Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Chicken 201 - Salads

I did not get a chance to make a blog post last night, and for this I am very sorry but I was stuck in @#$%^^&*!! traffic due to the torrential downpours yesterday.  It took me over an hour to get home and get my daughter, and I live 20 minutes away from my workplace.

And now, today, it’s 25 degrees again. For extra added fun, it snowed last night. Yeah, after the day before was 75 degrees. Welcome to NJ in the springtime. Not.

On to the chicken blog – chicken breast is ideal to use in salads. I am not a fan of buying the prepackaged, precooked breast strips because they are overpriced and contain far too much sodium. I  stock up on raw boneless breasts by shopping the sales circulars and cooking them myself– often they have ½ price sales and I stock up, since freezing is not a problem.... because....

You can keep frozen chicken breasts for up to 9 months (!) as long as you keep your freezer at 0 degrees or below. Look at us, budget friendly AND cooking chicken!

Since I didn't blog last night, I’m including two chicken salad recipes that are fast and easy and don’t involve a lot of prep. 

Note when you’re cooking the breasts to use in salads:
Use boneless breasts, pound them down to about ½” thickness, and spray lightly on both sides with cooking spray. Bake them on a cookie sheet for 30 minutes at 400 degrees, and set aside to cool for about 15 minutes, then shred or dice or slice and toss them into the salad of your choice.

Here are the recipes:

Honey Mustard Chicken Salad
12 ounce broiled or baked chicken breasts
3 large celery stalks
1 small onion
1 1/3 tbsp lite mayonnaise
4 ½ tsp honey mustard **
9 cups mixed salad greens
6 tbsp Balsamic vinegar and olive oil dressing ***

**Honey mustard:  2 ¼ tsp honey plus 2 ¼ tsp mustard, and whisk – if you want more, increase the quantities on both items in equal parts and go for it – I don’t like a lot of it, especially with the balsamic but it’s your call.

***Dressing: 3 tbsp Balsamic vinegar and 3 tbsp olive oil and whisk

Shred chicken, dice celery and onion and combine with mayo in small bowl.  Toss the salad greens with the dressing and serve with chicken salad on top.

Quick and Easy Chicken and Italian Dressing salad
This one is my attempt to recreate a salad I always used to get at our favorite restaurant when dining out. It is very, good if I do say so myself J
12 ounces broiled or baked chicken breasts
1 packet Good Season’s Italian Dressing mix, fully prepared with oil and vinegar
9 cups mixed salad greens of your choice
½ red onion, sliced and quartered
2 hard boiled eggs, crumbled*
1 cup shredded light cheese of your choice
Roasted shell-less pumpkin seeds or alfalfa, or even some chopped pecans
4 slices cooked turkey bacon crumbles

Pound the chicken breasts to ½” thickness and put them in a Tupperware container. Marinate them in the entire dressing mixture for at least 1 hour in the refrigerator. Pull them out and you can either bake them at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, or grill them if you want that nice charcoal flavor.

Cool and slice into strips. Toss the salad with the cheese, the seeds, red onion and bacon bits and top with chicken and hard boiled egg.

If you have never hard boiled an egg before, here is my tried and true method.

Put the eggs in a pot and just cover with COLD water. Put the pan over medium heat and bring it to a rolling boil. Turn OFF the heat and cover with a lid and let sit for 10 minutes. Voila!– hard boiled eggs.

Enjoy the salads, and tomorrow I will post some recipes that I use all the time at home with shredded chicken as the main event.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Chicken 101 -

For my dear friend in Nevada, who is learning the ropes - here is some of my chicken knowledge for you.

I am skilled at making it since it's pretty much the only protein that Le Fussy Spouse will eat on a regular basis with a minimum of complaint.

Two things to keep in mind when you're making chicken:

* Breasts and wings will require more moisture and less cooking time before they are done and will dry out faster - so be careful with them;
* Legs, and thighs will require less moisture and more cooking time before they are done.

What's the difference? Fat content. That's why you always find healthy cooking recipes featuring breasts, and also why they are more expensive. You can, however, make some pretty tasty dishes featuring thighs and I'll include some later on this week.

The best thing about chicken, though, is how versatile it is. You can broil it, bake it, fry it, saute it, braise it, boil it, make it into soups or stock, barbeque it, make chicken meatballs, chicken burgers, feature it in Middle Eastern dishes, shred it and put it in tacos or enchiladas or chimichangas, grill it and eat it on a sandwich... and the list goes on. I feel like that guy in the Forrest Gump movie talking about all the different ways to cook shrimp.

I think I'm going to make this Chicken Week on my blog - and I'll give some techniques for things like cutting up and boning a whole chicken, which is easier than you think - to stuffing a chicken breast or pounding it to make roulades. And posting recipes.

Today,  the easiest way to cook a chicken, and my family's favorite: Roasting.

I usually buy a whole oven stuffer roaster and rinse it well, removing all the giblets (freezing them in a Ziploc bag for stock later).  I pat it dry with paper towels and set it on a rack that was lightly sprayed with cooking spray.

It's important to use a rack (I learned this in cooking class) when you are roasting anything, because the rack allows the hot air to circulate around your meat, cooking it more evenly and also avoiding that horrible stuck- to-the-pan-by-the-burnt-spot on one side of your meat that can happen if you don't use a rack.

My other cheat is that I have a ready supply of McCormick's poultry seasoning blend on hand. Once I pat the bird dry, I rub it all over with the poultry seasoning, and also separate the skin from the breast to insert some seasoning directly on the breast meat by carefully inserting a wooden spoon in between the skin and the breast - but if you choose to do this, be slow and careful to avoid puncturing the skin.

I do not remove the skin because the fat on the skin allows the meat to remain moist while roasting. If you don't want to eat the skin, you can always remove it once the chicken is completely roasted.

The way we like it:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, make sure the oven rack is in the middle and roast for 20 minutes per pound.  Here's some Cooking Math: 20 minutes per pound for a 10 pound chicken = 200 minutes / 60 minutes to calculate hours =  3 1/3 hours.

I'm telling you now- your house will smell AMAZING while the chicken is cooking and the best thing about it is that whole chickens are usually cheaper to buy than individual parts. And you can use the leftovers in lots of interesting ways: sandwiches, soups, shred and use in other things, salad toppers, you name it. And did I mention - stocks? :-)

Uuse a meat thermometer to check the chicken to make sure it's cooked - and the thigh should be at 165 or a little below - and a little below when you pull it from the oven is actually preferred because:

When you pull the chicken out, you need to LET IT SIT for 15 minutes. Why? Because it will keep cooking once you pull it out of the oven and you do not want to lose all the juicy goodness. To cut up the chicken for serving, (after it sits, of course) I recommend following the directions in this video:

Do not forget to save the bones for stock later! (freeze them with your giblets in a Ziploc bag!)

More tomorrow - let's see if I can blog every day this week.

Monday, April 7, 2014

What I Learned in Cooking Class - Stocks

I've been away for far too long again, but my excuse is that I have been attending gourmet cooking school at night, as well as working at a new job so things have been a bit hectic.

I thought I might as well share some really good tips I learned about while in cooking class, so here you go:

Lesson 1: Stocks

The difference between stocks and broths are how they are made. Stocks are made using the bones from the carcass, and bits and pieces of the other parts and some meat. Broths are made from the meat only.

There are two different types of stock: brown stock and "white" stock, for lack of a better term. Brown stock is made by browning the bones and bits before you start making the stock, to draw out the flavors. White stock is made without pre-browning. Fish stock is another animal, as it's usually made from the leftover shells of sea creatures, like lobster and shrimp - so if you have those at home, start saving the shells to make fish stock later on. I can post a recipe for it, and I made a lovely shrimp bisque during class using fish stock that I made in under an hour, if you are interested.

My family thinks I am crazy because now every time we have a roast chicken or turkey, I am trimming the carcass,  hacking it up with a meat cleaver, and putting the bones in a freezer bag until I have enough to make a fresh batch of stock.

Making stock at home is surprisingly easy - and adding it to the things you are cooking enhances the heck out of the flavor profile without adding a lot of fat to your dish. So without further ado, I give you a simple recipe to make chicken stock.

You will need:

Approximately 2 quarts of chicken bones and scraps (usually two roast chickens will yield this nicely) - chopped into 1" bits
Enough water to cover by 1"
2 tsp salt

And your mirepoix (a fancy French name for mixed flavorful vegetables, I guess). But I love to say it: Mirepoix. Mirepoix. Mirepoix. Say it three times, fast :-)

(Mirepoix is 1/2 cup each chopped onion, carrot, and celery)

Throw in a bay leaf and some fresh parsley if you so desire.

Step 1: Put the bones in a large pot and cover them with water, and add the salt. Bring it to a simmer.
Step 2: Skim the scum - some gray scum will rise to the surface for several minutes. Skim it off until it stops rising.
Step 3: Add your mirepoix and optional seasonings.
Step 4: Cover the pot loosely and let it simmer for about 1 1/2 hours - add more water if you see that enough has evaporated so that the ingredients are exposed.
Step 5: Strain into a bowl, separating the stock from the flavorings and discard the flavorings. Or keep them in some of the stock and make soup.
Step 6: Cool the bowl and refrigerate/freeze the stock.

My tip: Buy yourself some ice cube trays and fill them with the stock to freeze. When you're cooking, it makes it very easy to pop some stock out of the tray and into whatever you are making. Each ice cube is about 1 1/2 oz of stock. Just don't confuse them with ice cubes for drinks - that may end up being quite a surprise for someone.

You can use the same recipe for turkey stock (same thing, just turkey bones/carcass) around Thanksgiving.

Beef stock is a little more complicated as the bones are huge and you'd need a bone saw to cut them down, so the cooking class instructor recommended buying an ingredient that you can find next to the bouillon in your grocery store - called base. It's a little pricey at around $4 a jar, but you only use 1 tsp of it to 8 oz of water to create instant beef stock, and it's really, super delicious.

OK that's enough of that - I'm using stock now to make black beans and rice for dinner, and I believe it's almost completely reduced.

Until next time :-)

Monday, March 3, 2014


Life has gotten in the way, so I haven’t been able to update lately with any new and delicious finds.

However, I want to begin subscribing to a cooking magazine recommended by my Gourmet Cooking class instructor – it’s called “Cook’s Magazine”. I really like it, as it not only includes some great recipes, but it also includes tips and tricks – in the issue I currently hold, they tried experimenting with frozen sour cream, they tested some products in there, and they give you the “why” on certain cooking techniques. I need to start subscribing to it – because I made this Tex Mex Enchilada recipe from it, and this was To.Die.For.

I am a slight bit annoyed as I just went to their website to link to the recipe, but I’m not allowed to view it unless I sign up for a 14-day “free trial” and I have to fork over my credit card. I hate that and I never follow through when I see sites with this on there. They are counting on the fact that you will forget to cancel after the 14 day trial ends and they can start charging your card.

Back to the recipe, though: I think the secret was in the gravy. This was not low-fat by any means, and I added some fat free refried beans to ours and cut the cheese in ½ because I didn’t want to die from Cheese Overload. Also, I think they would have been fine without the chopped onions, but your mileage may vary on these points.

My entire family loved them. DH took them to work for lunches the next few days, so you know when that happens, they are a hit. Here is the recipe – the original plus my changes to it:

Tex-Mex Cheese Enchiladas (serves 6)

2 dried ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded and torn into ½” pieces (I substituted 2 tsp. chili powder)
1 tbsp cumin seeds (I substituted ¾ tbsp. ground cumin)
1 tbsp garlic powder
2 tsp dried oregano
3 tbsp vegetable oil
3 tbsp all purpose flour
Salt & pepper to taste
2 cups chicken broth
2 tsp distilled white vinegar

12 (6 inch) corn tortillas
1 ½ tbsp. vegetable oil
8 ounces (2 cups) shredded Monterey Jack cheese
6 ounces (1 ½ cups) shredded cheddar cheese
1 small onion, finely diced
Optional: 1 can fat free refried beans and cut above the cheeses in half

Make the gravy first. Toast the chiles and cumin in a skillet over med-low heat for about 2 minutes, then preheat the oil in a skillet and take the chiles and remainder of spices and grind them in a food processor/spice grinder. Add the flour, ½ tsp salt, ½ tsp pepper and spice mixes to the skillet and cook for about a minute. Slowly whisk in the broth and bring to a boil, reduce the heat and whisk frequently until the gravy is thicker and reduced to about 1 ½ cups total volume. Whisk in vinegar last and season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees, and make sure your rack is in the middle of the oven. Brush both sides of tortillas with oil, and stack on a microwave safe plate. Cover with damp paper towel and microwave about 1 minute.

Spread ½ cup gravy in the bottom of a 13 x 9 baking dish. Combine the cheeses in a bowl and mix. If you are using the beans place 1 tbsp beans, 1/8 cup cheese mix and 1 tbsp onion on each tortilla and roll tightly, facing seam side down in baking dish. Cover the finished enchiladas with the remainder of the gravy and remaining cheese on top.

Cover dish with foil and bake in the 450 oven for about 15 minutes, and let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


I am happy to report, that during this week of Project Incorporate More Whole Grains into our Diets, that the chicken tabbouleh was a smashing success. And I had some serious doubts about making it because:
1) The flavor profile is distinctly Middle Eastern, and my family is not used to that;
2) It involved couscous, which my spouse complains about every time I make it. I don’t know why – it’s quite flavorful but it’s not the same texture as rice, so he’s not used to it. Perhaps that’s why.
Link to the recipe is here:
Mind you, there were some modifications I made to the recipe as follows:
·         I couldn’t find Bulgur in ShopRite at all, not even in the organic food aisle, so I used couscous instead.
·         I cooked the couscous in chicken broth instead of the water the recipe indicates to give it a flavor boost.
·         I omitted the mint (couldn’t find that either) and the yogurt (cause I know, again, hubby not on board with that).
·         And, instead of making it as a cold salad, I prepped the couscous by itself, cooked the chicken and shredded it separately, and combined the remaining ingredients in a large skillet and brought it to a simmer, adding the tahini right before serving.
We plated family style, so everyone got to put the amounts of couscous, chicken and sauce in a bowl and eat whatever proportion they liked.
It got RAVE reviews – my daughter went back for seconds, which very rarely happens unless there is fish involved. And my husband LICKED HIS PLATE (! … that’s all I have to say… just !) and has been bringing in the leftovers for work lunch. He keeps telling me how surprised he is that couscous can taste so good with the chicken and the sauce.
Best part is, I did the calorie count on my Bodymedia Fit and the meal itself is less than 400 calories.
I have a ton of leftover tahini, so I want to make some homemade hummus – but I need to find my mini chopper, which is – guess where? Storage.
This recipe will be added to my ongoing repertoire for sure – I used canned chopped tomatoes, which gave it a taste I didn’t like much, so next time around I will be sure to use fresh.
Until next time…. Tonight is turkey taco night and I’ll be trying an enchilada recipe later on in the week using whole wheat tortillas – hopefully, no one will notice.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Garlic Stuffed Roast and Other Tidbits

So, tonight for dinner - we had a garlic stuffed roast. It was incredibly easy to make. I don't remember where I found this recipe, but I think it was back in '07 or '08 and I hadn't made it since then. We aren't big beef eaters in my house, but when it keeps snowing and it's cold and it's Sunday, it's a nice comforting thing to make. And it smells great all day.

All I had to do was get a 2.5 lb roast, a can of cream of mushroom soup, a packet of onion soup mix, 2 tbsp of Worcestershire, and 10 garlic cloves (peeled and cut in half). I trimmed the fat, cut slits into the roast and inserted the half cloves all through it - then I threw everything in an oven bag, sealed it, and let it bake in a 250 degree oven for 8 hours.

The roast fell apart when I tried to extract it from the bag - it was tender, moist, had a wonderful flavor, and I also made sure I took the cloves out before we ate so we didn't get big bites of garlic. The drippings, I poured into a saucepan and added a little water to dilute - it made a heavenly gravy.

We are doing better with Project Add Whole Grains to our diet, and we have the following line up this week:

Chicken Tabblouleh with couscous (I didn't get a chance to make it last week);
Taco night
Chicken enchiladas with wheat tortillas
Garlic stuffed roast (which we had tonight)
Vegetable beef soup with biscuits
Salmon cakes with red beans and rice

I know the salmon cakes have been listed for the past couple of weeks - I'm putting it off because the recipe calls for canned salmon and I'm not sure that's going to be a tasty thing. And I had to give Spouse a little break from the fish.

Lots of changes going on at work this week, so let's see how that plays out. I'm very excited to announce that there is a Baker's Convention going on in Atlantic City at the end of March and I'm going! Also, this week in cooking class, we will be learning about vegetables.

We learned about emulsions this past week, which wasn't very thrilling to me. We made a lot of cold salads (not the lettuce and tomato kind, but the potato, tomato, and Chinese cabbage kind). They all used an emulsion of one kind or another and they all tasted pretty good -the problem is, the cooking school instructor seems to keep using food that is close to expiration or has expired and the salads made me very sick the next day.

I'll try to update more frequently this week,especially after I do the tabbloueh because I think that's going to cause the most issues with my family.

Have a great week!

Monday, February 3, 2014

I Have Had Enough Snow, Thankyouerymuch

Yes, it's snowing. It has been non-stop since 5:30AM. It is currently 1PM and this crap shows no signs of slowing down or stopping. We have a foot at my house. It was 50 degrees yesterday, so if Mother Nature could knock this shit off, I'd appreciate it.

The cold weather IS making me glad I made my homemade turkey chili this weekend, though. I discovered a new way to knock the flavor out of the park with it, by the way - beef base.

Beef base is a concoction that is made from boiling beef bones with meat to make a concentrate. It is a great substitute for bouillon - if you recall adding those hard cubes to boiling water many years ago - and it has much less salt. My teacher recommended it in cooking class last week and I saw it in ShopRite so I grabbed a jar - it cost $5, but you only use 1 teaspoon of the concentrate to 8 ounces of boiling water to make it, so it will last us for quite awhile.

I added 16 ounces to the chili recipe I make, and it rounded out the flavors and gave it a depth it previously lacked.

I like it as it's one of those hearty winter meals with no fat and some good beans for protein, and you can use it to top baked potatoes, or serve over rice, or incorporate it into another meal. My family sucked it down on Saturday night and I still have enough left over for the week's lunches. Now that it has sat in the fridge for a day, it tastes even better as the flavors have had more time to get to know each other in the pot.

I am sitting here at home, having just finished working out, eating hot chili and watching the goddamned snow fall from the sky.  But at least I'm enjoying my chili.

This is a recipe I came up with on my own. It's fairly simple, and mostly comes out of cans - but it is easy to make, it always comes out tasty, and it makes massive quantities which you can freeze or use for lunches.

Mootzie's Turkey Chili:

1 pound ground turkey breast
1 cup chopped onion
2 tbsp olive oil
1 whole green pepper, chopped and seeds removed
2 cans red kidney beans
2 large cans crushed tomatoes
1 packet of McCormick's chili seasoning mix
16 ounces beef stock, or better - the beef base above

In a large stockpot, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the onion and pepper to the pan - saute until the onions are translucent. Add the turkey breast, mixing and chopping with the spatula until the meat is browned. Add the chili seasoning mix, then the kidney beans, crushed tomatoes, and stock/base, and combine. Bring to a boil. Simmer for 45-1 hour to give it time to reduce. If you like it a bit thicker, add a slurry of 1 tbsp cornstarch mixed with 2 tbsp water while it's boiling.

Really quite good - healthy and rib sticking. I'm not one of those people from Texas who claim "Real chili has no beans in it" - I don't care if it qualifies as "real" chili - I enjoy it this way, and I'm sure you will too, even if you hail from the Lone Star State.

Hopefully, we can dig out of this mess before the next big storm hits on Wednesday, as it is scheduled to do.