Chicken Wins

I cooked chicken breasts in a frying pan and I DIDN’T BURN THEM! [Cue confetti, balloons, and blowout noisemakers.]

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That beautiful picture is the result of a Pan-Roasted Chicken Cutlets with Maple-Mustard Dill Sauce recipe. I’ve never cooked chicken this way without burning it on the outside. And the sauce was delicious! I was a little weary of combining maple syrup, Dijon mustard, and dill, but somehow it worked really well. I wish I was talented enough to know how to mix weird condiments and herbs to make such brilliant flavors. Le sigh…

Not that I can’t make up my own great flavors. The other night I made pesto-stuffed chicken with a side of seasoned brown rice. I didn’t use a recipe for any of it, and I’m rather proud of that. I stuffed the chicken with pesto, rolled it in a bread crumb-Italian herb mixture, and topped it with Parmesan cheese. I cooked the rice in chicken broth mixed with two teaspoons of onion and herb Mrs. Dash, and then added about half a teaspoon of salt and a handful of Parmesan.   It’s nothing complicated, but it was tasty! Chopped, here I come!!!

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Wooooahhhhh. I got a little carried away there. No Chopped. I’m lucky if I’m familiar with even one mystery basket ingredient each episode.

I am feeling pretty good about my cooking skills this week, though. I’m making pork tenderloin for the first time ever on Thursday, so let’s hope this good mojo continues!

If You Can’t Stand the Heat

Have I mentioned before how much I hate frying things in oil? I don’t mind sauteeing a few veggies, but ask me to drop some meat into a significant amount of hot oil, and you’ve lost me. Not only am I petrified of being attacked by jumping droplets of fiery hot oil, but every time I try to cook meat this way, it burns to a crisp on the outside while staying 100% raw on the inside. Every. Single. Time.

I’ve had a recipe for Crispy Buffalo Chicken Tenders hanging out on my Pinterest board for several weeks. Lately I’ve been playing the “shit or get off the pot” game with my recipe pins. It was time to either make the chicken tenders or delete the pin and admit that I was never going through with it. After all, the recipe involved cooking the chicken tenders in a frying pan and finishing them off for a few minutes in the oven.

I finally opted to shit—er, cook the chicken tenders. If I failed, there was always plan B (burrito bowls from Chipotle, as always!).

This was the first recipe I’ve ever made that involved “dredging” the meat in flour. Yeah…I’ve had this blog for three years and I’m a first-time dredger. I still don’t know what purpose it serves, but my breading clung nicely to the meat, so I won’t argue its importance!

The instructions were to heat the oil on medium-high heat and leave the chicken tenders untouched in the pan for seven minutes. I did lift them up at about five minutes and they were the most perfect shade of golden brown, and I admit that I flipped them at that point for fear of charring them. After a few minutes on the other side, I moved the tenders to a cooling rack over a cookie sheet and transferred them to the oven. Eleven minutes later, the meat was perfectly cooked and (gasp!), the outsides were gloriously crispy.

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After removing them from the oven, I may have dropped one of the chicken tenders on the kitchen floor. The dog was quick to attack the fallen food and she seemed thoroughly satisfied with the taste. Good sign!…I think. She also enjoys the flavor of cat poop, so it actually could have been a very bad sign.

The chicken tenders were supposed to be dipped in ranch, which sounded delicious. But it turns out our bottle of ranch was two months past its expiration date. We had nothing else to dip our chicken tenders in. I crossed my fingers and hoped they were flavorful enough without a dipping sauce. And they were. They were fantastic.

They were also hotter than hell.

My husband couldn’t even finish his. He loved the flavor, but his mouth was on fire after his second chicken tender and he wasn’t able to eat the other two on his plate. I ate three, but I think it was at least an hour afterward before I found any relief from the burning sensation in my mouth.

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Thanks a lot, expired ranch dressing. Yeah, I’m blaming you.

So, I guess it’s time to go through my kitchen and check the expiration dates on everything.

At least I did a good job at frying the chicken!

Last Week’s Eats

I’m a little afraid of admitting it—I’d hate to jinx myself—but last week was a really successful week in the kitchen! A little sampling of the things I whipped up…

Black Bean Burgers:

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Sweet and Sour Chicken:

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Lasagna Rollups (without using a recipe!):

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Side note on the lasagna rollups: Toothpicks are a MUST. In every Pinterest post I’ve ever seen about lasagna rollups, there are NEVER toothpicks holding them together. Well, those people must have magical powers because if I wouldn’t have had toothpicks, these suckers just wouldn’t have happened.  Also, the curvy sides of lasagna noodles fall off MUCH too easily.  Someone should invent lasagna noodles that don’t do this.  It’s 2015, I’m sure it can be done.

Skinny Honey Lemon Chicken:

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The skinny honey lemon chicken was decent, but the sauce was more congealed and gel-like than I would have preferred. What bothers me more, however, is the fact that yet again, my final product looked nothing like the picture in the original recipe.

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It reminds me of this comparison of a marketing photo of a Big Mac, versus the actual product you get at McDonald’s. Of course the Skinny Honey Lemon Chicken looks like one of the best things I’ll ever eat, until I actually cook it and it looks like I stirred some chicken into a jar of Vaseline.  I realize blogs like Gimme Some Oven use professional photography and I use a non-fancy Canon with horrible lighting in my kitchen, but COME ON…

For the record, I did totally garnish mine with sesame seeds. You can’t even see them. Elusive, they are!

Also this week, I was going to make some oven-fried chicken until I spilled meatball casserole all over my oven and didn’t get around to cleaning it for several days.  So instead, I improvised a creamy noodle dish with seasoned sauteed chicken, and it was actually quite tasty!  I made the sauce from scratch, and it was by far the most flavorful sauce I’ve ever made without a recipe!

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This week I’ll be tackling squash browns (hash browns made out of spaghetti squash). It’s one of those things that will either go really well, or really terribly! Wish me luck!

Guess what? Chicken butt. Guess why? Chicken thigh.

I cook a LOT of chicken. I spend more money on chicken than on any other kind of meat. I still remember the day my husband (then-boyfriend) taught me how to cube and cook chicken. Yes, I realize how pathetic that sounds. And sometimes I worry that he regrets teaching me, because from that day forward I’ve been a chicken-cooking machine.

However…I’ve only ever cooked chicken breasts. No legs, no thighs, no wings. Why? Because I don’t even know what you do with them. I love white meat and have never understood why you’d work with dark meat when you don’t have to.

Last week I picked out a recipe that called for chicken thighs. It’s not the first time, but I usually substitute chicken breasts. For some reason, I decided to stick to the recipe this time.

To my dismay, I discovered the smallest pack the grocery store offered still contained seven thighs. I only needed three; what the hell was I going to do with seven? Fine, I thought. They’re cheap, and I guess I can find a use for the rest of them.

The first time was going to be easy. All that was required was removing the fat and dropping the thighs into the crockpot. Piece of cake, assuming I could figure out how to remove the fat.

Let me tell you about the happy dance I did when I discovered the fat peels cleanly off in one big slab, like the thigh was simply wearing a little jacket! I had envisioned the fat clinging to the meat for dear life and my hacking away for a frustrating chunk of time.

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My celebration was short-lived. Peeling the fat away revealed what I couldn’t see beforehand: this chicken still had its bones. BONES! I’ve never cooked meat with bones before!

I had (and still have) no idea how bones impact cooking. I should Google it, but I haven’t yet. Furthermore, I’m still trying to wrap my head around the idea of chickens having bones. When I look at a chicken, I sort of imagine it as a squishy blob with no real skeletal structure…kind of like a giant marshmallow with feathers. Don’t get me wrong, I know chickens have bones. I just seem to…forget…until I peel the fat off a chicken thigh and see a bone sticking out of its center.

Anyway, I crossed my fingers and dropped the thighs into the crockpot, bones and all. That evening when I got home from work, I was relieved when I removed the chicken and the meat simply slid right off the bones and shredded beautifully.

So I had one successful chicken thigh meal under my belt, but I still had four thighs. Thighs with bones. Unless I wanted to embark on a shredded chicken frenzy, I was going to have to find another use for them.

I settled on homemade burrito bowls. (Yes, I really like burrito bowls. Don’t judge.) This one was tricky because I planned to cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces and fry it up in some seasonings. Not usually a challenge, but what to do about that damn bone?!

Well, I managed to cut up the meat, but it was a real hack job. The bone was about 80% of the problem, but the fat was also another thorn in my side. Even after removing the little fat jackets, those stupid thighs were full of white rubber! Grrrrr.

Off-topic confession: when prepping my burrito bowls, this teaspoon of cilantro took me roughly three entire freaking minutes to chop. *sob*

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So, will I ever cook with chicken thighs again? Let’s just say, no promises. I don’t exactly feel a twinge of joy when I consider it.

Plan B

In my house, there is always a Plan B for dinner. More often than not, Plan B consists of burrito bowls from Chipotle.

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We utilize Plan B more often than it really should be in one’s household. Whether I cook something that resembles sewage, or I fill up the crockpot in the morning and forget to plug it in, it’s not exactly “rare” that the husband and I end up at Chipotle.

Today it was made clear that I don’t even have to begin preparing food in order to ruin dinner. Not one dish was dirtied and not one burner was turned on, but we had to resort to Plan B.

Honestly, I kind of blame the dog. Let me back up a bit.

This morning, despite it being a depressing 18 degrees outside, Samantha was insistent on running around outside with the four-foot-long stick she recently found on a walk. Upon returning inside, she bolted around the house, ping-ponging off the walls like she’d just chugged a case of Red Bull. In the midst of her burst of energy, I noticed some splotches of red on the kitchen floor.

I called out Samantha’s name, suspicious she was bleeding from one of her paws. She came flying into the kitchen at full speed, running in circles as I begged her to calm down. At last, she stopped long enough for me to confirm she’d managed to cut one of the pads on her foot.

And that’s when I noticed that my kitchen looked like a murder scene. There were bloody paw prints everywhere. To my horror, I realized the blood trailed deep into the living room as well.

At this point I had roughly ten minutes before I had to leave from work in order to make it to a very important early-morning meeting. So I prioritized and dealt with cleaning the wound and helping the dog, and decided to worry about cleaning up the kitchen floor on my lunch break.

On my lunch break, I spent twenty stinking minutes cleaning dog blood off the kitchen floor and spots I’d missed on the carpet, and spraying down Samantha’s kennel blanket with stain remover before throwing it in the washing machine. TWENTY MINUTES. And this is what caused us to resort to Plan B for dinner.

Okay, maybe you’re wondering how I can blame this on the dog. Let me explain.

When I first arrived home on my lunch break, I remembered the chicken for tonight’s dinner still felt like it wasn’t completely thawed on the inside—although the outside layer was squishy as ever. I removed it from the fridge and set it on the counter, thinking half an hour in room temperature might speed along the process. Well, I had no idea just how much cleaning up I had to do, and by the time I was finished I was once again in a rush to get back to work.

At 4:45, as I wrapped up my tasks at work, a horrible thought came over me. I texted my husband.

Me: Did I leave the chicken on the counter?
Husband: Yup.
Me: Crap. Will you put it back in the fridge?
Me: [A minute later] Is it even still cold?
Husband: Nope.
Me: Craaaaaaap.
Husband: [Sends cartoon image of a smiling turd]

The chicken was completely warm and had been for who-knows-how-long. It had been sitting on the kitchen counter for five hours. Like I said, I didn’t even start cooking and I still managed to ruin dinner. But if it hadn’t been for the dog blood, I bet it wouldn’t have happened.

My husband might argue that last part. But he’s not here to prove me wrong, so I’m still blaming it on the dog.

Pressure cooker, take three: California chicken

Amidst all of my recent bridal shenanigans–multiple showers and, this past weekend, my bachelorette party–I seem to have lost my brain.  It up and left my head and is surely floating somewhere in the sky far away from here.  Keep that in mind if you see a brain drifting aimlessly through the clouds overhead.

Given that my day has been one moment of stupidity after another, I should have known better than to try a new recipe.  But the first two rounds of pressure cooking had gone so well–I thought I had this one in the bag.  “This one” is a recipe I found called California Chicken.

To begin with, I realized that I’ve learned a thing or two about what makes a good recipe.  If I can be honest, I don’t think this recipe was well-written.  First, it calls for “3 pounds chicken, skinned and cut into pieces.”  Which part(s) of the chicken should be used?  Is it boneless?  How large or small should the pieces be?  Technically, I could cut a chicken breast in half and call it “two pieces,” but I could also make 20 pieces from that one chicken breast.  While deep in contemplation, it occurred to me just how precise a good recipe needs to be.  Basically, I had to trust my gut on this one.  I always have chicken breasts on hand, so that’s what I used.  I sliced them into 1″ cubes and prayed for the best.

I browned the chicken as instructed and then added the rest of the ingredients.  At that point, I made an impromptu decision that may or may not have contributed to the failure of this dish.

I added frozen broccoli.

I’m a really big fan of veggies with my chicken, and broccoli just seemed to fit the dish.  What I hadn’t considered was that frozen broccoli packs a bit of water.  After cooking the chicken under pressure as called for, there was still quite a bit of liquid left in the bottom of the pan and I could NOT get it to thicken or cook down any.  By the time the chicken made it onto our plates, it was drier than a bone in the desert.  The only consolation was that the flavor was really, really good.

Prior to cooking, I’d had a great internal debate about what to make as a side dish, and ultimately settled on mac & cheese (of the Kraft variety), due to poor planning.  Once I was aware of just how crappy the chicken turned out, I was grateful for my decision.  At least I’d chosen a side I couldn’t mess up!

For my final installment of my Two-Week Technique pressure cooking trials, I can state with honest conviction that I will NOT be cooking meat!

Pressure cooker, take two: risotto

Preface to what you’re about to read:  my bridal shower was last weekend, and my gag gift was the LARGEST pair of granny panties my eyes have ever seen.

So this is how my morning started:  I was in the bathroom, getting ready for work, when I heard my cat Orville making a ruckus in the hallway.  I poked my head out the door and caught Orville wildly running back and forth in the hallway with the granny panties in his mouth.  This continued for several moments and ended with Orville collapsing on the ground, hugging the underwear with his front paws while he kicked at them with his back legs, and finally curling up in a ball and resting his head on the panties like they were a cat-sized pillow.

It was bound to be an interesting day from the get-go.  With an interesting day comes an interesting cooking experience.

First, I tackled my second pressure cooker recipe:  rapid risotto.  I LOVE rice dishes, especially risotto, but I really despise how long rice takes to cook.  Having survived my first pressure cooking undertaking, I was a lot calmer going into my second venture.  I also learned what I did wrong in the first recipe that had caused the beans not to cook thoroughly (I turned the heat down too low when trying to maintain high pressure), with the hope that I wouldn’t have the same issue with the risotto.

While the risotto cooked, I coated some chicken breasts with a meat rub and put them in my brand new grill pan!  I’ve emphasized those words because that’s how ecstatic I felt when I purchased this grill pan a couple of nights ago.  I’ve wanted a grill pan for a really…long…time.  But don’t let the enthusiasm fool you.  My grill pan is already in the doghouse, so to speak.

I’ve been watching cooking shows (ahem…Giada) in which food is prepared on the grill pan, and it looks AMAZING.  When I purchased my grill pan earlier this week, I was beside myself with excitement as I thought about all the wondrous things my new pan would produce.  But the closer my chicken breasts came to being cooked, the more it became clear to me that the grill pan had done nothing differently than just any ol’ frying pan I could have pulled out of my kitchen cabinet.  I was even robbed of the fancy grill marks the pan should have left on my chicken.  Unless I’m missing something important, I’m almost sure I wasted my money.

Luckily, I had no issues with my risotto and it couldn’t have turned out any better.  Given that the total cook time was only about 10 minutes, I do believe the pressure cooker will be my preferred method for preparing risotto from now on!  Bonus:  this time, I didn’t flinch even once out of fear that my pressure cooker might explode.

Even though I was disappointed by the lack of pizzazz in my grill pan’s performance, the chicken was decent.  I also discovered the deliciousness of cooking broccoli in the chicken juices left over in the pan.  Mmmmmmm.

Now that I’ve done rice and beans in the pressure cooker, my next endeavor will be to cook some chicken pressure-cooker-style.  I think I can, I think I can…

Dough, take two: chicken and dumplings

The first time I ever had chicken and dumplings, I remember thinking the concept of “dumplings” seemed so elaborate.  I just couldn’t wrap my head around the thought of dough being cooked in liquid.

When I encountered a 30-minute Rachael Ray recipe for chicken and dumplings, I thought long and hard about whether or not this was a road I wanted to risk traveling.  If I closed my eyes for one second, I could imagine at least ninety-two things that could go wrong if I were to attempt chicken and dumplings.  Then I envisioned myself in my comfort zone, and just outside of it was a pot of chicken and dumplings calling my name, coaxing me, taunting me.  Okay, chicken and dumplings.  You win.  Count me in.

One of the first steps of the recipe was to saute some veggies in oil and butter–among them, a potato.  Since I’ve had such good luck (note:  that was said in a sarcastic tone) with cooking potatoes, I was thrilled about this (still sarcastic).  The potato held up, though, and was softening pretty nicely without turning into mush.

After I added a quart of chicken broth and the chicken breast pieces, it was time for the dumplings to be born.  I mixed together the ingredients, measured out the first tablespoon, and veryveryvery carefully dropped it into the simmering liquid.  One of those ninety-two things I’d imagined could go wrong was that the dough ball would make contact with the liquid and immediately disperse into a hundred little floating fragments of dough.  All that happened, though, was that the completely intact ball of dough bobbed around in the liquid, finally settled, and started to puff up.  Very anti-climactic, if you ask me.

Since Rachael Ray failed to tell me how to gauge the done-ness of the dumplings, I was quite nervous about serving dumplings that were still doughy inside.  I wasn’t sure if it was normal for their tops to be sticky.  After the max cooking time, they were still sticky so I sucked it up and called my fiance in for dinner.  The dumplings were cooked to perfection and, aside from burning the crap outta my tongue, my attempt at comfort food really hit the spot!

What kinds of things have you made that seemed SO much more complicated than they really were?

Stir fry from scratch

I LOVE stir fry.  My parents made a lot of it when I was growing up and it was, hands down, one of my favorite things to eat.

I’ve made my own stir fry a handful of times, but it has always been as easy as a package of frozen stir-fry vegetables, a jar of chicken gravy, some rice, and a splash of soy sauce.

Yesterday, while everyone else in America was grilling it up, I got the most random hankering for some chicken stir fry.  But given the effort I’ve put into my cooking skills these past few months, pouring pre-made gravy over frozen veggies seemed too elementary.

So, last night I made a quick trip to the grocery store to buy a red bell pepper and some ginger root.  Everything else in my stir fry was made using things I already had on hand in my kitchen.  The best part is, I did this all without a recipe.

I started some rice while I cooked the chicken in a little bit of vegetable oil.  Once the chicken was no longer pink on the outside, I added chopped onion, chopped red bell pepper, broccoli florets (okay, I confess, these were frozen…but it was what I had on hand!), minced garlic, and some freshly grated ginger.  Fun fact:  this was my first time purchasing and using fresh ginger.  Could that stuff smell any better?!

Meanwhile, in another pan I made a roux with some butter and flour and added a mixture of chicken broth and soy sauce.  The sauce took a little longer to thicken than it has when I’ve used milk, so I started to get a little nervous.  But about ten minutes later, the sauce was thick and bubbly and it was the perfect amount to mix in with the chicken and veggies.  I made sure to give it several taste tests as it thickened, so there was no doubt in my mind that it would be yummy!

…..which it was.  SO yummy.  I have to give myself a pat on the back for this stir fry!

He made, she made

Dinner tonight was a joint effort between my fiance and me.  He’d been planning to barbecue some chicken breasts, so I told him I’d “come up with something” to go with them.

And that is how I get myself into stupid situations.

By the time I got home from work, I had about 0.0000000012794362% of an idea in mind.  It involved rice.  But if I didn’t come up with a plan for the rice fast, we’d be eating our barbecued chicken with bone-hard, plain white rice.  After opening the refrigerator, the cupboards, AND the freezer, I had gathered chicken stock, frozen broccoli, sharp cheddar cheese, and the ingredients to make a bechamel sauce.

I started by cooking the rice in the chicken stock.  While I left them to do their thing, I dumped some frozen broccoli florets into a mini food processor.

I’ve never used my itty bitty food processor to chop frozen veggies (or frozen anything, for that matter).  It’s probably breaking some culinary rule and I’m probably lucky I didn’t break my appliance or myself.  It took a little longer than the usual time to chop stuff, but the results were exactly what I’d hoped for!

I added the broccoli to the rice and whipped up a quick bechamel sauce.  That’s right, I whipped up a quick bechamel sauce.  Looking back on how badly my first one came out, I’m so proud that I can make such a statement!  Anyway, to the bechamel sauce I added about a quarter cup of shredded sharp cheddar, and then I stirred it into the rice.  While my fiance was outside working the grill, I sneaked a test bite of the rice.  I expected it to be okay, but not phenomenal.  It was actually pretty fantastic!  Much better than what I’d anticipated.  The only downfall was that it needed a little salt.  I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I currently have no salt in my house.

Honestly, who runs completely out of salt?

I finished the rice and got a mini grilling lesson from my fiance (more of those to follow, stay tuned……).  Between the two of us, dinner was wicked awesome.