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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Fish...again

So, after reading how Candace does her fish, I decided to do it her way. Instead of Talipia, I used a fish called "Striper" I found at TJ's. It was promised to be mild and never "fishy".
So I did it Candace's way...dipped it in an egg/milk mixture, bread crumbs (my mix including whole wheat bread crumbs, wheat germ, almond meal, and salt) and fried it a little in grapeseed oil.
The verdict...
So yummy! I finally found a fish I think I could add to our weekly menu. It was definitely light and not fishy at all. It didn't even need lemon. Wyatt loved it (which is saying a lot!), but he had to have his with honey on top. Yeah...fish and honey...not exactly what I'd do, but hey, whatever it takes.
I'm happy to have a fish success story to make up for the disaster from last week.
Thanks Candace!

Monday, February 25, 2008

I'll make it quick.
Tonight's dinner was Seared Scallops over Bacon and Spinach Salad with Cider Vinaigrette from CL.
Definitely worth the effort! A little gourmet than we're used to at home, but it was excellent. Just the scallops alone were great and I'd definitely make them again and serve with a couple of side dishes.
It took me longer to make than I'd like, and it's not the type of dish I'd make often, but definitely a keeper for special occasions.
For dessert, I whipped up a peach crisp. TJ's sells big jars of "peach sauce", like applesauce. I picked one up today thinking I'd use my mother's apple crisp recipe using peach sauce instead. It turned out great, and the vanilla ice cream I topped it off with didn't hurt, either.

Last nights' was good too, with a lot less work. A pot roast in the Crock Pot with tons of carrots, celery, onions, potatoes, and mushrooms on top of brown rice. I'm going to make an effort to get the Crock Pot out more. I love the time I save and the convenience of having dinner ready without really having to do anything.

Here's a recipe I ran across from Pioneer Woman. Sherried tomato soup. It looks amazing and I'd love to make it soon, especially when it's cold outside. I'm going to have to figure out a way to cut down on some of that fat content, though. I just can't use that much whipping cream in good conscience.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentine's day roasted chicken

It's Valentine's day, and for the past few years we've had an "I love you" party at our house. Not really a party in the typical sense of the word, but we call it that because the boys love parties. It's really more of a dinner. I decorate with red and pink hearts on the windows, light candles, make a special dinner and give everyone little presents and cards. It makes it really special. We always invite my wonderful aunt Kathy (her husband passed away 6 years ago) and just enjoy a quiet but festive night at home. Sure beats trying to go out to a packed restaurant.
In years past, I've made pasta dishes with salad, wine, etc.
This year I wanted something different. We're having "Mitford" roasted chicken. If you've been fortunate enough to read the Mitford series of books, you know food is a big part of life in Mitford. If you have even an ounce of Southern blood in you, you will have a physical craving for the foods they consume in Mitford. The roasted chicken recipe hails from the Mitford cookbook. I've been making it for several years now, but after talking with my friend, Kara, about how she does her roasted chicken, I decided to try her way as well. This is what I did:
I brined a kosher organic whole roasting chicken for about 7 hours today. Don't let the word brining scare you. Basically, I just "soaked" the whole chicken in a pot with salted water in the fridge. Did it this morning before I headed out. Do a google search on Brining to learn more about it. It's just a way to keep your meat juicy and flavorful. You can skip this step, but it's really not that hard to do and the results are wonderful. And don't let the 7 hour thing scare you either. You can brine it for as less as 3 hours if that's all the time you have.

I always roast my chicken with some veggies, so I had an array of fingerling potatoes (whole, not cut up since they're small), carrots, celery, and onion wedges ready. This is where I did things differently. I used my Pampered Chef stoneware bunt pan and arranged the veggies in the pan itself. Traditionally, I've put the chicken in a big cast iron skillet or a roasting pan and arranged the veggies around it. According to Kara, when you put the chicken on the bunt pan (plopping it over that middle part of the pan) the chicken gets roasted all the way around and the juices just run down into the veggies making them super tasty.

When I was ready to start roasting the chicken, I dried the chicken off, rubbed it generously with olive oil and a few crushed garlic cloves. Then I shoved lemon slices into the cavity of the chicken (about two lemons) as well as about 5 garlic cloves and a few sprigs of rosemary. Just under the skin of the breast, I also slid in a few more garlic cloves and about 4 more lemon slices and more rosemary.
I took the chicken and slid it neck side down just right onto the middle raised part of the bundt pan. I gave it a few more rubs of olive oil and a sprinkle of TJ's 31 seasonings salute.

See how the little buddy's legs were falling down? I tied them up with some twine to keep them in place.





Off the little buddy goes into the 425 degree oven.



After 30 minutes at 425, I turned down the heat to 350 and rotated the pan about a fourth of the way around. The kitchen was already smelling great after 30 minutes. It only gets better!

Here's Wyatt waiting at the table for dinner to start. We kept telling him it would be awhile, but that boy was ready. Funny thing is, though, he doesn't eat. He's terribly picky.

O.K...back to the chicken. After the 30 minutes at 425, the chicken stayed in the oven an additional hour and 15 to 25 minutes at 350, making the total cooking time just under 2 hours. Every 20 minutes or so, I'd rotate the chicken a little and stir the veggies around a bit to make sure they were all evenly coated. The buddy in the oven would tilt over a little, but I'd just try to even him out as best I could.

While he was roasting away, I also threw together a box of TJ's cornbread mix, lima beans, and sweet potato patties topped with brown sugar, cinnamon, and of course...butter.

Hey...it's Valentine's day. There's no love more sincere than the love of food. This meal is designed to warm heart and soul...not keep your waist trim. I'll worry about that tomorrow.

So, once the chicken was all done, I let him rest out of the oven for a bit. I've always heard it's important to let meat sit for a bit to keep it juicy. This is how he looked all roasted.


Don't let that dark brown circle throw you off. Just under the skin there is a nice lemon slice and the browness is from the sugars carmalizing into the skin. Not pretty, I know, but I cut it all up anyway.

I wish I had a good pic of all the veggies and chicken arranged on the platter. Don't know if you can get a good view from these pics. It really was a nice presentation.
There's Kathy in the background...

And me and the boys...



Now...the big taste test...it was simply amazing! I think it was the best roasted chicken I've made in my life (THANK YOU KARA!!). The flavors of the rosemary, lemon, and garlic all came through into the meat. And the veggies...SO very delicious!
We enjoyed every bite. I really think this was one of the top meals I've made, and really not all that difficult!
As they say in Mitford...I put a good Cabernet behind it. We finished our meal with slices of strawberry cake from Piece of Cake here in Roswell.

One last thing about Valentines...it's always been special because it's my mother's birthday. It was always a big day in my house growing up. I've wanted to make it as special for my kids as well, and hope they feel loved on and see that it's not just a day for mom and dad, but a day to show others how much we love them. I hope they always remember Valentine's with warm memories when they are men. I hope they remember the food, the warmth and smells of the kitchen, the cards, chocolate, and presents on the table, and most of all the sweetness of the day.

And happy 70th birthday to Marlene!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Nearly a decade ago, I visited a hole in the wall Mexican restaurant out in Tucker named El Matador. If you know me well, than you know that I'm not a huge Mexican food fan. Actually, I really enjoy it when it's fresh or homemade, but the typical "Combination" plate places (La Parilla, El Toro, Los Reyes, etc.) are NOT my favorite. The food always tastes cheap and full of fat to me. So, this particular day at El Matador, I wanted something lighter than an enchilada, rice, and beans. I went with their chicken tortilla soup. And let me tell you, it was great! So fresh and filling, yet light. Topped with fried tortilla strips, avocados, pico de gallo and lime juice...let me tell you, I was in heaven. I remember all the combination plate eaters were saying, "Wow, what did you get? That looks incredible." And it was.

Amazingly, just a few months after the soup and heaven experience, the AJC ran the full recipe for El Matador's Chicken Tortilla soup. I couldn't believe it! The one recipe from the one little hole -in -the -wall restaurant with the best soup was now all mine!
I've tried soups at many other Mexican restaurants, and while some are good, none have compared to El Matador's. I don't even know if the restaurant is still there.

Over the past several years I've made the soup for people and all have loved it. I've been asked many times for "my" chicken tortilla soup recipe. It's funny to me that even though Mexican is not my favorite cuisine, I'm known for a dish of this origin.
I've made a few tweaks to it to make it a little more healthy, such as using brown rice instead of white, chicken stock instead of chicken bullion cubes, and recently I fried up some whole grain tortilla strips in grapeseed oil instead of plain white tortillas.

Timesaving Tips: It calls for a homemade pico de gallo (below), but I usually use premade store bought fresh salsa. And if your life is anything like mine and you don't have all day to devote to one recipe, you can make the "special sauce" a day or two in advance. You could also cook the chicken in advance and just save the stock in the refrigerator until you're ready to assemble it all together on the stove. The recipe calls for cooked rice, so make sure you do that in advance as well, or while the chicken is cooking. Don't even think about skipping the "special sauce"...it won't be nearly as good without it.

Also, please keep in mind that when serving the soup, it's imperative that you squeeze fresh lime juice into each serving, top with avocados and chips (or fried tortilla strips if you decided to be an overachiever and make some). Without the lime juice, the soup is flat. You can also add some hot sauce for those who like it hot.
One more thing...you'll need a big pot. Maybe not a stock pot, but grab your biggest soup makin' pot you have on hand. It makes a lot...invite people over to share. They'll be impressed!

And so sweet friends, here is the recipe as I make it. It is rather long.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

2 pounds of boneless skinless chicken breast
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons garlic salt or powder
1 cup chopped yellow onion
2 to 2 1/2 quarts water
4 cups cooked brown rice
special sauce (recipe follows)
3 avocados
3 limes
Pico de Gallo (for topping, recipe follows)
Tortilla chips or fried tortilla strips

In a large pot, combine chicken, salt, garlic powder and onion. Add the water and bring to a boil. Let boil for 30 minutes or until chicken breasts are cooked through. Remove breasts and allow to cool. When the chicken has cooled, shred and place back into the broth. Add rice and special sauce to broth. Simmer until hot or ready to serve. When serving, top with sliced avocado, pico de gallo (or salsa), freshly squeezed lime juice and crushed tortilla chips or strips.

Pico de Gallo
2 cups finely diced yellow onion
7 jalapeno peppers, stemmed, seeded and minced (wear rubber gloves and be careful not to touch your eyes)
1 1/2 cups finely diced tomato
1 1/2 cups chopped cilantro

In a medium size mixing bowl, combine onion, peppers and tomato. Stir in cilantro and mix until well blended.

Special Sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic salt or powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
2 large fresh whole tomatoes (or used canned whole tomatoes) peeled and chopped
4 cups chicken broth

In a medium saucepan over low heat, heat the oil. Stir in flour, pepper, garlic, cumin and chili powder and cook for 2 minutes. Add chicken broth and tomatoes. Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, 20 to 30 minutes.

There you go! If you make it, please let me know how it turns out.
Now I'm on to making dinner tonight...sweet and sour shrimp.