chicken

My own personal chicken-based rebellion

NOTE:  This post is not sponsored. I just got curious and I had a coupon for this product.

I’ve been feeling a little rebellious, lately. Sassy, if you will. If you’re into astrology, you might have some logical explanation for why a Virgo who thrives on order has literally decided to thrust herself into Let’s Just See What Happens-land this year, but from my end, it just feels like it’s not the time to play it safe. Even when I cook, I’ve been throwing caution to the wind. I’m usually not good at things not coming out the way I want them to in the kitchen, so this is kind of a big step for me, this being okay with not being sure thing.

But, here we are.

I’ll admit, this chicken recipe was somewhat of a calculated risk, in that, I sort of knew that if the product was what I thought it was, it would probably not be awful. However, when I saw a coupon for a free package of Bush’s “Hummus Made Easy” product on the local grocery store app, I will also admit to not really reading the package before I grabbed it and threw it in my cart. I got a general sense that if you put the contents of the packet into a food processor with a can of chickpeas, you’d end up with something resembling hummus.

You guys, I didn’t want hummus. I’m a little sick of hummus right now. I thought about hummus and it just made me kind of sleepy.

But it was free! And I already took it home! So….. I literally thought about nothing but the fact that I didn’t want to make hummus with this stuff for like, a week. Every time my brain tried to go into “screen saver mode,” it would jump back to this free package of hummus mix that was sitting in the cupboard. Waiting.

I’m taking a really long time to tell this story. Sorry, I got a little stream of consciousness there.

Anyhoots, someone at work used the word “marinate” when talking about thinking about something for awhile before making a decision, and then it hit me. Yes! I’ll use it as a marinade. Because I’d been marinating on this whole, “what to do with the free hummus stuff” thing so long, I feel like it was sort of meant, you know what I mean? I finally read the ingredients and discovered that the list was really straightforward. Nothing to be creeped out about at all: Water, tahini, olive oil, garlic, salt, lemon juice, sugar, and a little citric acid.

My FoodKeepr app told me I had some veggies in the fridge that were about to not be edible anymore, so I gathered those up, along with a package of chicken thighs, and set about turning this stuff into actual food. Not hummus.

Equipment:
Cutting board
Knife
Gallon sized zip top bag
Baking dish/Casserole dish type thing

Ingredients:
1 package of Bush’s Hummus Made Easy, Classic Flavor*
4-6 bone in, skin on chicken thighs
2 cups (ish) large diced red potatoes
1 cup (ish) white button mushrooms (or whatever kind you have handy), sliced or cut into quarters
4-5 stalks green onion, peeled and trimmed, but otherwise left whole
Pan spray
salt & pepper

Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 400°. Spray your casserole dish with a little pan spray, and set aside.
2. Season both sides of each chicken thigh with a little salt and pepper. Add the whole package of Hummus Made Easy to the plastic bag, then toss the chicken thighs in. Seal it up and give it a good roll around, then stick it in the fridge to marinate while you prep your veggies, about 15-20 minutes.
3. Dice your potatoes and mushrooms, and trim/clean the green onions. Add the veggies to the baking dish, season with salt and pepper, and give them all a toss so they make friends with each other.
4. Arrange the marinated chicken thighs on top of the veggies, then drizzle the whatever is left of the marinade over everything.
5. Cover the chicken and veggies with foil and pop into the oven for 35-45 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. If you want the thighs to brown a little, remove the foil for the last 10 minutes of cooking.

I served this with some farro, but it would work with plain old rice, or even couscous. Bear in mind, these are the veggies I had to use up, but if you have a different combo, go for it. Or, if you want to use a different protein, that’s cool, too. I think the Southwest version would be especially tasty with some pork chops, sweet potatoes, chunked up white onion and large diced pasilla or ancho chili peppers.


On the tasty scale, I give this one a solid nine, only because I didn’t get the foil off the chicken in time and the skin wasn’t as brown and crispy as I like. But that marinade really brought so much flavor to the party without having to add a lot of anything else, and it mingled with the chicken and veggie juices in a really lovely way. On the difficulty/effort scale, this recipe comes out at around maybe a four. You can have it on the table in, I’d say, an hour and 15 minutes, at the most, which makes it great for week nights, especially if you’re a meal prepper and have some of the work done ahead of time. Give it a shot, and let me know what you think!

*It also comes in a Southwest flavor, and a roasted red pepper flavor, and I’m sure those would be just lovely, as well.

Pesto Change-o

Like a lot of folks who are trying to eat a little healthier but rarely feel truly satisfied at the end of a meal that doesn’t contain a little meat, chicken has become a staple in our kitchen. It’s easy to work with, pretty affordable, and neutral enough in flavor that it goes with almost anything else you can put next to it. But, if you’ve found yourself leaning kinda hard on poultry to do the heavy lifting, you might be running out of ideas. That’s pretty much where I was when I started pondering ways to liven up the party.

I think I might have stumbled upon a good one, you guys. These chicken roll ups are packed with flavor, but portion controlled, and still hold the door wide open for very nearly any vegetable or starch you want to pair with them.  They’ve got just enough creamy and cheesy, thanks to goat cheese; a little bite of salty from black olives; some sweetness from the roasted red pepper; and the herbaciously savory goodness of pesto. It’s a perfect little package of yum.

Equipment:
Knife and cutting board
Medium mixing bowl
Spoon for mixing
Can opener
Measuring spoons
Large sheet pan
Tongs
OPTIONAL: Tooth picks

Ingredients:
1 package thinly sliced chicken breasts (mine had six pieces in it, which is what this recipe is based on)
Salt & Pepper
1 3.5 oz container of goat cheese crumbles
1 large roasted red pepper, small dice (You can either buy a whole jar of them and use the rest for a salad or something, or, if you want to just buy one fresh red pepper and roast it yourself, you can find directions here.)
2.5 tablespoons pre-made pesto
1.5 tablespoons chopped black olives
3 tablespoons finely chopped, fresh parsley
6 tablespoons shredded Parmesan (slightly more than 1/3 of a cup)
Pan spray

Preheat your oven to 325°.

In the mixing bowl, combine the goat cheese, diced red pepper, pesto, chopped olives, and chopped parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Spray your sheet pan with pan spray. Season both sides of each piece of chicken breast with salt and pepper, then lay them out flat, big end towards you, on the sheet pan. Place a heaping tablespoon of the filling on the big end of each piece of chicken, then roll them up, tucking the chicken around the filling as you go.  If you want to use a toothpick to make sure they stay rolled up, go for it. Mine held together without them, though.

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Pop the chicken roll-ups into the oven for 20 minutes, or until they’re just cooked through. Top each roll-up with one tablespoon of the shredded Parmesan, then put them back into the oven just until the cheese melts. Let them rest for 5-7 minutes before serving.

I had one for lunch with about 3 ounces of cooked farro, and I was pleasantly full. For a dinner sized portion, you could do two with a starch and a veg. As you probably figured out, this recipe makes six, but doubling the recipe is a cinch if you have more mouths to feed or want to make sure there are lots of leftovers. Also, if you wanted to add a little more color to the plate, take the remaining roasted red peppers and puree them up in the blender with a little water or stock and a pinch of salt for a nice bright sauce to drizzle over the chicken.

Enjoy!

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Kitchen 101: DJ! B-B-B-Break it down!

Touching raw chicken is icky. I’m getting that off my chest. I like chicken. I love cooking it and I love eating it, but I do not love touching it. Of course, as someone who wants to teach others to cook for a living, I realize it’s not the most inspiring thing to see your instructor making the “eww” face when handling an ingredient, so I’ve pretty much come to terms with the fact that barring me going militant vegan (NOT gonna happen), raw animal product and I are fated to be in contact.

Having said all that, I do see the benefit of taking matters into my own hands when it comes to doing a little of my own home butchery. There are all sorts of good reasons:

– Understanding the anatomy of the animal helps you know how each part of it should be prepared.
– Seeing the whole animal, or at least a larger part of the animal than just that nice, neat, packaged bit that’s already broken down for you, puts you face to face with the fact that this was once a living being, and if you’re going to eat it, I believe it’s important to honor the fact that its life was taken to provide sustenance for you and your family. I realize not everyone will have access to (or will ever really want access to) the entire process of raising an animal for food, but acknowledging that the act of eating meat does not begin with my trip to the grocery store feels important to me.
– And then, once I’m done with that little preachy bit, we’ll finally get to the “meat” of this week’s Kitchen 101–  It will save you money to break down the meat yourself.

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Most of the time, whole chicken costs less per pound than cut up chicken parts. In terms of yield, you’ll get more usable meat from that whole chicken by breaking it down yourself than you would from a whole, cut up chicken. From one whole fryer chicken you will get, at minimum, two large breasts (which can be further broken down into cutlets), two thighs, two legs, two wings (throw ’em in the freezer and eventually you’ll have a dozen or so that you can turn into an appetizer), plus the carcass, which can be used to make chicken stock. You can generally get (depending on how you’re preparing it) at least four meals out of that for a family of four, even more if you’re just a couple or a single. The chicken fat, which is referred to as “schmaltz”, can also be used in place of other types of fat or oil for sauteing or making sauces. When you buy a whole chicken, you’re also not paying for extra packaging or the cost of having someone else break it down for you.

You also may not have realized the potential food safety factors. A whole chicken is handled/processed less than a cut up chicken, thus reducing the risk of exposure to pathogens that lead to food borne illness. If you take what you’re saving from buying a whole chicken vs. the more processed one, that might give you the extra three or four dollars you’d  need to buy an organically and locally raised chicken, vs. one from a factory chicken farm. That means some of those “throw away” parts you might normally avoid using (like the bones, the skin, and the fat) can be safer/cleaner to eat.

And now that I’ve told you all that, you might be wondering about the most efficient way to break down a whole chicken. If you’ve never done it before, it might take a few tries before you’re able to get the full yield of meat from a whole chicken, but once you get a feel for it, and an understanding of the anatomy, it will become second nature.

I had a video for you from my instructor to demonstrate the process of breaking down a chicken. It’s a good one, and fairly entertaining, to boot. However, I looked at several others, as well, and found one on BuzzFeed Food’s YouTube channel that demonstrates a method that I think is incredibly approachable for the average home cook.

I realize that sometimes it’s simple time saving convenience that might cause you to just get the parts you need vs. the whole chicken. That’s ok. I’d never tell anyone they have to do something. However, I do recommend that you try it enough times to get this skill into your bag of tricks because it’ll just be another thing you can do that makes you feel more confident and capable in the kitchen.

Damn, Herbs… You is fiiiiiiiiiiine!

There are French chefs rolling in their well buttered graves right now over that joke. I’M NOT SORRY!

It’s poaching and braising week at school. We’re cooking a lot of chicken. So. Much. Chicken. Both nights of our practical? Chicken. We made a beef dish once, during roasting week, and it was beautiful. I’m looking forward to taking American Regional next quarter, because I’m pretty sure we’ll get to do things with other kinds of meat. Meat that is not chicken.

chickenhypnotist

But I digress. We’re gonna dance with what brung us, and this week, it’s chicken. Chicken in Fine Herb Sauce, to be exact. It’s actually a really yummy dish, and not TOO much effort, really. You can serve it with rice and something green or orange or yellow and it will be a wonderful meal with all food groups represented and whatnot. Or something. I dunno.

Equipment:
1 medium saute pan
measuring cups and spoons
1 large sheet of parchment paper to make a parchment paper lid (instructions here)
tongs
cutting board and knife
whisk
cheesecloth
small plate or other type of container for holding the chicken while you make the sauce
piece of foil large enough to cover said container
fine mesh strainer and a bowl into which you will strain the poaching liquid (optional)

Ingredients:
4 (4-5 oz) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 1/2 oz. cold butter
2 oz minced shallots
2 oz white wine
8 oz chicken stock
Salt and White Pepper (or regular pepper, since you’re probably just cooking this for home and not some snooty food critic who is going to be completely scandalized if they can actually see the pepper in your sauce.)
1 oz all purpose flour
6 oz heavy cream
2 T each finely chopped fresh parsley, chives and dill

Preheat the oven to 325°.

Mix the flour and 1 ounce of butter together to form a paste. This is called a beurre manié or “raw roux.” It will be used to thicken your sauce to a nappé consistency, which basically just means it is still pourable, but should be just thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Mince all your herbs, and collect them in a large square of cheesecloth (or you can just  use a mesh strainer, or a coffee filter). If you’re using cheesecloth, tie it up into a little bundle. Rinse the herbs under cold water, wringing the water out periodically until it runs mostly clear.  Lay your rinsed herbs out on a paper plate or something flat to let them dry.

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Why are you doing this? Because all those herbs contain chlorophyll, the stuff that makes them green. By rinsing out some of that chlorophyll, you’ll help ensure that your lovely sauce doesn’t become discolored. I’d say you could skip this step if you really felt lazy, but honestly, when done right this simple little sauce kind of makes the dish. Maybe the people you’re feeding won’t know the difference if your sauce is a little green, but if I’m going to be a stickler about one thing, it’s this step. Just do it. You’ll feel better. Or I will feel better, and it’s all about my needs, dammit!  (Just kidding. Sort of. Ha!)

Season the chicken breasts with the S & P.

Cover the bottom and sides of the saute pan with 1/2 oz of the butter. Sprinkle the minced shallots on top of the butter. Place the chicken on top of the shallots, then add enough wine and stock to come about halfway up the sides of the chicken.

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Place the pan on the stove over medium heat just until you see bubbles start to appear. Cover with your parchment lid (it’s called a cartouche. isn’t that fun? carrtoooooooooooosh!), and pop the whole thing in the oven until the chicken is just cooked through.

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I used two large breasts instead of four smaller ones, and it took about 15 minutes. You probably also noticed that I poached the chicken with the skins on.  That’s what our recipe said to do, but that’s just stupid. You can’t eat the skin after you poach it because it’s all rubbery and disgusting, so just buy the skinless ones to start or remove the skin before you poach.

Once the chicken is poached through, remove it from the pan to your holding container. Cover it very loosely with foil to keep it warm. Don’t cover it so tightly that the steam can’t escape, because you’re not trying to steam away that beautiful poaching job you just did, right?

Now it’s time to make the sauce, and the question becomes… to strain or not to strain? Again, if you were cooking for some food critic who was going to have a conniption over little pieces of shallot in their sauce, you’d strain it. If this is just for dinner at home, feel free to skip that step. If it was me and I was cooking for company, I’d probably go ahead and strain, but that would really depend on how much I was trying to impress them. Chances are good that I would find some way to completely invalidate any impression that I was Lady Smooth McSmoothington by tripping over air or having a large piece of parsley stuck in my teeth so it’s kind of a moot point, but A for effort, right?

Anyhoots, for the sake of argument, strain the liquid into a bowl, then pour the strained liquid back into your saute pan. Reduce the liquid by about 25%, then add the cream and reduce again by about 25%.

Over medium low heat, whisk the sauce while adding the beurre manié a little bit at a time until your sauce reaches the right consistency. You probably won’t use all of it. Conversely, if your sauce is getting a little too thick, you can just whisk in a little warm stock until it’s thinned out to the right consistency. MAGIC!

Just before you’re ready to serve, stir/whisk in the herbs. Give the sauce a final taste and adjust the seasoning as needed.

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Plate up your chicken and whatever sides you’re serving with it, and drizzle about 1 oz of sauce over the chicken. It doesn’t take a ton of work to make a pretty plate with this recipe.

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Ta da!

Kitchen 101: Just Truss(t) Me

Remember that humiliated chicken in this post? Don’t let yours suffer the same fate! Watch this video and learn how to save your fowl from the same faux pas.