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[21/100] Crispy Chicken Fingers

It’s almost too much to call this a Recipe.  Really, it’s more of a Method.  Making oven-baked crispy things isn’t quite rocket science, and there isn’t a lot of variation in the recipes.

In general, you’ll have some sort of meat (boneless or bone-in), sometimes cut to finger-food size and sometimes not.  This meat will first be coated with some sort of moisture- and stickiness-creating substance, maybe egg or even mayonnaise.  Then, it will be coated with some sort of crumbly stuff seasoned to taste, such as pulverized corn flakes, bread crumbs, or even a store-bought mix.  Bake, serve, enjoy.

HOWEVER.  Last night, after having made this a few times, all four kids seated around the table announced that these were so good, they didn’t want to eat frozen chicken nuggets ever again.  Life being what it is, they probably will, but I was so delighted that I called my father to brag about it.

This will prepare about 3-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  (Very easy to double, if you want to freeze any for future consumption, but I haven’t tried that yet and don’t know how they’ll take to it.)

  • one egg, beaten
  • two tablespoons of butter, melted — And by this, I mean “measure two TBS of butter and then melt it,” not melt some butter and then measure two TBS of it.  Sometimes, that makes a difference.
  • one cup corn flake crumbs — You can use the store-bought crumbs (which we have found both in the gluten-free section and in the regular baking section),  or pulverize your own corn flakes.  Last night, I used about half of the store-bought (unseasoned) corn flake crumbs and about half of my own pulverized corn flakes.  I intend to increase the ratio of non-store-bought flakes in future iterations.
  • seasonings — I tend to purchase my crumbs unseasoned (like I buy my butter unsalted), so I can pick and choose whatever seasonings I’m in the mood for.  Last night, we went with some garlic salt and white pepper, along with a bit of Fox Point seasoning from Penzey’s.
  • meat — Like I said, we were cooking up chicken fingers, with each chicken breast slicing up into about four “fingers.”  If you want to get fancy, you could marinate the meat ahead of time.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Assembly time is about ten minutes, depending on whether you have an eager ten-year-old helping you or not, and whether you remembered to thaw the chicken out beforehand.  Prepare for yourself a cookie sheet, covered in foil, with a cookie rack resting in it (ever so lightly coated with non-stick spray…or not).  Like this (with apologies for my failure to get text to wrap artfully around the picture):

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I don’t care what seasonings you add, but this is a pretty important step to achieving Crispy Chicken Finger magic.  Otherwise, you have to cook the fingers much longer for crispiness, and by that time the meat is overcooked and not very tasty.  The aluminum foil is optional; I’m just a lazy cleaner-upper, and that step makes life easier for me.

Beat your egg in a smallish bowl.  Blend the corn flake crumbs and melted butter to a consistent…er, consistency, and then add seasonings of your choice in a shallow, wide bowl (even a plate will do).  I have to admit here that I have never once measured these seasonings; I just sort of add this and that to taste.  When in doubt, overseason, because the corn flake crumbs can be bland-bland-bland. With your meat all sliced up, go in assembly-line fashion to dip the meat into the egg, dredge it in the flakes, and then place on the rack with a little space between each piece.

Cooking time will vary with the size you’ve cut your meat to.  Our chicken fingers generally take about 25 minutes.  I’ll typically use that time to steam some veggies or make a side salad for a quick school-night meal.  If the crispy coating still seems a bit “wet” when you check, then give them a few more minutes.  When they’re done, they’ll separate easily from the rack.  (If the coating starts to look toasted, then they might have cooked a bit too long.)  Yum!

 
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Posted by on September 18, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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[20/100] Omelets inna Cup

Let’s talk about breakfast for a change.  I used to call these “eggy cups,” but FionaPie called them “adorable little omelets” and I couldn’t resist re-naming them.  

For starters, this recipe lets me use all eight of my ramekins (always a bonus in my book).  It’s gluten-free and low-carb and — though I wouldn’t go so far as to call it healthfully low in fat — it does include two superfoods, controls portions, and creates a re-heatable and transportable breakfast.  WINNING all around.

In the time it takes to preheat the oven to 325 degrees, I can usually have these assembled.  You’ll need:

  • cookie sheet, covered in foil — the foil is important, because otherwise you’ll be trying to clean bubbly cheese off the sheet and that’s a pain in the butt I’d rather avoid
  • ramekins (one for each serving you want to prepare; I don’t bother making fewer than four at a time, but I suppose you could do just one if it suited you) — spray the inside lightly with cooking spray

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From there, you’ll create the layers.  From the bottom up, I tend to go with:

  • sliced meat (optional) — I use deli slices of ham or turkey, but you could use shredded-up bits of chicken or whatever is handy.  I’ve also made these without meat, and they’re just as yummy.
  • green power-veggie — These days, I use (thawed) frozen, chopped kale.  You’ll need about 1/4-cup per serving.  Spinach works too, but FionaPie prefers the kale.
  • eggs — crack one into each ramekin. leaving the yolk intact if you can.  I used to try to center the yolk in the bed of veggies, but nobody will ever see that and it makes no difference at all in the taste.  
  • some sort of complimentary veggie — Tonight, I used a slice of tomato on top of each egg, because that’s what we had in the kitchen.  Other times, I’ll spoon some salsa on top.  FionaPie suggested mushrooms next time.  
  • shredded cheese — This is a topper.  You want enough for each cup to be covered and bubbly with cheesy goodness as it bakes.  

Admire your work, and pop them in the oven for about 25-30 minutes.  The time can vary, but what you’re looking for is the yolks to be set.  If you were going to eat them right away, then I think mildly soft yolks could be okay, but I worry about safe storage if they’re not cooked through.  Your call.  

After they’ve cooled off, cover each with foil and refrigerate until breakfast.  They reheat nicely with a paper towel on top for about 50 seconds in the microwave.  Dear lord, please cover them, because they will POP and get eggy cheese all over the inside of your microwave and then you’ll cry.  Okay, maybe that’s just me.  Eat ’em right outta the cup or ease them on to a plate or into a bowl…top with extra yumminess if you want (like maybe some more salsa?).  Enjoy!

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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[19/100] Food Onna Stick (or, the Art of the Kebab)

I think this entry falls into the “I never promised you haute cuisine” category, in which I have to remind myself that I’m not writing this to show off my cooking skill.  Nope.  I’m writing this to create something of a family recipe book, accessible online to all the kids who have favorite meals or who might want to cook something from home once they’re out on their own.  As I get closer to my goal of 100 recipes (which may or may not be the end of the experiment), it’s helping me to adjust how I think about my capability and imagination.  

***

Grilling is a pretty nifty way to prepare foods in the summertime – way fewer dishes and a cooler kitchen are only two of the benefits.  I love creating a little bit of a picnic on the patio, and somehow everybody wants to be more involved when fire is involved.  It just creates something of an atmosphere I can’t describe, but love anyway.

I used to be a little bit pyro-phobic myself . . . until about two years ago, when I had to be the “fire master” for my daughter’s Girl Scout camping trip.  The girls had planned a weekend of food to be cooked over the fire, the leaders had purchased all the groceries, and then – on the morning of our arrival at the campsite – they all looked to me, because I’m the one married to a Boy Scout leader.  Apparently, girl-child had volunteered me for this task with absolute confidence in me, but without mentioning it prior to our arrival.  Um, I said.  I’d certainly watched enough scout bonfires being built and read enough of the fire-building merit badge requirements (or whatever) to understand it in theory.  So, faced with the shining faces of a good dozen or so girls and their moms, I decided to *pretend* that I wasn’t scared at all.  And it worked!  We all learned some great skills and ate well, thankyouverymuch. 

I don’t build every fire we have these days, but I’m much more likely to encourage having one, and we’ve been talking a lot about how great it would be to have a fire pit in the back yard.  Yesterday, my husband bought one.  And last night, we COOKED DINNER with it.  Specifically, we cooked food onna stick.

There are a lot of ways to prepare food on the grill, but I’m going to talk right now my love for kebabs.  They’re easy to scale for a small meal or a larger one, the endless variety of ingredients lets me serve a lot of food groups in one shot, and the smaller size means it’s easier to be sure something is cooked thoroughly in a shorter amount of time.  It’s sort of the “random vegetable soup” or “dinner omelet” of the grilling world, I think. 

Let’s say right off that you can probably kebab just about anything, so what I’ll describe here sure isn’t the only way to do it . . . feel free to riff on your own theme and use what’s handy for you.  Here are the basics:

  • Skewers:  If you’re going to use wooden skewers, make sure you soak them in water for some time before building your kebabs, to keep them from burning.  We use the metal ones because it breaks my husband’s Scottish heart to see me throw away wooden skewers after only one use (and because I hate cleaning them).
  • An assortment of veggies and fruits to skewer:  Last night, we used grape tomatoes, button mushrooms, onions, and pineapple chunks.  If everything is cut to about the same size, it’ll (theoretically) cook in about the same amount of time.  I like using grape tomatoes because regular tomatoes get all drippy when you slice them up.  Also, I think red onions seem to work better than other onions for this purpose.  Husband prefers the “meatier” mushrooms like Portobello. 
  • Meat, if you like it, cut into chunks.  (True confession:  We’ve made low-brow kebabs with just Spam and pineapple chunks, brushed with barbecue sauce.  It was AMAZING, no lie.
  • Some sort of marinade for the meat.* I marinated the chicken for about an hour before.  Some folks like to marinate the meat for 4-8 hours or even overnight, but we were just too overcome with spontaneity for that shit.
  • Maybe a flavored sauce to brush on the kebabs while they cook.  Plain barbecue sauce usually works just fine, though we didn’t use any last night.  I forgot to set it out, and everything was just fine without it. 
  • Nice coals.**  Don’t rush the coals.  You want the flames to have died down so you’ve got a nice, shimmery heat coming off them.  (One of those charcoal chimney starter things works really well to move the process along a bit faster.) Use a poker to smooth them out into a bed a few inches below the surface of your cooking grate.  That’s what gives you even cooking.  For what it’s worth, the amount of time it took me to chop up all the veggies and marinate the chicken was about the amount of time it took for the coals to be ready.  (Don’t get me wrong:  This is not difficult cooking.  But, unless you’ve got a propane grill, this is not a meal for the impatient.)

The portions for last night’s meal were too large for me to use my adorable little ramekins for the ingredients – so we used cereal bowls to set up our “assembly line” instead.  I wish I’d gotten a picture of all the amazing colors.  Assembling the kebabs doesn’t take a lot of skill.  Simply build each kebab by sliding a succession of yummy things onto the skewer.  You’ll want to leave an inch or two of space at each end so there’s something for your tools to grab as you move the skewers around.  Otherwise, go crazy. Most folks will work their way down the line of bowls, creating a pattern.  Like maybe:

Meat     Veggie  Pineapple           Mushroom          Meat     Another veggie

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It keeps them from sticking to the grate if you brush it with a little oil first, or spray with with Pam or something.  Don’t move them around too much, but rotate them a bit at a time until they’re nice and cooked all the way ‘round.  You may want to check the done-ness of the meat the first few times, just until you get the hang of how long it’ll take. 

One skewer per person is a good serving size to start with, but most of our family will end up eating two (sometimes three!) each.  You could even make breakfast kebabs or dessert kebabs, if you like.  They even make easy leftovers – just wrap them up in foil, skewer and all, to reheat in the oven later.  Enjoy!

* I think we’ve talked about marinades here before.  Super-easy and very forgiving of mild errors and experimentation.  If you’re in any doubt, go ahead and Google “homemade marinade” for a lot of resources.  Give it a shot.  You’ll be making your own in no time!  Just remember to discard any marinade that’s been in contact with raw meat.  You should NOT use the marinade to brush the kebabs while they cook.  If you like, however, you can double the recipe and *set aside* some of the mixture when you first make it, so there will be a “clean” sauce to use when the kebabs are grilling.  Got it? 

** In a pinch, kebabs can be made on an indoor (stovetop) grill or even our trusty George Foreman grill.  

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

[16/100] Cheater Chicken & Rice Soup

By now, we all know that I’m the sort of person who wistfully reads about people who make chicken stock from scratch, but who will never actually do it myself.  I’m pretty comfortable with that these days. Anyway.  We had a bunch of potatoes and onions and carrots around the house and I thought, HEY, we should totally use those before they go bad.  Plus, there was an extra rotisserie chicken in the fridge.  So I started to google that shit.

Approximately 87 recipes later, I hollered to my husband that he needed to go buy me some radishes, STAT, and got to chopping some things.  Gotta say: getting the meat off the bones of a cold rotisserie chicken was kinda gross, but *much* easier by hand than anything else.  And this recipe turned out so good that kids were texting me while I was out and about during the evening to tell me how AWESOME it was and husband says we should make this EVERY WEEK.  Here’s how you make it happen for seven people with plenty of leftovers:

  • one rotisserie chicken, shredded like crazy (probably the “traditional” flavor, though if you experiment with the lemon pepper variety, let me know how it goes)
  • about 2 cups chopped onion (I used the smallish yellow ones, but it probably doesn’t matter)
  • about 2 cups chopped celery
  • about 2 cups chopped carrots 
  • about 1/2 cup chopped radishes 
  • some butter (maybe 2 Tbsp)
  • about 10-12 cups chicken stock, depending on how much fluid you want (I used Better Than Bullion chicken base)
  • some rice (like, a cup?)
  • about 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley 

In a large stockpot, melt the butter over medium heat and stir in the onions.  Cook the onions until they’re translucent; then add radishes, celery, and carrots.* (The actual order of things probably doesn’t matter a whole lot.) Get them nice and juicy with the butter; then add some kosher salt and black pepper.  

*My father calls this the Holy Trinity of soup bases. Except for the radishes.  I’ve never used radishes in soup before, but many of the recipes I scanned included them, so I thought what the hell.  

After a few minutes, stir in the chicken stock and then the chicken.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat; cover and simmer for about an hour (until the veggies are tender and everything smells amazing).  

After that, you’ll add the rice.  We happened to use leftover rice that was already cooked from last night’s dinner and in the fridge, so I just sort of stirred it in and warmed everything through.  If you’re adding uncooked rice, plan to simmer long enough to cook it.  Then we added the parsley last.  Maybe that was wrong, but nobody died.

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Judgment here was that we didn’t need to add any seasoning once it was finished.  We served it with baked potatoes so as to be gluten-free, but you can do rolls or whatever floats your boat.  We’ve got some leftovers, but don’t plan to keep it for more than a day or two because the rice will go all mooshy and sad.  If you want to make it ahead for freezing, just plan on adding your rice (or noodles!) when you’re reheating it instead.  Enjoy!

 
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Posted by on March 6, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

[13/100] Cocoa Mix (in which measurements matter)

You know how, in lots of recipes, precision in measurement doesn’t really matter?  Like stew.  And in others — like, baking recipes that are more like chemistry — it really does matter?  Like cornbread.  This is one of those recipes where it matters, but not quite in the way you’d think.  Stay with me.  

This is a “big batch” recipe for hot cocoa mix, a family tradition that’s sort of evolved into The Gift We Give to Teachers (and coaches, and bus drivers, and and and).  I have never made less than one batch of this; likewise, it’s very difficult to make a double batch because a single batch uses my largest mixing bowl!  You’ll need:

  • 1/2 tsp salt — doesn’t seem like much, but it matters
  • 2 cups nonfat dry milk
  • 4 cups confectioner’s sugar — YES, FOUR CUPS
  • 4 1/4 cups chocolate mix for milk — do not use hot cocoa mix
  • 2 3/4 cups non-dairy powdered creamer (unflavored)
  • 2 cups non-dairy powdered creamer (flavored) — any flavor works, as long as you like it

I would recommend adding only one ingredient at a time and mixing it in thoroughly before adding the next.  Store in an airtight container.  Will keep all winter.  To serve, mix 2 heaping Tbsp into a mug of warm milk or water.  Paleo schmaleo.  If you want to use this for gifting purposes, just know that one batch will fill something like six 1-pint glass jars.  Tiny hats optional.

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Here’s where measurements matter, and where I tend to mess up:  16 oz by weight is not the same as 15 oz by volume.  Let’s say you purchase a standard-size container of non-diary (dry) flavored coffee creamer.  The label says NET WT 15 OZ.  Do not assume that, because 2 cups (by volume) equals 16 oz, you can just dump the whole container in without measuring.  Because I assure you there is much more than 16 oz by volume in that container.  

Of course, this kind of error won’t make your cocoa mix FAIL.  It could very well be AWESOME and what you want to do every single time for ever and ever, amen.  But if you make an error like this with, say, bread cubes for stuffing, it’ll throw everything way off and you’ll end up with stuffing out the wazoo.  Just saying.

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

[12/100] Spaghetti with Sausage and Squash

If you’ve been reading this, by now you understand there are certain qualities I like in a recipe.

  1. Does it require less than 30 minutes of hands-on time and effort?  Just what I need.
  2. Does it use fewer than three pans? I’m listening.
  3. Does it include veggies such that I don’t have to cook a separate side? SIGN ME UP.

This particular recipe fulfills all those desires (oh, baby) and more.  Butternut squash, I’m looking at you. Image (I’ll be honest and say I made this dinner on a night when my husband was out of the house, because he’s scornful of butternut squash and the turkey sausage I used in this recipe.  But everyone else loved it, I swear.)  Very nice autumnal scents and flavors, plus a lot of ease and ZERO leftovers.  Here’s what you’ll need for six hearty servings:

  • 2 x 12 oz baggies of pre-cut butternut squash, as pictured here (or probably one medium butternut squash, peeled and cubed all small and adorable) — I think cubing butternut squash has got to be one of the most tedious prep cooking tasks een ze vorld, so I’m happy to avoid doing it.  There is nothing added to the pre-cut stuff other than a bit more $ per ounce, but the added safety and time savings are well worth it to me.  
  • approx. 8 oz of turkey sausage, all crumbled-like (but not pre-cooked) — I prefer the sweet “breakfast” style of sausage, generally…you’ll need to cut it outta the skin and sort of pinch off bits and pieces with your fingers (messy but not difficult)
  • 1 red onion, sliced into rings or half rings — yes, the sort of onion matters here
  • some spaghetti sufficient for the meal — I never know quite how to measure the servings and either do not quite enough or 47x what we need
  • about 1 cup of some sort of shaved or grated hard cheese, like pecorino or romano or parmesan (depending on your choices and level of snootiness)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  On a rimmed baking sheet (even a cookie sheet will do), toss the squash with the sausage and onion.  I recommend lining the sheet with heavy-duty aluminum foil first, because hey.  CLEANUP.  The sausage will generate some juice, so you don’t need to add oil, but feel free to sprinkle on some kosher salt and black pepper if you like.  Kinda depends on how seasoned your sausage is already.  Place in the oven and roast, tossing occasionally, until tender.  This will take about 30-35 minutes.

While that’s happening, prepare your spaghetti — or whatever pasta you prefer — according to the directions on the packaging.  Before draining, reserve about one cup of the cooking water.  After draining, toss the spaghetti with the roasted veggies, the cheese, and as much of the cooking water as you need to make it all smooth.  (It might be just 1/2-cup, so start slowly.  You don’t want this to get all watery!)  

As an alternative, you can serve the spaghetti on its own and allow diners to spoon the veggies on top and garnish with cheese.  In that case, you don’t need to save the cooking water.  Still quite yummy.  Reheats like a BOSS.  

 
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Posted by on December 6, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

[5/100] Crockpot Barbecue Chicken

It’s almost embarrassing to call this a recipe, I swear, but it’s a thumbs-up favorite here at home and easy, which makes it a WIN in my book.  You’ll need:

  • one whole chicken (preferably fresh, but thawed if it’s been frozen)
  • two medium-sized onions
  • 16+ ounces of barbecue sauce (your choice)

By now, you understand that you need to rinse out the bird and take the bits and pieces out of the inside.  One of these days, I’ll come up with some ideas for what to do with those things, but for now, we’ll discard them.  Doesn’t really matter much whether the onions are white or yellow, but I think red would be the wrong flavor.  It’s up to you.

 

 

As for the barbecue sauce…well, I think it says a person has lived in the Kansas City area long enough if one has a favorite.  Mine is Jack Stack Original.  I like that it’s more smoky than spicy.

 

 

Back to the chicken.  Rinse it out, pat it dry, and put it into your crockpot.  Next, slice up the onions into rings or crescents.  Don’t dice them…you want those onion pieces to have some body to them.  Dump ’em into the crockpot on top of the chicken.  Then pour in 16 ounces of barbecue sauce (or a little more if you like).  Guess what you do next?

Go ahead.  Guess.  I’ll wait.  🙂

Put the lid on the crockpot.  Set it to cook for 6-8 hours on LOW and walk away, baby.  I have to set mine for 8 hours because, on mine, 6 hours is still in the HIGH heat range and you want LOW.  It’ll be done in 6 hours anyway.  At about 5 hours, gently take the chicken out and separate it from the bones.  This is a messy job, but very easy, because the meat will be falling off the bones.  Put the meat back into the crockpot, stir it up, and let it cook for a little while longer.

Serve on bread as an open-faced sandwich, with a nice green salad.  Or maybe not on a sandwich, with some cole slaw or mashed potatoes and green veggies on the side.  Heck, eat it out of the crockpot with a fork for all I care.  Keeps well as leftovers, though you might need to skim some fat off the top as it cools.  I wouldn’t recommend freezing it because the onions don’t do so well with that.  Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2012 in Uncategorized