Saturday, April 17, 2010

Chicken Mole

Why in the world would I want to make a recipe from a book that was the most poorly written tome I have ever had the misfortune to read? I was asking myself this question as I was chopping onions and peppers, trying not to burn myself with the jalapeño. I decided that it was because the recipe itself was taken from a website not authored by the woman who “wrote” the book I found it in.

Shopping for this recipe was fun. Since it wasn’t specified in the recipe, I went with diced tomatoes rather than whole ones because everything else is diced. There were no chipotle chilis (a dried pepper) in my market nor was there anything labeled “green chili pepper” so I bought a jalapeño pepper. I knew that it was green, it was a pepper and it packed enough heat that one was plenty. I should have inventoried my spice cabinet. Turns out I had almost no chili powder so I substituted Mexican style chili powder.

This recipe smelled terrific while it was simmering. I love dishes, by the way, that don’t need a lot of fussing over while they are cooking. It also thickened up surprisingly quickly after the addition of the cocoa and sugar.

The first night, all I tasted was heat. All spice, no depth. I thought by the second night when the flavors had had a chance to meld and mellow it would be better. Instead, it was just muddy. One substitution I shouldn’t have made was boneless breasts for the boneless thighs. Normally, I am not a fan of dark meat but in this case the more flavorful dark meat would have combined better with the spicy sauce.

This was my first taste of a mole sauce. I wasn’t impressed but it may be due more to this recipe in particular. I am reserving judgment on mole sauces for now. But I won’t be making this recipe again.

Verdict: Not bad, but I won’t be making this again.

Chicken Mole

1 (14 ounce) can tomatoes
8 skinned & boned chickn thighs
1 chipotle chile, or to taste
2 teaspoons cumin
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 green pepper, chopped fine
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 green chili pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped fine
½ cup water
3 tablespoons cocoa
1 tablespoon sugar

Place all ingredients except cocoa and sugar in a large pot. Cover and simmer until chicken si very tender (about an hour). Remove chicken from pot. Add cocoa and sugar. Simmer sauce until thick. Return chicken to sauce and heat 5 to 10 minutes to blend flavors. Serve over rice.

Recycle: tomtato can, spice bottles

Compost: garlic skins, onion skins, pepper seeds and membranes

Monday, April 05, 2010


Chocoholic that I am, I have a strange paritality for Blondies. I’ve only tasted commercially prepared ones. My search for a decent recipe so that I can whip up my own whenever the mood strikes, has so far proved fruitless.

This past weekend during my search for a new cake/cookie/brownie recipe to try, I ran across a cookbook that I wasn’t aware that I owned, Our Best Recipes by Better Homes and Gardens. Published in 2003, it features recipes from their past as well as contemporary offerings. One of those recipes is for Blondies.

It was love at first sight. I had all of the ingredients on hand except the chocolate chips. And it can be made in one bowl with only a wooden spoon for mixing. I melted, stirred, spread and sprinkled, then popped it in the oven with much anticipation. One direction I didn’t follow which I should have was to cut them while warm. I waited until the following day when they were rock hard from spending the night in the fridge. Cue the pizza cutter.

My anticipation was for naught. When I finally tasted them the following day when any home-baked good is at its most flavorful, these were strangely tasteless. My search for a Blondie recipe continues.

Verdict: What were they thinking???

(source: Our Best Recipes by Better Homes and Gardens)

2 cups packed brown sugar
⅔ cup butter
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
1 cup semisweet chocolate pieces (6 oz.)
1 cup chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 13x9x2-inch baking pan; set aside. In a medium saucepan, combine brown sugar and butter; heat and stir over medium heat until butter melts and mixture is smooth. Cool slightly. Using a wooden spoon, stir in eggs, one at a time; stir in vanilla. Stir in flour, baking powder, and baking soda.

Spread batter in prepared baking pan. Sprinkle with chocolate pieces and nuts. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted near center comes out clean (avoid chocolate pieces). Cool slightly on a wire rack. Cut into bars while warm.

Makes 36 bars.

Recycle: vanilla bottle

Compost: eggshells

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Lemon-Ginger Chicken

I was trying to come up with a main dish for our “Pairings” dinner when one day “Lemon-Ginger Chicken” popped into my head. I have no idea where that came from. I don’t believe I’ve ever made, or even eaten, it before. But it sounded good. Maybe because it was winter and spicier foods were more appealing just then.

As with the Ginger Carrot soup, I had a little trouble finding a recipe in which lemon and ginger were the only main flavor components, but finally found one on the Betty Crocker website. In honor of the occasion, I decided to buy real gingerroot instead of just using the powdered stuff. I’d never used it before, and was pleasantly surprised at the lemony fragrance that arose as I was grating it. Ah, now I see why this is paired with lemon….this pair has a lot in common! Hmmm, I thought, I wonder if this stuff tastes lemony too….YYAAAHHH!!! I’d momentarily forgotten about things like ginger beer…Okay, so this couple has some differences too…

Both the chicken and the sauce proved to be very quick and easy to put together. Especially when you don’t bother to flatten the chicken breasts first. In this case, however, you do need to be sure you cook the chicken long enough that it’s cooked through. Following the suggestions of some of the reviewers at the original website, I doubled the sauce recipe.

The chicken itself proved disappointing. I couldn’t taste the lemon or ginger at all, and I did taste an off-flavor that I thought might have come from the oil. The sauce was good, though.

A day or two later, when I had the leftovers for lunch, the off-flavor was gone, but I still couldn’t taste the lemon or ginger on the chicken itself. Maybe I should have applied the breading more heavily; there was a fair amount of it left over. The sauce had so much cornstarch in it that it had thickened to about the consistency of aspic, even after reheating, and the lemon flavor in it now seemed too strong. Also, there was really more of it than was necessary.

Although I think the lemon-ginger combination has serious potential for a good long-term relationship, this particular dish doesn’t show them off to best advantage.

Verdict: What were they thinking?

Lemon-Ginger Chicken

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (1 1/4 lb)
1/2 cup Original Bisquick® mix
1/4 cup Progresso® plain bread crumbs
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
1/2 teaspoon grated gingerroot
1/2 cup water
3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Lemon Ginger Sauce
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon grated gingerroot
1 drop yellow food color
Lemon slices, if desired

Between pieces of plastic wrap or waxed paper, place each chicken breast smooth side down; gently pound with flat side of meat mallet or rolling pin until about 1/4 inch thick.

In shallow bowl, mix Bisquick mix, bread crumbs, lemon peel and gingerroot. Pour 1/2 cup water into another shallow bowl. Dip chicken into water, then coat with Bisquick mixture.

In 12-inch nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Cook chicken in oil 8 to 10 minutes, turning once, until juice of chicken is clear when center of thickest part is cut (170°F).

Meanwhile, in 1-quart saucepan, mix lemon juice, 1/4 cup water, the sugar, cornstarch, gingerroot and food color. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened and bubbly. Pour sauce over chicken. Garnish with lemon slices.

High Altitude (3500-6500 ft):
Cook chicken in oil 11 to 13 minutes or until meat thermometer inserted in center of chicken reads 170°F.

Recycle: oil bottle

Compost: rest of lemon

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Rice Pilaf with Thyme

I have a tendency to get into ruts. Whenever I need a starch, I automatically make rice. Just plain old white rice. It’s quick and easy. Much quicker and easier than the mashed potatoes I was raised on. And mashed potatoes are so not good for you. I’ve been experimenting with other ways to make potatoes such as roasting them, but cleaning them and cutting them, and herbing them and finally roasting them takes so much time and effort. It’s much easier to throw 1 ½ cups of rice into 2 cups of water, simmer for 20 minutes, then turn off the heat and let it steam for another ten minutes. As they said in the commercial, “perfect rice every time”.

I need to get out of my rice rut. Since I was making chicken, I decided to go with rice pilaf. My first instinct was to revisit the Wild Basmati Pilaf recipe, making the changes I had planned on. After reviewing the recipe, I decided that it had too many ingredients and too many steps. I had been suffering with “flu-like symptoms” all week and wanted something easy to prepare. Like plain old white rice.

Next I hit the internet. Who knew there were so many variations of rice pilaf? It seems it can be made with every conceivable ingredient and seasoning. I didn’t even know where to start. Fortunately, Martha came to my rescue. She offers a very simple recipe using fresh thyme which I was also using in the chicken recipe.

I think I will have to take A’s advice and buy a timer that can time more than one thing at a time. I had difficulty (because I was so ill) timing both the chicken and the rice. Luckily, the rice was forgiving and I was able to “guesstimate” the cooking time and have it come out right. Better than right. This is an easy and delicious recipe that I’ll be making again and again.

Verdict: Yum!! This one’s a keeper!!

Rice Pilaf with Thyme
(source: Martha

1 tablespoon butter
1 small onion, chopped
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 ½ cups canned reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 cup long-grain white rice
2 sprigs fresh thyme, or ½ teaspoon dried

In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium. Add onion; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is golden, 8 to 9 minutes. Add broth, and bring to a boil. Stir in rice and thyme.

Reduce to a simmer; cover, and cook until rice is just tender, 15 to 17 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes; fluff with a fork.

Serves 4

Recycle: chicken broth can

Compost: onion skins

Friday, April 02, 2010

Roasted Chicken with Garlic-Sherry Sauce

I try to make it a habit to cook a new main dish recipe and new dessert recipe every week. Since I cook mainly on weekends, that means that my weekend meals are usually not very good. This weekend was a one of those rare weekends when the dinner I cooked turned out to be delicious. I daringly tried both a new main dish recipe and a new side dish recipe (Rice Pilaf with Thyme, both of which were definitely standouts.

This was my first attempt at brining. I ran into two minor snags. Cooling the brine to room temperature took far longer than I anticipated. And I didn’t have any plastic bags larger than one gallon. I resorted to my fallback bags which in this case were scented. My concern was that the scent would permeate the chicken. It didn’t, instead permeating my refrigerator reminding me that I needed to change the box of baking soda.

Normally when making any chicken dish, I use boneless breasts no matter which cut of chicken the recipe calls for. I don’t much care for wings, legs or thighs. In this case, I opted to go with the bone-in breast halves as specified. Big mistake. They were very thick. They cooked, but were rubbery. I prefer my chicken to be cooked to a firmer texture. The advantage to using boneless breasts in a recipe like this is that if they are too thick, they can be pounded thinner to ensure that they cook properly.

I had been sick all week and so rested while the chicken was baking and the rice was boiling. Another big mistake. When the chicken came out of the oven, I realized that I hadn’t sliced the eight cloves of garlic. Which became six large cloves because I had neither the time, the energy nor the patience to slice two more. I was also perplexed by the instruction to “cube” the butter. I’ve melted butter, softened butter, even sliced it into pats, but am clueless as to how one “cubes” butter. I settle for cutting it into large slices which melted quite nicely into the sauce.

Other than the rubbery texture of the chicken, this dish was perfection. The sauce had body without being too heavy. The garlic was there but not obnoxiously so. The sherry added an “exotic” note to the sauce. And the fresh thyme was lighter and yet more flavorful than the dried thyme that I am accustomed to using in recipes.

Verdict: Yum!! This one’s a keeper!!

Roasted Chicken with Garlic-Sherry Sauce
(source: Taste of Home)

2 quarts water
½ cup salt
4 bone-in chicken breast halves (12 ounces each)
¾ teaspoon pepper, divided
2 teaspoons canola oil
8 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
½ cup sherry or additional reduced-sodium chicken broth
3 fresh thyme sprigs
¼ cup butter, cubed
1 teaspoon lemon juice

For brine, in a large saucepan, bring water and salt to a boil. Cook and stir until salt is dissolved. Remove from the heat; cool to room temperature.

Place a large heavy-duty resealable plastic bag inside a second large resealable plastic bag; add chicken. Carefully pour cooled brine into bag. Squeeze out as much air as possible; seal bags and turn to coat. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours, turning several times.

Drain and discard brine. Rinse chicken with cold water; pat dry. Sprinkle with ½ teaspoon pepper. In a large ovenproof skillet, brown chicken in oil over medium heat.

Bake, uncovered, at 400°F for 20-25 minutes or until a meat thermometer reads 170°F. Remove chicken and keep warm. Drain drippings, reserving 1 tablespoon.

In the drippings, sauté garlic for 1 minute. Ad the broth, sherry or additional broth and thyme. Bring to a boil; cook until liquid is reduced to 1 cup. Discard thyme. Stir in the butter, lemon juice and remaining pepper. Serve with chicken.

Yield: 4 servings

Recycle: canola oil bottle, chicken broth can, sherry bottle, lemon juice bottle

Compost: garlic skins