Category Archives: Meat

Caesar Crusted Chicken with Roasted Romaine

If you make a recipe 4 weeks in a row, it’s time to share it with the world.

James and I have been really into roasting for the past few months.  We’re a busy couple of kids and looking to maximize our time, so roasting can come in handy: you prep the ingredients, put them in the oven and then you have time to clean up and set the table and all that good stuff.  Plus, roasting makes food taste delicious!

So when I came upon this recipe on Bon Appetit, I was rather intrigued and it did not disappoint.  First of all, it taught me that I don’t always need to  go through the flour-egg-breading process – this recipe has you mix together a breading and pat it on top of the chicken before it goes into the oven.  That’s it.

Secondly, grilling hearts of romaine has been trendy for years now but I’ve never tried it – mainly because I don’t have a grill.  I was delighted to see that you can roast romaine at a high heat for the same effect.  It’s incredibly easy, very quick and tastes amazing – it completely changes the romaine into an entirely new experience:  crunchy but with the satisfying flavors of a sauteed green.

The original recipe uses a lot of flavors you’d find it a Caesar salad (hence the name) including anchovies – but I’ve omitted them.  They really gross me out.  If you’re into them, go ahead and give them a try.  (The recipe added them to the romaine after it was baked.)

Caesar Crusted Chicken with Roasted Romaine

Ingredients:

  • 4 – 7 oz. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1/2 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano, plus extra for romaine
  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs, plus extra for romaine
  • 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons dried herbs de provence (parsley and thyme also worked well for us)
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 2 hearts of romaine (more, depending on your appetite – I can eat a whole romaine heart by myself)
  • garlic olive oil for drizzling
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges

Procedure:

  1. Preheat the oven to 450ºF
  2. Mix together cheese, bread crumbs, olive oil, herbs de provence, and garlic.  Season with salt and pepper (remember, parmigiano is quite salty itself.)
  3. Arrange chicken breasts on a baking sheet.  Take a handful of breading and pat gently on top of the chicken breasts to ensure adhesion
  4. Bake chicken breasts for about 20 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast reads 165ºF
  5. Meanwhile, cut your romaine heads in half and arrange on a baking sheet
  6. Drizzle with garlic olive oil, sprinkle with bread crumbs, parmigiano, salt and pepper
  7. Bake romaine halves for 5 minutes.
  8. Squeeze lemon juice onto both chicken and romaine.  Enjoy!

Procedure with Pictures and Anecdotes

Cranking your oven up to 450ºF is the key to the speed of this recipe.  You want to keep an eye on your chicken, especially the first time you make the recipe.  I recommend checking the temperature every 5 minutes after you pass the first 10 minutes of cooking.  The temperature can go from under-cooked to overcooked very quickly.

I know in Buttermilk-Brined Chicken I said that I hated washing the garlic press and avoided using it, but I’ve come around.  We have a new garlic press that doesn’t take nearly as much effort for me to use and that won me over.  Also, this amazing little gadget that came with it – a silicone garlic peeler.  Usually I would smash a knife into the garlic clove to break it free of its skin, but this is so much more fun!  Insert the garlic cloves into the silicone tube, press down firmly and roll them on the counter.  Within seconds, perfectly peeled garlic gloves.  Washing it only takes a rinse with water – I totally recommend it!

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Patting the breading onto the chicken doesn’t seem instinctive, but its helped along by the fact that the breading is a little wet, from the olive oil and the fat in the cheese.  It helps stick together nicely.  As you can see in the pictures below, I cup my hand with the mixture, get my hand right next to the chicken breast and then quickly flip my hand over onto the chicken to coat.  Some of the breadcrumbs will fall off and that’s just fine.

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Cutting the romaine isn’t intuitive either.  The first time I tried it, I cut from the stem end of the heart, but I found starting in the middle actually worked better somehow.  The last time I made the recipe, I actually cut the stems off of the romaine once they were in the pan.  It’s easier to eat that way and, as long as you have some tongs to transport them from pan to plate, it shouldn’t cause any problems.

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I have found that reheating the romaine doesn’t work out great.  But since it takes so little time, I cook the romaine from scratch when reheating the chicken for leftovers.

And now some pictures of the finished product.  Look at how gorgeous the breading becomes!

DSC_0091DSC_0098The lemon is definitely makes the dish – do not leave it out!  I like using wedges because it’s easy – my juicer is kind of a production.  Also, looks very classy for a weeknight…

Hail Caesar!

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(For extra credit, we tried combining this chicken with our favorite stand-by recipe Roasted Chicken with Apples.  The results were delectable !  If you become obsessed with this recipe like me, give that rendition a whirl.)

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Thanksgiving Dry Run: Cornbread Stuffing

This year for Thanksgiving, James and I have volunteered to bring a dish we’ve never tried before but that I’ve always wanted to make: cornbread stuffing.  Or I guess, more exactly, cornbread dressing since it won’t be stuffed inside the bird. We’re from Philadelphia and cornbread is not really a staple of family meals, although always welcome.  Stuffings or dressings that don’t use regular sandwich bread have always fascinated me, since that’s what I grew up eating – Mom’s bread dressing is always made with Arnold’s Whole Wheat Bread.  I’m also interested in the texture difference that chunks of cornbread would lend to stuffing – but most importantly, the flavors of slightly sweet cornbread combined with sage and rosemary sounds heavenly.  James’ brother, Andrew, the brave host of Thanksgiving even with the most adorable 3.5-months-old baby now residing in their home, welcomed the side dish and we’re excited to contribute.

Cornbread stuffing actually requires the use of two completely new recipes to us: baking cornbread and then the cornbread stuffing.  We could buy the cornbread, of course, but I saw several warnings that grocery-store cornbread would be too sweet.  And I had to concede that can happen – grocery-store cornbread can often taste like corncake.  So we decided to do a dry run and make both recipes, so we can be sure it’s delicious on Thanksgiving Day.

I only do dry-runs for really important things: I’ve done a few Christmas Cookie dry-runs, feeding my office with the tests, or before we’re going to make a special meal for someone.  But having the audacity to volunteer yourself for the most important part of the Thanksgiving table and trying a new recipe?  You must have some nerve.  Thanksgiving is the most sacred of meals in the year: if you’re contributing, you better bring your A-game.

The best way, in my opinion, to do a dry run is to do the recipe once exactly as written.  Therefore, I did no such thing.  Who has time for that?

When waiting at the doctor’s office one morning, James and I went through a whole bunch of recipes for cornbread stuffing on our phones and narrowed down the ones we liked.  Eventually, we settled on an Anne Burrell recipe, but we decided to sub in bacon for sausage, and omit cranberries and walnuts, to make it more crowd-pleasing.  All the rest of the ingredients seemed right on.

I found a recipe that reviews lauded as a sturdy cornbread that wouldn’t fall apart, that seemed perfect for this dish.  We needed 10 cups of cornbread, and in the very helpful video from Anne Burrell it looked like she just used two 8-inch cornbreads, so I’m trusting that I was right about that.

And therein lies one of my biggest frustrations as a home cook – poor recipe writing for normal people.  This recipe called for 10 cups of cornbread.  Sorry, but cornbread isn’t measured in cups.  Had I decided to base the amount of cornbread I needed to make on the number of cups in the recipe, I would have made 5 cornbreads instead of two.  Can you help a girl out and tell me how I get to 10 cups?  Come on now.

We’re feeling really good about the stuffing at this point, but we do have a few tweaks to make, which I’ve included in the recipe below.  I’ll make updates once Thanksgiving Day has gone down!

Cornbread Dressing

Adapted heavily from Anne Burrell’s recipe

Ingredients:

Cornbread (makes one 8″ x 1″ loaf):

Dry ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup plus 3 TBL yellow cornmeal
  • 1 TBL baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt

Wet ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick or 4 TBL) melted butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk

Cornbread dressing:

  • 2 pounds bacon
  • 2 medium-sized onions, diced
  • 1 heart celery, diced
  • salt
  • 3 gloves of garlic, pressed
  • 10 sage leaves, finely chopped
  • 3 sprigs rosemary, finely chopped
  • 2  8-inch cornbread loves, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 5 cups chicken stock

Procedure:

  1. First, bake your cornbread, at least 6-hours prior.
    1. Preheat your oven to 400ºF.
    2. Grease your pans
    3. Combine dry ingredients and wet ingredients separately.
    4. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir just to combine.
    5. Grease pan, pour batter into pan, smooth into an even layer.
    6. Cook for 30-33 minutes, until a skewer or knife inserted into the center of the loaf can be removed (mostly) clean
    7. Cool, remove loaf from pan, leave loaf out in the open air to stale
  2. When ready to make the dressing, preheat oven to 350ºF
  3. Chop all your ingredients – onions, celery, herbs
  4. Cook bacon in a skillet on the stovetop.  Cut bacon into pieces with kitchen scissors or with a knife.
  5. Once bacon is cooked, remove to a plate lined with paper towels to drain
  6. Let fat cool slightly and removed from pan.  Leave about 4 tablespoons of bacon fat in the pan. (You heard me.)
  7. Add onions, celery and 1/2 tsp salt and cook in bacon fat on medium heat until they are lightly golden brown, about 10 minutes.
  8. Add pressed garlic and herbs and cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes.
  9. Remove “aromatics” mixture from heat and let cool slightly – you’ll be mixing it with your hands soon.
  10. In a very large bowl (I mean VERY large), combine cornbread chunks, chicken stock and aromatics.
    1. Add chicken stock 1 cup at a time.  You may not need a full 5 cups.
    2. This may be easiest to do by hand: reach down into the bowl, and pull your hands up as if folding the mixture on top of itself.  It may take about 2 minutes until mixture is thoroughly combined.
    3. The final mixture will be very wet, but about half of the cornbread cubes will still hold their shape.
  11. Pour the mixture into a large casserole dish and bake in oven for 30-45 minutes, until the top is lightly golden and the mixture is very hot in the middle.
  12. Although delicious hot, we found the dressing even more delicious after sitting in the fridge for a day.  Heat in the oven again before serving.

Procedure anecdotes:

Since I’m serving this for guests, I took extra care to make sure my onion was properly diced, which can be a daunting task.  If you’ve never done it before, you make cuts in the onion in three directions.  It’s easiest in this order:

Horizontal slices (about 3):20141116_160028

Vertical Slices:20141116_160109

Now you can see the little cubes you’re aiming for, you can make perpendicular slices:20141116_160129

For the bacon, we cut the slices into pieces, instead of crumbling the bacon after it was crisp.  I wanted big chunks instead of bits.  James likes to cut each slice into the pan, as opposed to slicing the pieces altogether.

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I don’t always use fresh herbs, but it’s fun for something special.  Fresh herbs taste deeper, in my opinion – you get more of the flavor.  For the rosemary, you can strip the leaves (or “needles”, really), off their sprig by holding onto the top of the sprig and pulling your fingers downward.  You do not need pick them off one by one!  The smaller “branches” that hold the leaves are perfectly safe to eat.20141116_162512

With the sage, the recipe calls for 10 leaves.  I pile these leaves on top of each other and then roll them up, almost like a cigar! Then I slice into very thin ribbons or “chiffonade.” I then run the knife through the ribbons again several times to get a very fine mince.

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Finally – that yummy cornbread.  As I said above, the recipe we used isn’t my ideal cornbread for eating with some BBQ – it isn’t very moist and doesn’t have an interesting flavor on its own.  However, we hit a home run for the stuffing.  It works PERFECTLY – not too sweet and very sturdy.  It’s very easy to cut into cubes and mix with the aromatics and chicken stock.20141116_162742 20141116_163709

The finished mixture is half crumbly, half chunky – the texture really could not be more perfect!

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Yeah.20141116_172742

 

Girl.20141116_173843

 

Chicken Meatballs

Ground poultry has been extremely trendy in the past, oh, 10 years or so and I’ve been fascinated with how it could become so mainstream.  Because for years now, I’ve found ground poultry extremely difficult to work with.

Unlike ground beef or pork, which has enough fat to create a rather homogeneous product, ground poultry can only be described as “goopy.”  The mixture is so fluid that I can hardly use my hands to form balls or patties, and often end up sculpting  a patty with my spatula in the pan.  And forget about flipping the burgers – just cross your fingers and then try to fix it after the mixture flops into the other patties.

Yet I see copious amounts of recipes using ground poultry on the internet and offerings in restaurants.  So what am I missing?!  How am I so incredibly terrible at using this ingredient?

It seems that the missing secret was fat.  I couldn’t imagine adding another liquidy ingredient like egg to my mixtures and never did – to my own detriment.  With this delicious recipe for Chicken Meatballs, I finally caved and added the egg and the meatballs turned out perfectly.  Perfectly!  In fact, I had figured out how to take pictures with my phone by voice command and rigged it up to be able to take pictures of the goopy process of making meatballs without touching the phone, but there was really nothing to show.  The mixture comes together like any other meatball.20141013_173603

This recipe has another fabulous ingredient that I never would have thought to use myself – rolled oats in place of traditional breadcrumbs.  Add a little fiber, why doncha?  The rolled oats didn’t add any distinguishable taste but helped to keep the meatballs together while adding wholesomeness.  Count me in.20141013_180034

Chicken Meatballs

  • Servings: 16-ish meatballs
  • Print

Adapted from the recipe by Janie Hoffman on Epicurious

1 pound ground chicken
1 large egg
1/3 cup coarsley grated or minced red onions
3/4 cup rolled or “old-fashioned” oats
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
3 TBL extra-virgin olive oil
1 TBL fresh oregano, chopped
1 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes – star ingredient

1. Preheat the oven to 475°F
2. Combine all ingredients. To save time, I put the oregano and red onion in a food processor and pulverized them.
3. Grease a jelly roll pan or other rimmed baking sheet (I used nonstick cooking spray, but your can use some oil on a paper towel, too.)
4. Roll the mixture into medium-sized balls, about three tablespoons, and place on baking sheet.
5. Bake in oven at for 12 minutes or until the internal temperature is 165°F

Pictures and anecdotes

The original recipe is from a cookbook called The Chia Cookbook and uses a “chia gel” in place of egg.  I don’t have a problem with eggs, so I went ahead and added the egg and they turned out great!20141013_173259

I used shallots for this recipe, thinking I was clever.  I am not clever.  Shallots are great because they have a slightly less pungent flavor than onions.  I learned to love shallots when I lived alone because often just one little shallot is plenty for a meal for one – then you can keep the others with their peel intact for another meal.  However, the shallots were incredibly annoying to peel to have enough for this recipe – it took forever!  However, once peeled, I put both the shallots and the oregano in a small food processor instead of mincing or grating.  I saved a lot of time this way – will definitely be trying it again in other recipes!20141013_172716

Baking tips:

Baking is easier because you can put the meatballs into the oven and walk away but the method does not give you an even brown – unless you want to turn the meatballs halfway through cooking time, which makes it slightly less easy.  Still, I prefer this to browning on the stovetop, which can be very messy.  The original recipe suggests that you grill the meatballs – I can’t because I don’t have a grill, but a very interesting idea!

To find the perfect cooking time, I used one of my favorite kitchen tools – my oven safe thermometer.  You probe the meat and a long, oven safe cord attaches to the temperature display outside of the oven.  The trick is to position the tip of the probe in the center of your meatball, so that it doesn’t touch the pan, which will be a different temperature altogether.  My model also has an alarm that is triggered by the temperature.  Set the desired temperature and walk away – the thermometer will tell you when your food is done.  Brilliant!20141013_17562220141013_17561620141013_175737

They smell AMAZING – herby, cheesy, meaty, fantastic.  The red pepper is my favorite part, which gives you lovely heat at the end of your bite.  I think they would go great with the original recipe‘s pasta and lemon sauce or pretty much anywhere you’d use beef meatballs.  We stuck them in butternut squash soup and they were awesome.20141013_180018

 

Spicy Peperonata – and a Pepper Problem

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This is one of those recipes that I’ve held onto for years and years and years.  While we’re on the subject of colorful fruits and veggies, this could not be a more perfect recipe to try.

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I think perhaps my favorite thing about this recipe is the dressing of lime juice and mint – a divine combination.  I thought the mint would “cool down” the hot pepper in the recipe, but that is not its role – it complements the spice in a very sophisticated way, balancing instead of counteracting.  It’s absolutely worth going out and buying mint.  (Or if you have mint in the garden, well, you’re just a badass, aren’t you?)

There’s just one teensy, weensy catch with this recipe: the spicy pepper.  Seems easy, no?  But this recipe calls for a poblano, which is a larger, much milder pepper than your jalapeno but with a similar dark green color, that often looks a bit collapsed.  Like so – poblano-chili-pepper

They’re a fairly common pepper, yet I have found that  a lot of grocery stores (especially my beloved Trader Joe’s) has limited variety in peppers.  Oh, they’ll have your various colors of bells (which is also helpful in this dish!), but beyond that you’re out of luck.  So what’s a girl or guy to do?

When we made this recipe about a year ago, we went to a store with a large variety of produce but with dismal labeling and couldn’t find the poblanos.  We found one that looked like a poblano, but it was labeled as a very hot pepper, and we didn’t want that.  Then there were these bright, lime green peppers that were a similar size to poblanos.  And from what I thought I had learned about peppers, the bigger they are, the milder they’ll be.  So I was certain that these would be fine and James, like the good and faithful man that he is, believed me.  Poor James.

After we sliced up all the peppers and threw them in the pan, we started to clean up because the recipe is practically done at this point (another bonus!)  James started to cough and couldn’t figure out why – he thought he just had something in his throat.  But then I started coughing, too – my eyes were stinging and water would not give me relief.   We’re both rather sensitive to chopping onions, which has resulted in quite a bit of drama in the kitchen, but this was different – and it was permeating the entire apartment.  That’s when I realized – the pepper I chose was not mild at all!  Indeed, it was so hot that it was sending its capsaicin molecules flying into the air and choking us both.   Capsaicin is the chemical compound in hot peppers that produces that burning feeling so many people enjoy.  When your pepper starts to affect you before you’ve actually begun eating, you know that pepper is going to pack a punch.

The resulting meal was outrageously hot.  We tried serving it with sour cream to cool the burn, which it did, but it really was not the meal we had intended.  If you love super hot peppers, then go ahead and try a different pepper in this recipe.

For me, I’ll continue to seek out the poblano, although the heat level will vary a bit every time.  Peppers are living things, after all, subject to lots of environmental differences that will change the way they grow.  In the case of the recipe pictures below, I made a special trip to Whole Foods which does a great job of properly labeling their produce and has a greater variety than Trader Joe’s, thus finding a poblano with just the right amount of subtle heat.  If you’re lucky enough to live by a Wegman’s, they also do a great job with labeling and even specify the hotness of each pepper – not to Scoville-scale specificity, but they give you a general idea.  Also, if you live by a Wegman’s, COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS AND NEVER MOVE.  That place is paradise.

Versatile, you say?  Oh absolutely.  We served the peperonata over chicken and farro but you could serve with anything – pasta, polenta, grains, toast, over eggs, over steak – even all by its lonesome.  My only regret this time is that I didn’t double the recipe: we went through it fast.

The recipe below I tweaked from Bon Appetit because I found their dressing to be incredibly oily.  I would just add a dash of extra virgin olive oil and increase if you like.  In my opinion, the lime juice is the real key ingredient in the dressing.

Spicy Peperonata – serves 4

Ingredients: 

  • Olive oil (I prefer extra virgin, but you could go extra virgin in the dressing and a cheaper oil for pan frying, if you prefer)
  • 2 TBL fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons chopped mint
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, thinly sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, sliced
  • 1 fresh poblano chile, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 medium red onion, sliced
  • Salt and pepper

Process:

1. Juice your lime, chop your mint, and combine with as much extra virgin olive oil as you desire.  Season with salt, pepper and coriander.

2. Slice your bell peppers and onion to about 1/4 inch in width.  Slice your poblano peppers to 1/8 inch in width, to spread out that peppery goodness.

3. Season your chicken breasts with salt and pepper.  Heat some more oil in a frying pan to medium-high heat and add your chicken.  Caution – this is a splattery process!  Get your chicken breasts crispy golden and cooked through.  Remove from the pan.

4. Add your peppers and onion to the pan.  Move the veggies around to coat with the existing oil in the pan.  Add some more oil until all veggies are lightly coated.  For a cooking process like this, it’s best that the oil distribution is even so the heat conduction is even and everyone cooks at the same time.

4. This process takes about 10-15 minutes.  Stir often until the veggies are limp and reduced in size by about half.

5. Mix in the lime/mint dressing and serve atop chicken breasts.

Process with Pictures and random anecdotes:

1. Juice your lime, chop your mint, and combine with as much extra virgin olive oil as you desire.  Season with salt, pepper and ground coriander.

You don’t need to grind coriander fresh by any means – but I have a spice grinder that I never use, so I figure, why not?
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In order to measure fresh herbs, I just take the appropriate measuring spoon out and use it to estimate how much herb I need to chop.  By no means does herb measurement ever need to be exact!20140714_174219

2. Slice your bell peppers and onion to about 1/4 inch in width.  Slice your poblano peppers to 1/8 inch in width, to spread out that peppery goodness.

You can compare sizes here: 20140714_181823

Make sure to use the tops of your peppers as well!  Once you slice the top off, the stems and pod of seeds can be very easily detached from the flesh of the pepper.  No need to waste an inch!20140714_180638 20140714_180937

3. Season your chicken breasts with salt and pepper.  Heat some more oil in a frying pan to medium-high heat and add your chicken.  Caution – this is a splattery process!  Get your chicken breasts crispy golden and cooked through.  Remove from the pan.20140714_184335

4. Add your peppers and onion to the pan.  Move the veggies around to coat with the existing oil in the pan.  Add some more oil until all veggies are lightly coated.  For a cooking process like this, it’s best that the oil distribution is even so the heat conduction is even and everyone cooks at the same time.20140714_184316

4. This process takes about 10-15 minutes.  Stir often until the veggies are limp and reduced in size by about half.20140714_185712 20140714_185724

5. Mix in the lime/mint dressing and serve atop chicken breasts.

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Roasted Chicken with Apples

I’m on my 5th day of recovery after having my gallbladder removed and things are progressing nicely.  I’m still rather tired and need to take breaks from sitting up to lay down, but the pain is subsiding and I hardly take any pain medication anymore.

Eating, however, is still a challenge.  I am voracious but can eat very little when I actually sit down to do so.  I’m not sure if that has anything to do with the surgery or because I’ve always had a small appetite.  But I’m craving everything – any food I see on the TV, on the internet, even food James is eating that I don’t usually care about I’ve been ogling with utmost longing.  Pepperoni pizza, not something I’ve particularly cared about giving up, has climbed to the top of the list of things I crave – but not yet, not yet.

After gallbladder removal you need to stay on an extremely low-fat diet: the doctor’s instructions say for 3 weeks (which would be exactly when I leave for Chicago on vacation), but I’m going to ask about when I can start introducing more fat into my diet at my post-op appointment.  Extremely low fat  is defined as 3g of fat or less, which is a very small amount and really very difficult to find.  Some chicken soups even have more than that, so I’m just trying to keep it in the ballpark.

In honor of this lowfat diet, I give you Roasted Chicken with Apples.  For a while now, doctors and nutritionists have been telling us that vegetables and fruits should take up more room on our plate than meat and starch – a good goal is half the plate and better yet to eliminate the starch completely!  Yet, I think most Americans find this hard to do: the meat + vegetable + starch formula for our dinner plates is hard-wired into our habits.  This was all the rage after World Wars I & II, because our soldiers were fed “3 square meals” a day when overseas, which consisted of just this formula – intended to keep our soldiers full of calories for the extensive physical feats that were asked of them.  When the soldiers came home, this is what they wanted to eat.  And a tradition was born that you still see in restaurants and dinner tables across the country.the_more_you_know_nbc

Don’t get me wrong, I love carbs – when I realized I couldn’t eat cheese, I declared that if you took bread from me, life would not be worth living.  And I am a great advocate of fiber from carbs and not purchasing carby foods for my home that don’t contain a good amount of fiber.  But I can also see the benefits of adding even more fruits and veggies to my diet and my dinner plate.  So when I saw this recipe for mashed, roasted apples, in place of the rice or mashed potatoes on a more traditional plate, I thought that was a good first try: apples are still carby but with more complex nutrients than others.  But I abandoned the recipe after a few tries.  The mashed apples took too much time and never really produced a consistency that I desired.

When James and I were searching for some inspiration a few years ago, he found the recipe in an enormous binder I keep of recipes that I’ve saved over the years: most of which I found intriguing, but never actually made.  When he attempted the recipe, he found the key: simply cut the apples into wedges, instead of small pieces, and season as usual.  What results is a very easy recipe to make but with a complex and interesting end-product: there’s still crunch to the apples but they absorb all the seasonings to become something entirely new and exciting.  Best of all, I mentioned low-fat: the recipe adds absolutely no fat whatsoever.  It uses the power of the chicken juices from the breasts to flavor the apples.

(Although, if you used a fattier cut like thighs or even bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces, I’m sure that would also be delectable… Oh god, the hunger pains…)

Roasted Chicken with Apples

Ingredients:

  • 5 cups of apples, cut into wedges, about 1.5 pounds (easily found in a bag at the store for your convenience)20140521_185343
  • 1 tsp. dried sage
  • 3/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped roughly
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • about 2 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breasts (no thin-cut here, please. We tried it, but the chicken dries out before the apples have come to their truest roasting potential.)
  • more salt and fresh ground pepper for chicken

The Process:

Chop your garlic and add all seasonings for apples into a bowl.

Roughly chopped garlic - all the pieces of different sizes, and that's okay.
Roughly chopped garlic – all the pieces of different sizes, and that’s okay.

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Cut your apples into wedges.  We love to use this apple corer, which makes life so much easier.  I find that my apple corer does not slice cleanly through the other side of the apple skin, but applying some gentle pressure with my fingers releases each wedge.  Be careful – the edges aren’t knife-sharp but they ain’t dull either.

Position over apple's core.
Position over apple’s core.
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Flipped over, almost through the skin.
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Gently release the apple wedges.

Mix the apples with their seasonings and spread out onto a half-sheet pan.20140521_19133420140521_191346

Season your chicken breasts and lay them on top of the apple wedges.20140521_191451

Roast in the oven at 475º for 25 minutes or until chicken breasts are cooked through without being dry.photo 3

Voila!  Your dinner with starch AND fruit.  And everybody knows that chicken and apples go great together.20140521_200834

Enjoy, and if you’re eating ice cream on these early days of summer, enjoy some for me!  I’ll be here eating low-fat graham crackers.  Sure would taste great in some s’mores ice cream.  Sigh.

Red Meat Days

Over this past year, I’ve been thinking a lot more about making healthier choices.  But as someone who loves to eat (and loves to eat poorly) as much as I do, this is daunting task.  James and I decided to start small.  We love to eat and we love to eat meat – but there’s been enough studies that an abundance, shall we say, of red meat in your diet can lead to disease.  Therefore, we decided that we should try to cut back.  And the only way we thought we could stick with it was to make a hard, measurable rule: eat red meat only twice a month.
Red meat, by the way, has been defined by most nutritionists currently as “meat from any mammal.”  So it’s not just beef: it’s bison, it’s lamb, and saddest of all, it’s pork.  Perhaps, like me, you thought that pork was “the other white meat.”  Apparently, this is merely very excellent marketing by pork industry lobbyists.  Don’t get me wrong, there are cuts of pork that can be very lean, but at this moment in nutrition history pork is lumped together with beef as a red meat.
I mentioned that we really love meat in our house – and that’s how “red meat days” came about.  Instead of only eating red meat in two meals per month, we started to declare when we would take a “red meat day” and then try to fit in as much red meat as possible during those 24-hours.  We are… realizing that that’s sort of defeating the purpose and are trying to cut back on that trend as well.
However, we’ve made some really great discoveries with this experiment.  And the most obvious one is how much red meat we eat in this country – especially at restaurants.  James and I go out to eat a lot, it’s basically one of my favorite activities besides cooking in my own kitchen.  I love to be inspired by menus, I love a nice ambiance, great service – I love the whole experience.  But, as I mentioned in an earlier post, I can’t eat cheese.  And now I can’t eat red meat.  And holy crap, does that narrow down your choices!  The number of dishes that come with bacon alone are astonishing once you’ve limited the number of times you can eat it.
What’s also amazing is, although James is a great lover of bacon, we hardly ever eat it anymore.  Because when we eat red meat, we make it count.  It’s almost always steak.This Valentine’s Day, like last Valentine’s Day, we decided to stay home and make some delicious steaks.  We go out to dinner so often (probably too often) that it isn’t worth it to go out on Valentine’s Day.  They jack up the prices like crazy on this holiday, so why waste the money for the same food we could eat on another night?  No, damn the man.

Last year, I looked up a process to make the most delicious, crusty steak on your stovetop and in a pan, because my apartment is not grill-friendly.  I found the instructions on Serious Eats (a fantastic food website filled with both great instruction and foodie whimsy which I recommend).  This recipe comes from The Food Lab, when one of their writers heads into his tiny New York City home kitchen to test recipes and procedures ad nauseum until he’s figured out how the home cook can achieve great results in their own home kitchen.  Seriously cool. 🙂  There’s a lot of interesting little tips in this process, and I encourage you to read it, but below I detail the ones that I found most important and took to heart.

The number one intriguing tip is the suggestion that you flip your steak every 15 seconds.  I’d always heard that for the perfect sear you 1) get your oiled pan super-freakin’-hot, 2) slap your meat down and 3) DON’T MOVE IT.  You can test it after a few minutes and when the steak can be easily removed from the pan, that’s when you flip.  But this “15-second rule”, if you will, cooks your steak quickly and still achieves that crusty yum we all want.

(I want to admit that this was the first time we started taking pictures for the blog and so the 15-second-rule was kinda hard to capture.  We didn’t always achieve 15-seconds -often more like 30 – and I did overcook the steak more than I would have liked.  It was still good, though!  I recommend taking the steak’s temperature often so you can create the doneness you desire.)

Point 1: Choosing your steaks.
When I went to my local Trader Joe’s (the best prices on pretty much anything), I had four choices for a steak that was going to be the star of our meal: Filet mignon (often marked as Tenderloin), Sirloin, New York Strip and Ribeye.
From most to least expensive…
Filet  – I’d never attempted this cut before – actually a very lean cut of beef, yet very tender – and also the most expensive.
Ribeye – more expensive and highly marbled (those white lines of fat.)  My personal opinion is that the steak is too fatty for the cost – I don’t actually enjoy all that fat.
***New York Strip – This is the one we used and for me, the sweet spot.  Plenty of marbling and a price point (these were about $10 per steak) that I can get behind for a special dinner.
Sirloin – the least expensive and rather lean, but I find that it can be tough.

New York Strip - ooh, pretty.
New York Strip – ooh, pretty.


You also want your steak to be between 1″ – 2″ thick.  I think, for this application, I might have had more success with a thicker steak: it would have given me more time to create a crust yet not cook the inside so much.  You can see here that my steaks are 1″ thick.

Red Meat Days

Point 2: Season those suckers good:

Serious Eats suggests that you season your steaks more than you think you need.  I used kosher salt and cracked black pepper.  Freshly ground black pepper changed my life.  Cracking your pepper immediately before adding it to your food releases the oils in the peppercorn, making it more flavorful and offering more bite.

Seasoned on one side on the plate
Seasoned on one side on the plate

I like to season my steak on one side, add that seasoned side to the hot pan, then season the other side in the pan.  That way you don’t lose as much seasoning in the transfer.

Red Meat Days

Point 3: 15-second-rule
This was the most interesting suggestion to me – one I had never heard before.  Flip your steaks every 15 seconds and take the temperature of the steaks as often as possible for proper doneness.  We like medium rate and 130 degrees is the target mark for such a meaty center.  (You can see the different temperatures for the different levels one doneness in the Serious Eats link above.)  You’ll want to cook your steak to about 120-125 degrees, because the carry-over heat will continue to cook the meat when it’s removed from the heat source.  I show the progression of my steaks below.

Red Meat Days Red Meat Days Red Meat Days Red Meat Days Red Meat Days Red Meat Days Red Meat Days Red Meat Days Red Meat Days
(You’ll see that butter was added to the pan and basted onto the steaks.  This was suggested, but I wasn’t a big fan of the result.  The idea is that the fat, an excellent conductor of heat, would get the the steaks crusty in places where the pan couldn’t touch, but I thought the addition of fat was overkill, and took away from the flavor of the steak itself.  Just my two cents, though.  I know most professional chefs add butter to their steaks at the end.)
The verdict: I still think that the easiest way to sear a steak is to get your pan hot and flip once.  There’s NO doubt that the 15-second flip is fastest way, but it’s just too much work, in my opinion.
The best lesson to learn here is to take the temperature of your steak often.  That will ensure the doneness you desire.
There you have it!  Know that you can have a delicious steak at home and it doesn’t have to be on the grill.  For the home cook you can have it fast with a few simple guidelines in mind.
Have you made steak in a pan at home?  Have any tips, questions, comments, concerns?  Hit me up in the comments.
Red Meat Days
An intimate dinner at home with Trader Joe’s potato latkes and arugula salad.
2 Comments:
  1. Is that a cast-iron skillet? I was in the mood for steak the other weekend, but our grill and deck were still buried under snow. I looked online and found Alton Brown’s tips for pan-searing a steak. But you need a cast-iron skillet, which I didn’t have. Ended up having something else for dinner. And so this past weekend, I bought a 10.25″ and a 8″ cast-iron skillets. And then a cast-iron dutch oven. So now I can try making steak!

    Thanks for the tips about the different cuts. One of the reasons I almost never make steak is that I’m always at a loss when I get to the supermarket as to what to buy. I did at one time put a note in my shopping list of “ribeye, T-bone, or porterhouse” but that doesn’t mean I’ll always find those, or know how to choose between them.

  2. nomnomnomnom.