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 :-)