely with lightly oiled waxed paper (which should sit inside the dish and directly on the chicken pieces), and bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until the chicken pieces are just cooked through. If not to be eaten immediately, remove the chicken pieces from the hot baking dish to prevent them from drying out.

Hay, Hay, It’s Donna Day In Deuces!

How did we get so lucky? In the last HHDD event (the wonderful tribute to Donna Hay facilitated by Bron Marshall) there were two winners, so each selected a recipe for twice the Donna Hay pleasure (and even in two languages)! Meeta of What’s For Lunch, Honey? (perfect blog title!) chose a chicken satay for us, while Tartasacher of Mil Postres (thousand desserts, I love it!) selected a lovely grilled fruit with yogurt. It was the perfect pair for our lunch today.

At our house, anything that screams ‘Meat On A Stick’ sounds like a winner. I tweaked the Donna Hay recipe slightly to match what I had in the kitchen and it turned out so perfectly I’m afraid the kids will ask me to make it again and I won’t be able to repeat it! Tartlet 1, who naturally tends toward carnivorous behavior, ate *six* skewers of meat (seriously, that’s as much as pictured above!). Instead of cashews I used pistachios and I added some grated lime rind to the marinade, giving the resulting skewers an odd green tinge that wasn’t entirely appetizing at first look, but the taste was wonderful. My other modifications were minor. Thank you Meeta for choosing a winning recipe that is sure to be repeated in our house.

For the grilled fruit and yogurt, I had intended to make something slightly different but the bottle of nutmeg that I *know* I purchased this week could not be found. No doubt someone will find it in the potato bin next week or in the drawer with yogurt cups or something absurd! Instead I used the cinnamon as called for in the recipe but found other ways to make it unique.

Because I was using my homemade yogurt, made this time with whole milk, rather than a thicker commercial yogurt, I didn’t mix it with cream. I added the sugar and cinnamon and then grated some orange rind into the bowl, not bothering to clean the grater after the lime I had used in the chicken marinade, so there were bits of lime zest also. It had a lovely flavor. The kids who thought they weren’t going to like this dessert at all were practically licking their plates to get the last drops!

The sugar grilled fruit would work fabulously for dessert for two, but was a bit more time consuming for six. I was using a smallish pan and opted to only clean it after every two batches rather than after each one. I was also finding the sugar was not adhering symmetrically to the fruit so after a couple of batches I started just sprinkling some sugar in the bottom of the pan, placing the fruit slices on top, and sprinkling the tops with a little more sugar. That worked very well for me. I chose two varieties of apples — Jazz (oh, YUM!) and Pinata (not as spectacular but good), pears, and peaches for my fruit. Although I originally chose those because I like them with nutmeg, they also work fabulously with cinnamon and orange. As I said, we were all scraping up the last bits of our dessert today. Thank you, Tartasacher, for a fabulous simple dessert that the kids have already requested that I not only make again, but teach them to make also!

Recipes after the jump. Continue reading

Fruit: It’s Not Just For Dessert

I know it seems like we just dine out or eat desserts all the time around here, but, honestly, we do eat other things! 😉 I bought a new Foreman Grill just before Christmas and have used it several times already. Most recently, I used it to grill a large flat of boneless chicken breast. Because I was serving it with BBQ sauce initially, I did not season it all before grilling it. After dinner and a lunch of leftovers, there were two chicken breasts left — not enough for the whole crew for lunch by itself, but, by turning it into chicken salad, I had enough leftovers for another lunch for myself the next day! A perfect way to stretch out the menu. This wasn’t made from a recipe, but from simply tossing in this and that, whatever was on hand.  It’s a little bit of summer to shake the winter blues.

Chicken Salad
2 grilled boneless chicken breasts, cubed
1 apple (Jonagold in the picture), cored & chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
1/3 – 1/2 c. chopped pecans
1/3 – 1/2 c. dried cranberries
1-2 Tbsp. finely minced onion
2 Tbsp. low-fat mayo
1/4 c. (or more, depending on your taste) Ranch dressing (mine was made by mixing a dry packet with plain yogurt)

Toss all ingredients until well mixed. Great plain, on a sandwich, or on a bed of greens.

Betty’s Teriyaki Chicken

Although I’ve enjoyed some good teriyaki at the homes of other people, I’ve never had good success trying to reproduce it at home.  And any of the bottled sauce I’ve purchased has been nothing but disappointing.  When I found this recipe for Grilled Teriyaki Chicken in my inbox, I was cautiously optimistic.  I only had enough ingredients on hand to make enough marinade for about half the drumsticks I purchased (I bought them rather than chicken breast because it was on sale!) and I thought it would be good to have some plain ones anyway, just in case this was a total loss.  It was anything but!  This was very popular.

I served it with some brown rice that I made using beef broth (because I didn’t have any chicken stock on hand) with fresh pineapple juice (~1/3 c. for 2 1/2 c. raw rice) and a few spoons of marinade before I added the chicken to it.  It was tasty, but could have used a little more of  the flavoring from the marinade and a little more pineapple juice.  We also had corn on the cob, green salad, and fresh fruit to round out the meal.  Mmm!  It was a great summer meal and one we will definitely repeat.  I’m copying the recipe here, just in case Betty Crocker dumps it from the site later.

Teriyaki Marinade (from BettyCrocker.com)

1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (I left this out since I was using skin-on drumsticks)
2 teaspoons grated gingerroot
2 cloves garlic, crushed
8 bone-in chicken breast halves (about 3 pounds)

In shallow glass or plastic dish or heavy-duty resealable food-storage plastic bag, mix all Teriyaki Marinade ingredients.

Add chicken; turn to coat with marinade. Cover dish or seal bag and refrigerate, turning chicken occasionally, at least 1 hour but no longer than 24 hours.

Heat coals or gas grill for direct heat. Remove chicken from marinade; reserve marinade. Cover and grill chicken, skin sides up, 5 to 6 inches from medium heat 15 minutes. Turn chicken. Cover and grill 10 to 20 minutes longer, turning and brushing 2 or 3 times with marinade, until juice of chicken is no longer pink when centers of thickest pieces are cut. Discard any remaining marinade.

Working On Those “Iffy” Relationships

At some point or another we all seem to have a relationship that makes us ask the question, “Why do I bother?”. You wonder why you keep investing time and energy to try to make it work when it would be so much simpler to just let it go. You could save yourself headaches and hours of therapy.

I’ve had that sort of relationship with my crock pot. I like the idea of it, but the reality never quite works out to my expectations. I’m not a big soup fan (once a month in the cool months is plenty) but that’s the one thing that generally works in the crock pot. Most of the time, though, I find myself disappointed with the texture and flavor of meals I make in the crockpot compared to those I make in the oven or on the stove top. I like the flavor of the herbs and seasonings to be fully realized, not drowned in a sea of juices and fat.

I also hate to clean the thing. I mean, it’s got a removable crock and it’s dishwasher safe so it ought to be really easy, right? But it’s so darn big that I often end up washing it by hand, which means I don’t even want to get it out of the closet in the first place.

Enter the Reynolds Slow Cooker Liner. You can get a free sample at the website, so go check it out, cheesy ad and all. The people who brought you the oven bag for your Thanksgiving turkey, have brought you another easy clean up tool!

This week I made a chicken in the crock pot. Of course, chicken brings up another iffy relationship for me. While I was preparing the bird for the crock pot, I realized that part of the reason I’ve been able to eat chicken the last few years is because I generally buy the boneless, skinless breast. The whole bird, with its giblets and neck stuffed in the body cavity and fatty skin still on, vividly brought back the smell of wet feathers. While gagging, I put the liner in the crock according to the instructions, dumped in my cleaned bird, sprinkled it with seasoning, several cloves of garlic, onion, and celery, put the lid on and let it cook all afternoon.

It looks pretty nice here, but after it had cooked it was swimming in greasy chicken juices and looking less appetizing. I pulled off all the meat and left the rest of the mess in the bag. Once it was cool, I just grabbed the bag and tossed the mess out. There were a few spills in the crock, but it cleaned up much more easily than without the bag.

When I made soup for the ladies’ retreat I used a liner for the first time. Then, I tossed the ingredients for the soup in the bag and froze it without cooking. I was hoping I could take the bag out once it was frozen solid and not have to have the crock in the freezer too, but I didn’t make it very far in advance and it didn’t seem like there was enough room at the top of the bag to seal it once it was frozen. I think that’s worth trying again, however, because how handy would it be to be able to toss all the raw ingredients into the lined crock and then pull it out on the morning you want to use it and let it heat in the crock all day? When I arrived at the retreat late in the evening, my soup was still frozen solid and we wanted it for lunch so I put it in the heating unit on low all night and it was thoroughly cooked by 9 AM.

The biggest downside to the liners is the cost. They run about $4 for 5 bags. Maybe not something I would use every time if I were a frequent (weekly or more often) crock pot user, but worth it for my usage. It’s something to keep the relationship together for a while, but I think roasting chickens and I are just done.