Posts Tagged ‘chicken’

It’s about time I pop in and say hello!  I just had to share the salad I’ve been eating about every other day since strawberries have hit the farmer’s market in full force.  It’s really a combination of some of my favorite things in the world, all mixed together in one bowl.   There’s just such a melange of flavors and textures that it’s really satisfying–the leafy greens, the crunch from the pecans, the bite of red onion, the sweetness of the strawberries, and the acid from the balsamic vinaigrette just make this a delicious lunch.

Spring Spinach Salad with Strawberries and Grilled Chicken

Serves 2 as a small lunch dish

  • 4 cups baby spinach
  • 6-8 ounces grilled or broiled chicken breast, shredded
  • 1/4 of a small red onion, very thinly sliced
  • 8 large strawberries, sliced
  • 2 ounces broken pecan halves (about a large handful)
  • Balsamic Vinaigrette (or you can use your favorite) to taste

Just add all of those ingredients into a mixing bowl and toss until the vinaigrette is evenly distributed.

Happy Spring, everybody!


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 It was a cold, drizzly day in L.A. yesterday, and we were expecting a few friends over to spend an evening of fun and frivolity.  But, what to make?  I needed a crowd pleaser that wasn’t too fussy, but hearty and relatively healthy after all the excesses of the holidays.  I thought of Chicken Cacciatore–full of vegetables, and I could lighten it a little by using skinless chicken thighs with the fat trimmed off.  Now, the Polenta–that’s what was decadent, loaded with Fontina cheese–was a great complement to the Cacciatore.   I also served this with red chard braised in chicken stock with onions and garlic, which is not pictured.

And props to my patient friends, who didn’t mind me setting up my studio immediately after I had finished my plate so I could take a picture. 

These recipes are made to serve 8, but can be easily halved.

Chicken Cacciatore

8 boneless skinless chicken thighs, with the fat trimmed off (can use chicken breasts, but shorten cooking time because breasts will dry out quickly in braising)

1 1/2 cups flour, seasoned with salt & pepper

3 Tablespoons olive oil

1 large white onion, diced

1 large red bell pepper, diced

1 1/4 pounds crimini mushrooms, sliced

4 cloves garlic, diced

1 bay leaf

5 sprigs fresh thyme

1 Tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped

3/4 cup dry white wine

1-28 ounce can of diced tomatoes

2 Tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped

Salt & pepper

Chopped parsley (optional)

  1. Preheat oven to 325°
  2. Heat 5-quart dutch oven on medium heat;  dredge chicken pieces in seasoned flour and brown 2-3 pieces at a time, about 3-4 minutes each side.  Place browned pieces on a plate and set aside. 
  3. Add onion, red pepper, mushrooms, garlic, bay leaf, thyme sprigs, and rosemary;  sweat on medium heat until the juices from the vegetables are released (mushrooms will release a lot of water) and simmer for about 10 minutes until the liquids begin to reduce. 
  4. Add white wine and simmer for another 10 minutes.  Add tomatoes and oregano, and return chicken to the pot, burying the pieces in the sauce. 
  5. Bring to a full simmer again, top with lid, and put into oven for 30-35 minutes, until chicken is cooked through and is fork-tender.
  6. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.

Creamy Polenta

4 cups water

4 cups lowfat milk

2 cups coarse ground polenta

6 ounces Fontina cheese, shredded

Salt & pepper to taste

  1. While the Cacciatore braises in the oven, pour water and milk into 4 quart pot and bring to a hard simmer.
  2. Sprinkle the polenta into the simmering liquid (it should “rain” polenta–don’t just dump it in.  Dumping = Clumping.  Got it?), while whisking constantly. 
  3. As the polenta starts to thicken, switch to a wooden spoon to stir.  Stir frequently while polenta simmers–as it thickens, take care as it will start to bubble and splatter (think hot lava). 
  4. When the polenta is of a thickness like porridge, approximately 15 minutes, add fontina, season with salt and pepper and serve with Cacciatore.

Note:  This makes a rather large batch of polenta–if you have plenty leftover, pour the excess into a buttered loaf pan or cake pan.  Polenta firms up as it goes cold, and can be sliced into pieces and pan-fried–absolutely delicious served with eggs the next morning.

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After the soup and gougères, we still had several courses to go.

For our main course, I had heard a rumor of a Nigella Lawson recipe of a brandy and bacon chicken–a quick search online found the recipe, which, to be honest, had left me a little underwhelmed.  Still, it was a great inspiration, and used that as an idea to work into my own.  I started with a half-cup apple juice and a cinnamon stick in a skillet, and simmered that for a few minutes until the apple juice had reduced by half.  I poured in about a quarter cup of Calvados and set it aflame–one of the BEST parts of cooking!  Controlled fire!–and let it burn off all the alcohol.  One the flame was gone, I whisked in about 4 tablespoons worth of bacon fat, and I had something of a lovely, apple-ish, bacon-ish glaze for chicken.


I stuffed the cavity of the chicken with an apple half, and a few sprigs each of fresh sage and thyme.  The skin was rubbed down with salt and pepper, and spooned the Calvados glaze all over the skin. The chicken was roasted at 400° for a little over an hour–I didn’t really time the chicken since I had a digital thermometer in the thigh to tell me when it hit 165°.  Because of the residual sugars from the juice, the chicken did need to be tented with foil to keep the skin from burning.

Now, this was where I was a bad, bad food blogger and forgot to take a picture of the chicken when it came out of the oven;  this makes me sad because it was an absolutely gorgeous mahogany color when it was finished.  I did, however, take a picture of a main course plate:


We served that chicken with Cauliflower Gratin and Haricot Verts sauteéd in bacon and shallots.

I have to admit, I need to work on the recipe for the gratin (else I’d share it with you);  it came out kind of wet–it was still remarkably tasty, but the recipe needs some tweaking.

Haricot Verts with Shallots and Bacon

serves 4 as a side dish

3/4 pound fresh haricot vert (French green beans; regular green beans can be used), washed and stem ends trimmed

4 strips bacon

1 medium shallot, finely diced

  1. Steam or blanch beans to partially cook and set aside.
  2. In a large skillet, cook bacon strips until crispy and remove from pan to drain.  Leave bacon drippings in pan.
  3. Turn heat down to medium and add shallots.  Cook until glossy; toss in beans and cook until fork-tender, about 3-5 minutes.

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I don’t hate P.F. Chang’s.  I think they have some lovely cocktails, and the food isn’t bad, but I’ve always found it ridiculous that people will wait up to 2 hours to eat there on a Saturday night for overpriced “fancy” Chinese food served by blond college kids.  I like my Chinese restaurants old-school and cheap, like Hop Louie in Chinatown or Ming’s in Bellflower.

One dish of theirs that I am fond of is their Lettuce Wrap appetizer, and I was thinking that would make a great Friday night dinner at home–fun, fast, and not heating up the kitchen because it’s still 95° outside at 5 PM. It’s not an exact replica (a quick check on Google shows the recipe is definitely out there), and it really wasn’t my intention to copy the restaurant, but to make a spicy, full-of-vegetables filling that caters to our own personal tastes.


I just love these colors.


For the onion and bell pepper, I diced them small.  It’s important for a stir fry to have the items that take longer to cook, such as onions, carrots, celery to be sliced thinly or diced small.  Stir fries are done on high heat and should not take more than a few minutes to cook.

I’m a fan of recycling my plastic takeout cups like these, along with a bunch of random plastic tubs that fresh mozzarella or pizza sauce comes in.  When I’m prepping a dish like this, where it’s best to have everything chopped and ready to go before the actual cooking, those little tubs come in handy.

This goes in with one of the first lessons of culinary school:  mise en place (literally, putting in place), but we definite it as “everything in its place.”  All the vegetables are chopped, the steaks are trimmed, pasta is par-boiled, the ovens preheated, utensils set in a bain marie next to the stove so they’re in easy reach–all done to make a chef’s job efficient while cooking on the line in a restaurant.  It’s a concept that once a home cook masters it, the matter of throwing together a meal becomes easier.


See what I mean?  Nice little pieces of chicken breast, happily caramelizing in oil, hot splatters hitting my arm…

The chicken gets cooked in 2 batches;  chicken breast dries out quickly, and if I were to dump all of the chicken in at once, it would bring the pan temperature down, as well as all of that chicken giving off juices would mean there would be no quick browning and a longer cooking time–definitely not what we’d like to see here.


Once the chicken is cooked and set aside, the onion and bell pepper go in and cook until translucent and just starting to brown; the bok choy and bean sprouts get tossed in–these cook very quickly, a minute and a few stirs, and the chicken goes back in the pan.


Some chicken stock, some soy sauce, a little garlic, red pepper flakes, black pepper, and a tiny bit of Chinese Five Spice (go easy on that stuff, it can overpower a dish before you know it) whisked with cornstarch makes a fast sauce;  if I had thought of it before, I probably would have put a little bit of rice vinegar for a little bit of acid to brighten up the sauce, then again–I didn’t miss it, either.


Once the sauce thickens, take the wok off the heat, stir in some cilantro, and you are ready to go.



Call it Bibb, Boston, Butter, Butterhead or Limestone Lettuce;  I’m calling it Perfect for using in Lettuce Wraps.  Iceberg lettuce has its place (wedged, with blue cheese dressing), but the crisp texture causes it to break when you’re trying to, you know, wrap your filling. Bibb lettuce leaves are soft and flexible, and have a slight sweetness to them that works just right with the heat of the dish.   This one was sold in one of those clear boxes with the roots still attached to the bottom–instant science lesson for Kiddo while we were in the market.


Take lettuce leaf.  Fill with a generous spoonful of chicken.  Eat.  Be Happy.  And when the chicken is all gone, do what Choo did and fill the serving bowl with rice, to sop up all the leftover sauce and bits.

Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps

2 generous main dish servings; 4 if serving with other dishes

1 Tablespoon vegetable oil

1 Tablespoon sesame oil

appx. 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts (3 medium-sized, in my case), trimmed of fat, diced small

1 yellow or white onion, diced small

1 red bell pepper, diced small

1 head baby bok choy, sliced thinly

1 cup bean sprouts

1/2 cup cold chicken stock (if not homemade, use low-sodium broth)

3 cloves garlic, minced

3 Tablespoons soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more)

1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon Chinese Five Spice

1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon corn starch

Salt to taste (I still needed about a 1/2 teaspoon when I tasted it)

1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped, plus extra for garnish, if desired

1 head of Bibb lettuce, washed, dried, and leaves separated

  1. On a high flame, heat wok or large skillet.  Add vegetable and sesame oils.
  2. Add half of the chicken and fry, stirring often, until just cooked and turning brown, about 3 minutes. Remove chicken from pan,  put into a bowl, and set aside.  Repeat this with the second batch of chicken.
  3. Add onion and bell pepper and cook until glossy, translucent, and just starting to get a little brown, about 4-5 minutes.
  4. Add bok choy and bean sprouts, toss until incorporated and bok choy is wilted, about 1 minute.
  5. Return chicken to pan.
  6. In a bowl, whisk together chicken stock, garlic, soy sauce, red pepper flakes, black pepper, Chinese Five Spice, and cornstarch; pour into pan and stir until sauce has thickened and coated everything.
  7. Take off heat, salt to taste, and stir in cilantro.
  8. Pour into serving dish, and serve with lettuce leaves.

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The Basics: Chicken Stock

Just because money is tight–and let’s face it, it pretty much fits all of us these days–it doesn’t mean that you have to skimp on having good things come out of your kitchen.  And, when you have a chance to turn things that would normally end up in the trash and turn them in gold–liquid gold–with only an investment of a few dollar’s worth of herbs and vegetables and your time.

Homemade stock is a cornerstone of making the best soups and sauces, and there is no way to compare canned broth to the flavor profile and richness that comes from making your own.  I don’t think it’s a difficult thing to make, but when you’re making a large batch, there is time involved, and the straining can get a bit messy.  Trust me, though, it’s worth the trouble.

First thing, you have to have your chicken.  I have a habit of buying whole chickens, because I like keeping the carcasses if I roast them whole, or if I use them for anything else, I cut out the backbone, wing tips, and save the neck, which goes into the ziploc bag I keep in the freezer for this reason.  Sure, it’s extra work, but buying a chicken whole is cheaper than buying them butchered.  If you just want to just make the chicken stock without waiting to gather enough chicken bones in your freezer, become good friends with your local butcher–things like backbones and feet are exactly what you want in your stock, but no one really buys them.  You should be able to broker a good price for the stuff he might be tossing out anyway.

By the way, the reason you want all those bones and feet for your stock, and not full, meaty pieces (other than it being entirely wasteful, since the long simmer time is going to render the meat inedible) is all the collagen hanging around in the joints and bits of skin.  That collagen is what gives stock its rich mouthfeel; it’s why a good chicken stock, when chilled, will set like jello.


Next are the vegetables.  Today’s word of the day is mirepoix, and it’s what’s going into the stockpot. It’s a culinary term for the classic French combination of the aromatic vegetable combination of onions, carrots, and celery.   There is an actual, true ratio for mirepoix, which is 50% onion, 25% carrot and 25% celery.  For a little variation, leeks can be used for up to half of the onion.

Notice I haven’t mentioned any other vegetables.  In a classic version of chicken stock, there are no other vegetables–you may find tomato in beef stock, and parsnips in place of carrots in fish stock, but that’s it.  This also means NO GARLIC.  I’ve seen so many stock variations putting garlic, and it just burns my biscuits.  Garlic has the ability to turn stock bitter.  Don’t do it, kids.  Leave it to when it’s time to make soup or a sauce for adding garlic.

Now, let’s talk about herbs.  If we were in a fancy French kitchen, then we would be putting in a bouquet garni;  a combination of  fresh thyme sprigs, parsley sprigs, bay leaf and peppercorns either wrapped in a leek leaf or tied up in cheesecloth.  I use those herbs, but I don’t worry my pretty little head about tying them up into anything.  Considering everything gets strained out at the end of the day, I don’t bother wasting my twine.

I have a very simple ratio to use for stock, which is easily multiplied and foolproof:

1 pound chicken bones and trimmings such as feet, necks, wing tips, etc.

1 pound mirepoix

1 bouquet garni (5-6 sprigs each thyme and parsley, 1 bay leaf, 1/2 tsp. black peppercorns)

2 quarts water

Granted, when I make chicken stock, I do about 4 or 5 times that amount, and will produce about one-and-a-half gallons of stock once everything has simmered and been strained.

Everything goes into the stockpot.  It’s a good idea to use one big enough that you can bring everything to a boil without it spilling over.  When I’m making a large batch like I do, I don’t chop up my vegetables all that much–everything just gets scrubbed or peeled and cut in half.  Once everything is in the pot and covered with water, the flame gets turned to high and brought to a full, rolling boil.  Once that happens, the flame gets turned to low, and the stock is left to simmer for 6-8 hours.  At this point, it’ll look like this (caution–it’s not pretty):


See?  I told you it wasn’t pretty.  The delicious chickeny smell that fills the house definitely cancels out the ugly.

At this point, it’s time to strain the stock.  I do it in a 2-step process, where I strain everything through a colander, catching all the large pieces; then the stock that is strained through a chinois to catch all the small fragments.  I will often simmer the stock for another hour or more after straining to reduce it slightly–it’s not necessary, but freezer space is in short supply, and if it means just one less container, it’s a big help.


I also have an ice cube tray just for the purpose of freezing a few batches of stock cubes.  It’s perfect for when I’m making something that needs a little pan sauce, and this is just perfect to have on hand–I won’t need to defrost a bunch of stock when I can throw a few of these cubes in the pan and be done with it.

Once my stock is wrapped up to store (I put them into 1-quart containers), I pack them away in the freezer, and they’re good for 3 months.  I’ve got my batch ready for when it starts to cool down;  I know I’m ready for some Roasted Butternut Squash Soup, that’s for sure.

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More often than not, I like buying my chickens whole.  I know they’re not exactly convenient, but considering Choo likes white meat, Kiddo likes drumsticks, and I’m a fan of wings–it kind of balances out.  Plus, I save all the bones and trimmings and throw them into my “bone bag” (a ziploc bag kept in the freezer of all my chicken bits and pieces to be used later for making chicken stock).  I keep my eye out for when they’re on sale, and sometimes they’re as cheap as $0.59 a pound.  Considering a whole chicken will make at least two full-sized meals for the family, not to mention the gallon of stock I’ll make this weekend, I think that’s a heckuva bargain.

I pulled a chicken out of the freezer a few days ago with the idea of doing a Beer Can Chicken, but the thought of being outside while it’s 101° and the smoke from The Station Fire made me change my mind.  Yesterday, I poached the chicken (sorry, no pictures of that), and pretty much picked it all apart–the carcass went into the bone bag, skin and gristly bits tossed out, and everything left was shredded.  Today; I pulled it out and decided it was time for one of my favorite summer chicken salads, roughly based on Whole Food’s Sonoma Chicken Salad.


Out of that poached chicken, once picked over and shredded gave me 1 1/2 pounds of meat.  I even measured it for you, because I know I’m the type to throw a whole bunch of stuff into a bowl without measuring and when someone asks me for a recipe, then I’m left shrugging.  It’s a flaw, I know.  I’m working on it.

Added to that 1 1/2 pounds of shredded chicken:


3 large ribs of celery, chopped medium dice

1 bunch of green onions, which happened to be 5 fat ones, thinly sliced

1/3 cup of chopped pecans

1/3 cup of sunflower seeds (it would have been all pecans if I hadn’t run out of them, so I improvised!)

1/2 bunch of Italian parsley, chopped fine

1 cup red grapes, sliced in half

To all of this, I add:


1 heaping cup of whole milk yogurt.

Wait.  Can we talk about yogurt for a minute?  I love the stuff, but we’re talking real, honest-to-god yogurt like Pavel’s, Straus, or FAGE.   Have you ever read the ingredients on a Yoplait non-fat yogurt?  It’s kind of scary to think of all the things that get pumped into yogurt (and I use the term loosely) to make it “healthy” when it’s loaded with all kinds of additives and artificial flavors.

You know what should be in your yogurt container?


What you see here:  milk, yogurt cultures, and maybe some added Vitamin D.  Eat this with some fresh fruit (or make Tzatziki!), and your body will thank you.

ANYWAY.  Back to my salad:

Toss in that heaping cup of yogurt, season generously with salt and pepper to taste.

This is particularly delicious stuffed into some whole-grain bread (as Choo ate it), or piled on top of some fresh baby spinach (that was my bowl).


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