easy dinner

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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Veni Vidi Veggie

I came, I saw, I veggied. That’s how Latin works, right?

I am going to preface this whole thing by reassuring you all that I’m not going full on vegetarian. I could do that, but I could also walk into the path of an oncoming city bus. I might survive it, but the rest of my life wouldn’t be much fun afterwards, right? Same same.

However, sometimes I just don’t feel like standing in a hot kitchen and filling it with the smells of cooking meat. I mean, it’s sort of a commitment, you know? You’re deciding that this is what you want your apartment to smell like for the next three hours or more.

So, I decided to keep dinner last night really simple. It was kind of an experiment… a tiny seedling of a thought that sprouted into sustenance. But, it turned out pretty delicious so I thought I’d share.  This recipe would serve 4 people as a side dish, or two people as a main dish.

Equipment:
Saute pan
Pot to cook the rice
Spoon, spatula, whatever you have handy for stirring and whatnot
Measuring cup and spoons
Knife and cutting board

Ingredients:
1 poblano pepper, deseeded, cut in half lengthwise and then cut into slices
2 portobello mushrooms, cleaned of dirt and stems removed, sliced
1 T vegetable oil (canola or whatever you have is fine)
2 C cooked rice (I used brown rice. Brown rice takes forever to cook. If you want to use the boil in bag kind or the microwave kind, I will not judge. This is supposed to be easy, yeah?)
1/2 C of your favorite salsa (I used Trader Joe’s Salsa Verde)
1/3 C plain, non-fat yogurt
1/2 tsp some sort of Latin or Spanish spice blend. I used the paella spice blend I got in my June Hatchery box
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix the salsa into the cooked rice. Set aside.

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Mix the spice blend into the yogurt, and season with S & P to taste. Set aside.

Saute your mushrooms and peppers together until the mushrooms have given off their liquid and both ingredients have taken on some color. Season to taste with S & P.

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Mound some of the salsa rice into the center of the plate. Arrange some mushrooms and peppers on top. Drizzle the whole thing with your yogurt sauce.

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It really doesn’t get much easier than that unless you’re cooking from a box or something, yeah? The salsa really adds a ton of flavor to the rice without much effort at all, and that yogurt sauce gives it a nice, tangy finish.

You could jazz this up even further with some fresh corn, red peppers, maybe some jalapeno if you like it spicier. Much like life in general, it really all depends on how much effort you want to put into it.

From the Suggestion Box: My Favorite Favorite

About a month ago, I asked folks on my Facebook page for suggestions on what kinds of posts they’d like to see here. Nikki (who I’ve known since 7th grade) asked me to make my favorite recipe by my favorite chef.

My favorite chef, in case you haven’t been reading this whole time (Why is that, again?) is Julia Child. There are so many reasons for that, but I could take a whole post just talking about all of them and I promised an actual recipe so I’ll just refer you here. My favorite recipe from her? Gosh. That’s a lot more difficult to pinpoint. I had to think about it because it’s so hard to separate the recipes I like watching her cook and the recipes that I actually enjoy cooking. The conclusion I came to was that despite the fact that she might be known for complicated, multi-step French recipes, it’s the really straightforward ones that I think epitomize her style the most. She was humble before the food, and very good at letting it be what it is without a lot of fussing. So, I chose this recipe for Herb, Lemon, and Garlic Roast Chicken. It’s one you can easily duplicate at home without having to hunt down special ingredients or equipment. I made one replacement, and I didn’t follow the steps exactly because I just didn’t have the room to spread out like she did, so I’ll walk you through how I did it.

Equipment:
1 large roasting pan or baking dish
1 Mixing bowl
Knife and cutting board
Measuring spoons
Plate
Tongs
Whisk
Aluminum foil
Measuring spoons

Ingredients:
2 lemons, halved, juiced and halves reserved
4 sprigs thyme
2 sprigs rosemary
6 cloves garlic, crushed, unpeeled
salt and fresh ground black pepper as needed
4-5 lb whole chicken
1 onion, sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup chicken stock or broth
2 tbsp walnut or hazelnut oil
2 bunch watercress, stemmed, washed and dried (I actually used fresh spinach because there wasn’t any watercress to be found at King Soopers. Use whatever leafy green you like.)

Preheat your oven to 400°.

Get your mis en place ready first, so the rest of the process goes fast.

Grab your herbs and the garlic.
herbs
Smash the garlic cloves, then chop one of them, plus  half of a sprig’s worth of rosemary leaves and one sprig’s worth of thyme leaves. Add them to the bowl with your lemon juice, plus the salt and pepper. I actually removed the lemon pieces before the next step with the chicken.

lemonbowl

Slice up your onions and put them in the bottom of your roasting pan.

onion
Put the whole chicken into your mixing bowl and coat it well all over the outside with your lemon juice/herb mixture. Season the inside of the chicken really well with salt and pepper, then place it in the pan on top of the onions. Pour whatever lemon juice is left over the chicken, drizzle it with the olive oil, and sprinkle the whole thing with salt. Stuff the lemon halves, the remaining whole sprigs of herbs, and the smashed garlic cloves inside. I think it’s more important that you get all the herbs and garlic in there, so if you don’t have room for all the lemon halves, try to get as much in there as you can. I stopped at three. Wash out the bowl because you’ll use it again when the chicken comes out of the oven.

I did not have twine (bad preparation on my part) so I wasn’t able to tie the legs together, as the recipe says. I should have, and normally I do because it just makes for a prettier chicken. Plus, it seems to cook more evenly when I do that. However, this time we went with the less dignified version. Poor chicken, here she is, legs akimbo, stuffed to the… whatever. So humiliating. Sorry, chicken!

raw
Pop the chicken into the oven for about an hour and 15 minutes. If you’re nervous about chicken cooking temps at all, use a meat thermometer before you pull it out of the oven to check. Measure at the thickest part of the meat in at least two places, without touching any bone. You want a minimum internal temperature of 165°.

Feel free to sit down and have a glass of wine or something while the chicken roasts, because you really can’t do the next step until it’s out of the oven. No, really, put your feet up! Watch that episode of Supernatural you’ve been saving on the DVR and let that chicken do what it’s doing.

(brief interlude to ask The Universe how Jensen Ackles could have possibly come to be that good looking.)
Jensen-Ackles-Celebrities

Ok. Back to reality.

When your chicken is all done roasting, pull it out of the oven and move it to a plate with your tongs (or whatever’s handy).

chicken

Poor chicken. It’s even more humiliating from this angle. Cover her loosely with some foil while she rests and let her have a moment to herself.

Strain the hot liquid from the bottom of the roasting pan into a bowl.  The chicken stock listed in the ingredients should be used to deglaze your roasting pan/baking dish. Since I used one of those throw away aluminum jobs, I didn’t really do that step. However, if you’re using a real pan that you can put over heat and properly deglaze, that’s what the stock is for. Pour your deglazing liquid into the bowl as well, and then whisk in the walnut/hazelnut/olive oil (Whatever you have is fine. I used walnut.).

What you’re basically doing here is making a pan sauce masquerading as a vinaigrette. Toss whatever greens you’re using in the vinaigrette. They’ll wilt slightly, or maybe more than slightly, depending on how hot the liquid still is and how much you toss it around. Adjust the seasoning as you see fit and give it all another little toss.

spinach
Annnnnd… you’re pretty much done! Plate it up and call everyone to the table. Time to grub!

I made some Dauphinoise Potatoes (fancy au gratin potatoes) as a side dish.|

serve
I hope you’ll try this one, because it’s really delicious and, as Julia’s recipes go, pretty flipping easy to get together. The lemon adds some nice brightness, and using the pan juices to make that vinaigrette brings a little something special to what would normally be just a plain roasted chicken recipe.

Bon appétit!

bonappetit

Polenta Cakes with Pancetta, Oven Roasted Green Beans and Cherry-Black Pepper Syrup

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If you’ve never tried making polenta, now’s the time! 

I think polenta is one of those things that either 1) sounds way more difficult than it really is or 2) sounds like it might just taste like nothing. After all, it’s just ground cornmeal, right?

Not so, my friends. Not so! Give this recipe a shot and take your taste buds on a little adventure.

(p.s. Did you know polenta is gluten free? Just in case that’s a little extra enticement for you.)

Polenta Cakes
Ingredients:                                                               
3 C chicken stock                
1 C yellow cornmeal                                                                      
Four ¼” slices Pancetta, chopped                                            
2 T unsalted butter                                                                           
2 tsp salt     
2 T all purpose flour                                                                       
1 T olive oil

Equipment:
Medium sauce pot
Whisk
Mixing spoon    
Measuring cups and spoons
Baking pan
Large skillet

Instructions:
In a large skillet, fry the chopped pancetta over medium heat until crisp. Transfer the cooked pancetta to a paper towel lined bowl and set aside. Reserve 1 T of the rendered fat.

Bring the chicken stock to a boil. Add the salt. Whisk the cornmeal in gradually, then reduce the heat to low. Cook for about 15 minutes, or until the mixture thickens and the cornmeal is soft and tender. Stir often. When the polenta is fully cooked, remove from the heat and add 2 T of the cooked pancetta and the butter. Stir until the butter is melted.

Pour the hot polenta into a baking pan. Spread it out in the pan until it’s about ¾” thick. Allow the polenta to firm up in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

When firm, cut the polenta into four 4” circles. Dredge lightly on all sides with flour, and fry in the reserved pancetta fat and 1 T of olive oil until golden brown on both sides.

Oven Roasted Green Beans
Ingredients:                                                                           
1 lb fresh green beans, ends trimmed                                  
1 tsp sea salt                                                                          
2 T olive oil                                                                            

Equipment:
Baking Sheet
Tongs
Large bowl

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 400°. Toss the trimmed green beans with the salt and olive oil in a bowl until the green beans are well coated. Spread out evenly on a baking sheet and roast for 14 minutes, stirring halfway through for even browning.

Cherry-Black Pepper Syrup
Ingredients:                                                                           

1/2 C Pure cherry juice 
1 tsp coarsely ground black pepper            

Equipment:
Measuring cups & spoons
Small sauce pot

Bring the cherry juice to a boil. Lower the heat to medium low and add the black pepper. Reduce the liquid by half, or until thickened and syrupy. Keep over very low heat until ready to serve.

Construction:
Place each polenta cake in the center of a small plate. Arrange 6-8 green beans on top. Drizzle the cherry-black pepper syrup over each polenta cake and around plate, then sprinkle ½ tablespoon of the remaining cooked pancetta around the plate to garnish.