Friday, February 26, 2010

Everyday Poached Chicken Perfection!

So I picked up the Jan/Feb edition of Everyday Food to read on the plane back from Indiana earlier this week after visiting this guy:

(nephew Vaughn, seen here eating in a fashion very similar to Aunt Keri's usual practices.)

By the time I walked through my front door, all I could think about was poaching chicken.

That's right, poaching chicken. It gets a bad rap sometimes - because poaching chicken, especially white meat, correctly is an elusive process. Often the chicken is bland, or rubbery, or dry, or (gasp) all of the above.

But Everyday Food seemed to have come up with a foolproof process, and I was itching to try it, AND to use that poached chicken to make some of the things suggested in the magazine.

The recipe? (as I said - it is from Everyday Food, Jan/Feb 2010)

1/2 medium yellow onion, halved

1 medium carrot, cut into thirds

1 celery stalk, cut into thirds

2 garlic cloves, peeled

1/2 sliced lemon (optional)

1 teaspoon coarse salt

3 springs thyme or parsley

4 b/s chicken breast halves (about 8 oz each)

In a large, straight-sided skillet or pot, combine all ingredients except chicken; cover with water by 1/2 inch. Bring to a boil over high. Add chicken and return to a boil. Cook 3 minutes, then cover and remove from heat. Let stand until chicken is cooked through, about 15-18 minutes, flipping halfway through. Remove from liquid immediately.

Ok, so first off, I did indeed, do a few things differently, (seriously, Keri NEVER could follow a recipe exactly) so:

I used a small whole red onion, cut in half (because it is what I had)

I used 2 small carrots cut in half (because I didn't have a medium one)

I used an extra piece of celery (because why not?)

I used pre minced garlic

"coarse salt?" snort - Morton's for me!

I opted for parsley flakes and no lemon

I actually did 5 b/s breast halves instead of 4

Here are the veggies covered with water:

And after bringing them to a boil I added the chicken:

It isn't so much what is in that pot kids - it is the method I am interested in here... The whole "bring to boil and then cover and let rest off heat" thing. That intrigued me because cooking too fast is my biggest problem when I try to poach. Even uber-low heat can be too much, it seems.

Can I tell ya - this worked like dream!! I let the chicken rest in the liquid covered for 18 minutes, turning at 9 minutes (really quickly so I didn't let too much heat out) and it was perfectly cooked. I mean PER-FECT. Juicy, tender, with a flavor that was mild but not bland in the least.
What to do with it? Well, you could just eat it with a light sauce made by reducing some of the poaching liquid, or:

Yesterday I took one of their suggestions and mixed some of the chicken (torn into shreds) with a drizzle of EVOO, 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice, a sprinkle of dried parsley and basil, 4 oz of blanched fresh green beans and a whole cucumber chopped up. I let it sit in the fridge until lunch and all the flavors had combined - it was cool and crunchy and really a great lunch salad.
Today was good old chicken salad with a spoon of mayo and plenty of dill relish on wasa crackers with red bell pepper sticks on the side.

I also used some of the poached chicken to make shredded chicken tacos - I shredded the cold chicken and then heated (covered) very briefly in the microwave with a palmful of chili powder mixed in - then used that mixture to fill soft tacos and set out whatever fixins we had around. Mmm mmm good.

Simple, easy, versatile... a truly foolproof technique for poaching chicken.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Valentine's Day -Steakhouse at home

The Hub and I are both huge carnivores - if we could get away with it, we would probably eat red meat 3 times a day, 7 days a week and be happy as clams. (Clams that love red meat, that is.)
But that isn't good - for arteries, waistlines, OR the family budget. So a nice steak is always a way to make an occasion truly special at our house.
Our "Steak house at home" menu included grilled steaks with seasoned butter, steamed asparagus, and individual baked potato casseroles. To complete the experience, a nice dirty martini.

For this meal I actually went with a moderately priced cut of meat - the chuck eye steak (or chuck fillet as I have seen it labeled alot lately.) It is an underrated steak, in my opinion. You need to give a little extra time to selection when choosing one at the store - Look for a cut that has smaller, rather than larger, fatty deposits running through it -after all, you want to pay for meat, not just fat. But cuts from the chuck primal cut of beef can be very flavorful if prepared with a bit of thought.
I took ours home and marinaded in a mix of Worcestershire sauce and Balsamic vinegar in the fridge for about 4 hours, and then an hour before cooking, I pulled the steaks out of the fridge to let them come up to room temp so the inside wouldn't be raw while the outside was already overcooked. I cooked the steaks (which were about 3/4 inch thick) 10 minutes on a preheated George Foreman grill (so handy because both sides cook at once) to a medium-rare finish.
The baked potato casserole was made with some thawed mashed potatoes from the freezer (about a cup and a half), which got combined with 2 tablespoons of sour cream, 3/4 teaspoon garlic powder, 3/4 teaspoon salt, a bit of black pepper, and 1/4 cup of 2% cheddar cheese (shredded). I divided this between two ramekin's, topped with a bit more cheese and 1 slice each of extra lean turkey bacon (crumbled).
Into a 350 degree oven about 15 minutes to heat through.

Before serving the steak each one got a pat of buttery-spread that I had mixed with a minced garlic clove and some salt and pepper. Mmmmmm.
The asparagus steamed for a minute and a half in the microwave.

The dirty martini is an art in our house, 2 oz Svedka (or vodka of your choice) in a shaker with 3/4 oz vermouth, 1/2-3/4 oz olive juice or dirty martini mix, and ice - shake until the shaker is as cold as you can stand holding it, then pour into chilled glasses. Add toothpick with 3 olives (has to be 3 in our house) and enjoy.

It was a really great meal.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Prudent Homemaker's Yummy Tacos

I am often in awe of The Prudent Homemaker... She makes chicken fried steak out of OATMEAL, for one thing (I will be trying that one soon). Everything she suggests turns out yummy, and she has taken stockpiling sale items to a level that can only be called an art.
These tacos are no exception. I seasoned my beef with salt, pepper, cayenne, garlic powder and onion powder instead of using prefab taco seasoning, but we were pretty true to her recipe otherwise.
I think these are the "go to" tacos in our house from now on - they are just too easy and too good to resist.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Slow-Cooker Smothered Pork Chops

I confess, I deviated from the Menu Plan this week. But only sort of.
I changed yesterday to Bratwurst day, and today to Slow-cooker Pork Chop day, because I was running really late yesterday in the morning and I didn't have time to assemble everything in the crock pot before I ran out the door.
So I did it this morning - here is the recipe:

4 Boneless loin chops, medium or thin (bone in would work great in this as well)
2 Cloves of garlic minced
3 dashes Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 can cream of chicken soup (or cream of mushroom if preferred)
Olive oil (a drizzle)
1 bell pepper roasted and sliced.

To assemble:
Turn slow cooker to "low" setting and spread a thin layer of Cream of Chicken soup into bottom of Cooker. to this add 1/3 of the garlic and cayenne, a dash of Worcestershire sauce, and a small drizzle of Olive oil (I used Rosemary infused today, since I had some.)
Place two of the chops into the pan, and repeat with 1/2 of the remaining soup, 1/3 of the garlic and cayenne, a dash of Worcestershire sauce and a drizzle of oil.
Place the last two chops in the pot on top of the soup covering the first two, and repeat the process with the end of all of your ingredients.
Cover and allow to cook on low all day - about 8 hours.

When you are ready to serve, remove the chops to a plate and stir the sliced roasted peppers (I buy and roast lots when they are on sale, and then freeze them already cut in strips,) into the gravy (soup mixture left in the crock pot). Allow the peppers to heat through and then serve the Chops smothered in the gravy and peppers.
MMMMMMM. (you can use onion too, but The Hub doesn't like onion, so I leave it out.)

Tonight we are having our Chops with a mixture of broccoli, carrots, and potatoes, tossed in the Rosemary Olive Oil and roasted in the oven until tender at 400 degrees. I can't wait!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

BBQ Chicken and Wedge Salads

Confession: My hankering for blue cheese dressing has been BOUNDLESS the past few weeks. (I guess it *is* sort of like liquid cheese, if you think about it, so I shouldn't be too shocked)
Anyway, that might explain my sudden desire to serve wedge salads.
Who doesn't love a good old-fashioned 1950's throwback Wedge salad? The Hub for one. :(
He does not share my love of blue cheese dressing (although he does like blue cheese crumbled in salads,) and he finds the wedge concept to difficult to negotiate on his plate.
So the party pooper got a chopped up, choose-your-own dressing version of it, and I got the glorious monument you see on the plate above.
Simply cut a head of iceberg into wedges of whatever size you like, pour on blue cheese dressing (I cheated and used store bought since I had a killer coupon/sale combo to work with this week leaving me to pay 59 cents total for a giant bottle,) and then sprinkle liberally with bacon crumbles (these are extra lean turkey bacon cooked in a frying pan until nice and crispy.)
So good along side my chicken breast tenders baked simply at 375 degrees in store bought BBQ sauce spiced up with a few dashes of Tabasco sauce for 30 minutes, tender and juicy and full of zingy flavor. A perfect combo with my wedge. (HA, she said "my wedge" and that is close to "wedgie"!! Yep - I am, in fact, a 5 year old.)
This is one wedge anyone is welcome to inflict on me again and again.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Meal Plan Monday at Spirit of Power

It's Meal Plan Monday over at Spirit of Power! Check out what's cooking over the next week, and be sure to come back here for all the recipes (and reactions) throughout the week.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Egg topped noodles -Penny Pincher redo

So when I promised a Penny Pincher version of this fabulous and yummy-sounding recipe from Bon Appetit magazine this week, it was without consulting the magic 8 ball that would have no doubt told me "not likely" or "try again later" or (if it was a REALLY fancy magic 8 ball) "you will be too busy barfing and sipping flat coke this week, Keri."
I have tummy trouble. :(
Eating actually sounds like an awful idea to Keri right now - take a picture, this is maybe the 5th moment in my entire 33 years that this has happened.
But the blog must go on, right? So I did it anyway. (Who loves you? Keri does, that's who!)
What did I do different than the original recipe above? It was all about ingredient substitutions, actually, I followed the same basic steps, but I worked with what I had.
In a pot of boiling water seasoned well with salt, I placed two servings' worth of Ronzoni Smart Taste spaghetti (actually, I would have loved to use whole wheat pasta in the place of the buckwheat noodles called for in the original recipe, but I got a great deal on the Smart Taste a couple weeks ago, so it is what we had.)
While the pasta cooked, I heated up a swirl of olive oil in a skillet and added 1/2 teaspoon of minced garlic to the oil over medium high heat. Within a minute I also added 4 slices of extra lean turkey bacon (salty and crispy and yummy, but less expensive than prosciutto and ALWAYS on hand in my fridge). The bacon crisped and got some nice color, and then I removed it to a plate.
To the pasta pot I added 1 cup of sliced broccoli stems (I usually save them for soup since The Hub only really likes "the tree part" of broccoli, but their bright green color and firm crunch seemed the perfect substitution for Asparagus, which I will buy if the price is right, but didn't have in the house.) I let that cook with the pasta for about 2 minutes before draining the pasta and returning to the pan, along with some grated Parmesan cheese. I covered the pot to let the cheese get melty and keep everything warm.
Meanwhile, I cracked two eggs into the pan that I had cooked the bacon and garlic in earlier and let the eggs cook over medium low heat, covered, until the whites were set.
I added the bacon to the pasta mixture and gave everything a good stir before nesting the pasta on to two plates and topping with the eggs.
I snuck a bite. It was worth feeling sick afterwards - the salty tang of the cheese and the bacon, the crisp crunch of the broccoli, and the comforting bite of pasta coated with the rich egg yolk all together? It was the perfect bite.
Simple, economical, and super quick - this one is getting made again when I can dig into a whole plate!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Teachin' Ya Tuesdays - Portion control, please!

I admit it - I suffer from SERIOUS portion control issues. When I eat, I tend to like quantity right along with my quality.
I have been really trying to be aware, over the past few weeks, of how much I actually eat, when I eat.
I was very proud of myself last night for NOT being a member of the clean plate club. I was starting to feel full, so instead of cramming down the last of the Garlic Fries on my plate, I backed away and took my plate to the kitchen. (I got a Tweet of approval from every one's favorite Dietetics student, Nuts4Nutrition for it too, yes I did, uh huh.)
But that is not my usual mojo. I am the girl with the GIANT bowl full of cereal, or huge Mexican combo plate, or Cesar salad big enough for the whole table to share, and usually scarfing it down at break-neck pace, to be honest. :(
So I have been concentrating on eating slowly. Enjoying the flavor, texture, etc of the food as I take each bite and concentrate on eating just that one bite. This seems to help with portion control because I don't feel like I "ran out" of food too quickly, like I do when I am shoveling as fast as I can.
It isn't quite as easy to convince The Hub though. He likes a plentiful portion too, and for him I have tried employing some sneakier tactics. (shhhh, don't tell.)
-We eat off plates that have a small area that actually holds food. It takes less food to make the plate look nice and full. Fooling the eyes AND the tummy!
-I load in the good stuff. A big bowl of beef stew looks like a large and hearty portion, and it is. But I have loaded in lots of chunks of healthy veggies, and cut back on beef in the mix. Also, now he gets one nice big slice of crusty bread for dipping, instead of half the loaf on the table to be eaten between the two of us!
-Thin cuts of meat = lots of plate covered with a smaller actual portion. Thin cut pork chops are a frequent sight on our table, as are chicken breasts that have been butterflied and then cut the rest of the way, to create two thinner "breasts" (reduction surgery, ED&BK style!)
-Presentation - I always like a pretty plate, true - but some of it is also about making portions look plentiful. In the picture below of my inside-out shepherd's pie, notice that I pile everything high in the center of the plate - it is taking up a lot of vertical space, not really filling the whole plate. The Hub sees that and thinks "giant mound of food" but really, not so much.

I can't lie - portion control is a battle I feel I fight a little each day. But I'll keep my dukes up, and try at least, to know when to put my fork down.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Menu Plan Monday link and rundown

It's Menu Plan Monday over at Spirit of Power, and here is what I have on deck for this week!
I am really excited for Tuesday night's Penny Pincher makeover of a recipe from Bon Appetit that looks amazing.
Also, I promise to confess the details of last weeks horrifying slowcooker taco casserole failure (cringe) sometime this week, so visit again soon!