Sunday, January 24, 2010

Not the F-Word

Quick food. Speedy food. Not-so-much-work food. But NOT fast food.

As part of my effort to get through my recipes-to-try pile I pulled this one from.... well, January/February 2010. Shaddup.

The two best parts? First, I could make the marinade ahead of time and just toss the chicken in when I got home from running errands that day. It came together SO fast. Second, by using crushed corn flakes instead of bread crumbs I got a terrifically crispy coating; not "pretty good considering it's gluten-free", but actually really tasty and I would make it that way even if I could eat the world's most common food. Not that I'm still bitter or anything.

Ideally I'd make my own BBQ sauce, because store-bought sauce can be REALLY high in sugar/high fructose corn syrup. But this is the real world where I'm in my busy season at work, so I just thank Trader Joe's for the assist.

Cost-conscious tip: cutting chicken breasts into strips will save you around 40 cents/pound (at least) over buying pre-cut tenders. And since DH likes drumsticks, which are way less pricey than chicken breasts, we did half & half.

A salad is a great side dish with this. If you're going for more of a party atmosphere, just do carrots and celery sticks. In the summer this would go perfectly with corn on the cob.

BBQ Chicken Tenders
Eating Well, January/February 2010

1 cup prepared barbecue sauce [check the ingredients if you're gluten-free, or make your own with ketchup, molasses, cider vinegar, and black pepper]
2 TBSP Dijon mustard
2 TBSP honey (I used a smidge less than 1 TBSP)
1 1/2 pounds chicken tenders
1/2 cup all-purpose flour [OR gluten-free faux flour]
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
2 large eggs
1 3/4 cups coarse dry breadcrumbs, preferably whole-wheat [OR crushed corn flakes if you're going gluten-free]

1. Combine barbecue sauce, mustard, and honey in a large bowl or Ziploc bag. Set aside 1/2 cup of chicken tenders in half lengthwise, then add all the chicken to the large bowl with the remaining sauce. Stir to coat. Marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Coat a large rimed baking sheet with cooking spray.

3. Combine flour, salt, and pepper in a shallow dish. Lightly beat eggs in another shallow dish. Place breadcrumbs (or crushed cornflakes) in a third hallow dish. Coat each tender in flour, shaking off any excess. Dip in egg and let any excess drip off. Then roll in the breadcrumb.

4. Place the chicken on the prepared baking sheet. Generously coat chicken with cooking spray.

5. Bake for 10 minutes. Turn each tender (or leg) over and continue baking until the outside is crisp and the tender are cooked through, about 10 minutes more. Serve with the reserved sauce for dipping.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


When I was getting ready for bed Sweetie said, "Are you setting your alarm? It's supposed to ice tonight." True, I said, but there was no reason to think I wouldn't go to work the next day.

And it iced and I went to work and they closed it twenty minutes after I got there. Super!

Before everyone from Minnesota and Chicago and other snow-ain't-no-thing parts of the country get all judgey, remember this - we have no snow plows. We have no snow tires. We have one or two salt/sand trucks. Oh, and we have a LOT of people who have never driven on snow or ice before.

The year Atlanta hosted the Felon Frolic Superbowl we had two ice storms in a row. I was sloooowly making my way to the supermarket around 7am that weekend, just post-storm, when a car behind me became terribly impatient with me. Horn honking, one-handed gestures waving, yelling in the car - the whole dramadeal. Where he had to go at 7am on a Sunday morning I couldn't tell you.

So as soon as it was possible to do so, he passed me - screaming at me the whole time.

He floored it, skidded, and ran into a phone pole.

Sometimes you get to SEE karma instead of just hope it's out there...

So anyway, after I made my way back home (the ice! the skidding! the cooooold!), I hit the supermarket to get what I needed to finally, finally make my sister's tortilla soup crockpot recipe. She sent me a passionate defense of her beloved slow-cooker after this post, and sent the accompanying recipe.

It is said that no two siblings grow up in the same household. And sure enough, I started researching recipes before I hit a double-digit age and Sis lost 8 pounds when I went away to college because "all I know how to cook is salad." She has become a terrific cook and hostess-with-the-mostest since then.

It's FABULOUS. It was just what we needed on an ice-bound day and the leftovers made a terrific lunch. Pork tenderloin is the most healthful/low-fat option. I suspect a Boston Butt would also work at less financial cost, but would be fattier. The texture would be different as well, since it would be more of a shredded/Southern barbecue deal. YUM.

Sis's recipe in Sis's words. I bought a big pork tenderloin and used 1/3 for the soup, froze 1/3 to use as a roast, and chopped the last part into, well, chops.

Tortilla Soup
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons cumin
3 garlic cloves, chopped or squashed through the press
1 can diced tomato with jalapenos
1 small can green chilies
1 can (15-ish ounces) corn
32 oz chicken broth (I prefer low-sodium, especially since there are also tortilla chips in here)
1/2 cup crushed tortilla chips

Heat skillet with oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook till softened - about 6 minutes. Stir in chili powder, cumin, and garlic - cook for 1 minute.

Transfer to slow cooker and add cubed pork, tomatoes, chilies, broth, and tortilla chips.

Cover and cook about 4 hours on high (or you can do all day on low, and turn it up for 30 minutes or so when you get home from work). Stir in corn at end (I have added it at the beginning with no difference). I have added canned black beans the last few times I made it. Definitely adds nutrition and flavor.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


New year, new possibilities, new recipes. Let's all hope for good things.

One of the best things to happen last year was that my creative juices started to flow. And not just in a circle, but actually down to hands and feet where they become action. I took my mid-90's Pier 1 box-on-a-frame coffee table out of the basement and, via magic, turned it from this (on the deck, just moments away from beginning a miraculous transformation)

To this, with power sanding and a doo-dad from Lowe's and carpenter's glue...

to this. Voila!

I attacked it with Valspar spray paint and quickly realized that Valspar spray paint is awful and chalky and blotchy. So back to sanding, and back to Home Depot for some Krylon spray paint. Luuuurve Krylon. The table is just inside the front door, so the basket of rolled towels underneath the coffee table is for wet/muddy paws.

Oh, and the dark candle-holder on top of the coffee table was a $4 find at the Step-Up Society (on Monroe, for those of you in Atlanta). It was bright, screamin' red with classy-brassy accents and weird faux-distressing when I bought it. Spray paint on oil-rubbed bronze is a wonderful, wonderful thing.

This was the Year of Spray Paint. The god-awful brass/walnut ceiling fan in the guest room? It's now a crisp, fresh, very liveable white. The SHINY faux-gold picture frame with the 1980s pastel print? Spray-painted the frame espresso brown, kept the glass & neutral matting, and replaced the print with a historic one that we needed to frame. This was an $8.50 project via Goodwill instead of a $75 custom framing job.

And fabric. I took the dining room chairs from here -

to there -

Also a great idea, this one Sweetie's.

Know what this is? It's probably a quick escort out of the security line at the airport, for one thing, but it's GENIUS. It's an empty prescription bottle with Sweetie's I-pod earbuds. They don't get tangled, they don't get wrapped around anything else. Hell, they don't even get chocolated (were anyone to carry both an I-pod and emergency chocolate in their bag... I never would, of course...).

One of my goals for the new year is to plow through the ENORMOUS pile of "to try" recipes I've accumulated over, well, longer than I care to think about.

I love Everyday Food magazine and, after my gift subscription from TechGirl ran out, I re-upped myself*. Now maybe (maybe??) in Martha's world is risotto an "everyday" dish, but around here it's for weekends/vacation days only.

That said, it's well worth the time. I'm still on this ridiculous gluten-free thing, and rice is wonderfully starchy and creamy and gluten-free! Sweetie and I are doing a fitness challenge at our gym, and I felt no hypocrisy at all about making this dinner and being in the challenge. I don't generally feel hypocritical about indulging in a little snacky-treat, so maybe that's not a good barometer... anyway, this is really a wonderful, comforting dish on a COLD winter evening.

Risotto can be tricky. If this is your first time making it be sure to have a back-up dish (leftovers, frozen pizza, whatever) to take the pressure and the starving off. Also, read the whole recipe before you start; always a good idea, but particularly important with this one.

You can not use any kind of rice other than Arborio or carnaroli. Those two types of rice are the only two varieties that create their own creamy sauce that makes risotto what it is. Basmati or jasmine or brown or a-roni will not work. Sure, you could make a rice salad or something, but it's way not risotto.

Tomato and Sausage Risotto
Everyday Food - November, 2006 (I told you I've been saving recipes for way too long)

1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, with their juice

1 TBSP olive oil (or canola oil if that's what you have; and if you only have $16/bottle olive oil, use the canola and save the pricey stuff for salad dressing or bruschetta)

3/4 pound sweet or hot Italian sausage, casing removed - I used the supermarket-brand Italian turkey sausage, and it was FAB. 3/4 pound was about 3 sausages. Precise weight is not at all important here. And if you're vegetarian, leave it out altogether.

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 cup Arborio rice (uncooked) - Arborio is the go-to for risotto, but carnaroli rice will also work

1/2 cup dry white wine - use chicken broth if you don't keep wine around

1 10- to 14-ounce bunch spinach, chopped, tough stems removed (or not... that's a little picky for me)

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (freshly grated yourself if at all possible)

2 TBSP butter (a little gratuitous, if you ask me - and you're reading my blog, so yeah, I'm opining. 1 TBSP or less is fine)

In a saucepan combine the tomatoes, their juice, and 3 cups of water. Heat it until simmering. It is VERY important to keep it hot.

In a larger saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add sausage and onion, season with salt & pepper (or just pepper - the Parmesan and sausage both already have salt). Cook, breaking up sausage with a spoon, until sausage is opaque and onion has softened. Martha says 3 - 5 minutes, but mine took a little longer.

Add (uncooked) rice, stirring until well coated with liquid, a minute or two.

Add wine or 1/2 cup chicken broth, stirring until absorbed, about a minute. And "absorbed" means the rice no longer looks shiny-wet but has a thickened, sauce-like quality.

Add about 2 cups of hot tomato mixture AND NO MORE to rice. Stir and simmer over medium-low heat until rice is absorbed, a good 5 minutes or so. The picture below is right after an addition of tomatoes/juice that has not yet been absorbed. Also, a wooden spoon is great for this as it doesn't get hot.

Continue adding tomato mixture, ONE CUP AT A TIME, stirring until absorbed and then adding another cup. This is a lot of stirring and waiting, so here's how I cook:


After you've added more than half of the tomato mixture (one cup at a time), it's time to start taste-testing. If the rice crunches you're not done yet. When it reaches a nice, toothy consistency - creamy and not soupy, with the rice at cooked-rice-texture (you're a grown-up, you know what rice should be), you're ready to proceed. You may have some tomato mixture left over, and that's fine (you can always season it with a little oregano and basil, stick it in the fridge, and toss it with pasta later for a light lunch).
Remove the pan from the heat and add the spinach. Since spinach cooks down so much it's easiest to do this a few handfuls at a time, let it wilt, then add more.

Note that in the picture above the rice has a creamy coating; that's what you're looking for in a risotto.

Stir in Parmesan and, if you choose to use it, butter. If you're planning to have leftovers the butter will help keep the risotto from getting pasty on the later re-heat.

Settle in, light candles, put on music, and be glad you're out of the cold and enjoying a healthful, tasty dinner.

* has a terrific deal right now on a year-long subscription to Eating Well for $5. I believe the deal is on for another few days - TERRIFIC cooking magazine.

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Dawning of a New Year

This will be quick, y'all - it's January 1 and I've got to get busy on organizing my house, losing 12 pounds, finding serenity throughout the day, being more understanding...

Mom grew up in central Pennsylvania, which was predominantly settled by Germans. In fact, my Civil War ancestor fought in the Pennsylvania German Regiment. A lot of the traditional family favorite foods in that area are heavily influenced German dishes. And Mom inflicted pork and sauerkraut on us every New Year's Day for "luck." Which always made me think the new year would suck, as I had once again failed to dodge the sauerkraut.

If pork is part of your New Year's Day tradition, here's a terrific Asian-inspired pork tenderloin recipe. Seriously, this stuff is the bomb. I like to serve it with rice noodles (an Asian New Year tradition) and snow peas.

The original recipe is written for the grill and involves hickory chips. You can get the original recipe here; my version is below.

Hoisin and Bourbon-Glazed Pork Tenderloin
Cooking Light, 2002

1/3 cup hoisin sauce (you can find it in the Asian section of a regular supermarket)
2 TBSP rice vinegar (rice wine vinegar is fine)
2 TBSP bourbon
2 TBSP maple syrup (we didn't have any - honey worked fine)
1 1/2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon chili paste with garlic (not essential - I wouldn't go out and buy it just for this recipe)
1 garlic clove, minced
2 1-pound pork tenderloins
Salt & pepper, cooking spray

Mix all ingredients (except salt, pepper, and cooking spray) in a large Ziploc bag, or whatever you use for marinating meat. Add tenderloins and refrigerate for up to 8 hours.

Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, coat the foil with cooking spray, and place tenderloins on sheet; dispose of marinade. Salt and pepper the tenderloins. Roast for 20 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the thickest part of the pork is 155 degrees.

Note: tenderloins usually have a thick end and taper sharply at the other. I generally end up whacking off the "tail" and removing it from the oven between 5 and 10 minutes before the rest of the pork is done. That way, all parts of the pork are done without any parts being overcooked.

Happy cooking in 2010!