green chile chicken tacos

chicken tacos 3

Okay, so all my taco recipes are almost the same – I want avocado, and salty cheese, and fresh lime juice, cilantro, maybe some pickled onions, all mixed up in a fresh corn tortilla. Even with just those fixings and no meat, I’d probably be perfectly happy. But, I’ve been spoiled by barbacoa. Tacos are held to a higher standard now.

chicken tacos 1

My first couple attempts at chicken tacos weren’t up to par. I thought grilling sounded promising, but afterward, the chicken just tasted like chicken, with nothing more interesting to contribute. Plus it’s so easy for chicken to dry out on the grill.

chicken tacos 2

This recipe solves any problem of dry, bland chicken by braising chicken thighs directly in a sauce made from blistered tomatillos, onions, and green chiles. The chicken turns out tender and juicy, already tasting like it’s meant for tacos, and then the game is upped even more when the braising liquid is reduced to a sauce. I feel like I should say something about how this filling is so good that I don’t need all those tasty fixings, but no filling is good enough to pass up a slice of avocado in a corn tortilla.  Still, this is the next best thing to barbacoa.

chicken tacos 4

Printer Friendly Recipe
Green Chile Chicken Tacos (almost directly from Kenji Alt-Lopez at Serious Eats)

Serves 4 to 6

2 green chiles, preferably Hatch or Anaheim
2 medium tomatillos, husks removed, split in half
1 small yellow onion, peeled and split in half
3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped, divided
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 limes
2 pounds chicken thighs (bone-in and skin-on)
1 small white onion, minced
16 to 24 warm corn tortillas
1 batch pickled red onions
½ cup grated queso cotija or jack cheese
1 avocado, sliced

1. Preheat the broiler to high and adjust the broiler rack to 5 to 6 inches below the heating element. Toss the peppers, tomatillos, yellow onion, and garlic in a medium bowl with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Place on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet and broil until the vegetables are completely tender and charred on all sides, turning occasionally, about 20 minutes total. When cool enough to handle, peel the peppers and remove the stems and seeds. Transfer the vegetables to a food processor or blender with half of the cilantro and ½ teaspoon of salt; process on high speed until smooth. Add 2 tablespoons of lime juice from about 2 of the limes, season to taste with salt, and set aside.

2. While the vegetables broil, heat the remaining oil in a Dutch oven over high heat until shimmering. Add the chicken pieces skin side-down and cook, without moving, until well browned, about 6 minutes. Flip and brown the second side, about 3 minutes longer. Transfer to a plate. Pour off the excess fat and deglaze the Dutch oven with 1 cup of water, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pot.

3. Transfer the vegetable puree to the Dutch oven and stir with the deglazing water to combine. Nestle the chicken pieces into the sauce. Bring to a boil, reduce to a bare simmer, cover, and cook until the chicken is completely tender, about 30 minutes. Remove the chicken from sauce and place on a plate to cool.

chicken tacos 5

4. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, discard the skin and bones and shred meat into bite-sized pieces. Return the meat to the sauce and bring to a simmer. Cook until thick and saucy, then season to taste with salt and pepper if desired.

5. Combine the white onion and remaining cilantro in a bowl. Serve chicken with warm tortillas, onion and cilantro mixture, pickled onions, cheese, and avocado.

tomato soup with chicken meatballs and pasta

tomato soup meatballs 8

I have been loyal to the first homemade tomato soup recipe I ever made. It was ten years ago, when I was just starting to up my cooking game. I’ve seen so many tomato soup recipes since then, but I’ve never felt any temptation to stray. My favorite recipe was comfortingly familiar, and I always knew that I’d be disappointed about any other recipe.

tomato soup meatballs 2

Apparently, adding meatballs to tomato soup puts it in a different category, so I’m willing to try it, even though there are more similarities than differences between the two recipes. The flavor base of my old favorite is shallots, which are cooked in butter with tomato paste until the mixture is dark and caramelized. Canned tomatoes are roasted until they’re dry and lightly browned before being stirred into aromatics along with the canning juice and chicken broth.

tomato soup meatballs 3

Replace the butter with olive oil and the shallots with a combination of onions, carrots, and celery, cook them a bit less, skip the tomato paste and add the tomatoes without roasting them, and you’ve got this new soup. The flavor is lighter, but I enjoyed it nearly as much and might actually prefer it once in a while.

tomato soup meatballs 4

The meatballs, of course, are a fun addition, and together with the pasta, put this almost in the spaghettio’s category. I’d say it’s different enough not to compare to my standard recipe, but I just compared them. And that’s okay, because they’re both so great.

tomato soup meatballs 6

Printer Friendly Recipe
Tomato Soup with Pasta and Meatballs (adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Light and Healthy 2011)

4 servings

My meatballs ended up looking more like chicken-flavored pesto than pesto-flavored chicken, which might be because my homemade pesto has less oil (and therefore more basil per volume) than store-bought versions. Still, I’ve increased the chicken slightly. The soup could use more meatballs anyway.

I’ve probably made this slightly less healthy by increasing the pasta, but the original amount (4 ounces) was just a tease.

I usually cook with canned whole tomatoes instead of diced, because they break down more. I just chop them by sticking a pair of kitchen shears in the can and snipping away.

Meatballs:
8 ounces ground dark chicken (or a mix of dark and light meat)
3 tablespoons pesto
3 tablespoons fresh bread crumbs
⅛ teaspoon salt

Soup:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1 large celery rib, diced
Salt
3 cloves garlic, minced
2½ cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes or whole tomatoes, chopped
6 ounces uncooked small pasta, such as ditalini or alphabet noodles

1. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the chicken, pesto, bread crumbs, and salt. Mix thoroughly, then form into approximately forty ½-inch balls. Chill until needed.

2. In a 3- or 4-quart saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery, and ¼ teaspoon salt. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, then uncover and cook until the mixture is dry, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the chicken broth and tomatoes; bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes to blend the flavors. Taste for seasoning and add salt if necessary.

3. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup, or transfer it in batches to a stand-up blender to puree, then return the soup to the pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and add the meatballs and pasta. Cook, stirring frequently, until the noodles are tender and the meatballs are cooked through, about 10 minutes. Serve.

tomato soup meatballs 7

chicken tikka masala

chicken tikka masala 8

Chicken tikka masala sounds so good in theory. It’s everything I love about Italian food – carbs and meat and tomato sauce mixed together – but it’s Indian food, which I also love. Except, the first time I made it, the similarity was too strong. I felt like I was eating spaghetti sauce with weird spices over rice when it should have been pasta.

chicken tikka masala 3

It took a couple years, but I finally got around to trying a new recipe. Maybe it’s the lemon juice in this recipe that makes all the difference, but there was no spaghetti confusion here. Marinara doesn’t usually have chili spices, ginger, and yogurt either.

chicken tikka masala 5

There’s one thing about this recipe that will seem strange and might make you uncomfortable, and that is that the chicken is not cooked all the way through on the grill. A trip to the grill (or the broiler) is important to really brown, even char, the meat, but then it’s chopped so it can finish cooking in the sauce. This gives it time to soak up some flavor from the sauce with drying out.

chicken tikka masala 6

It may be an unusual technique, but it works, because this is the best chicken tikka masala I’ve ever eaten. Of course, the only other chicken tikka masala I’ve eaten was the spaghetti one, so my basis for comparison is not large. Still, I know good when I taste it, and this is very good.

chicken tikka masala 10

Printer Friendly Recipe
Chicken Tikka Masala (slightly adapted from The Food Lab)

6-8 servings

3 tablespoons ground cumin
3 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
12 cloves garlic, 8 smashed and 4 minced
3 tablespoons minced or grated fresh ginger, divided
2 cups yogurt
¾ cup fresh juice from 4 to 6 lemons, divided
salt
5 pounds bone-in chicken pieces (breasts, legs, or a mix), skin removed
2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, roughly chopped
½ cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems
1 cup heavy cream

1. Heat a small not-nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the cumin, paprika, coriander, turmeric, and cayenne; toast, stirring constantly, until the spices begin to smoke. Immediately remove them from the pan so they don’t burn.

2. Combine 6 tablespoons of the spice mixture, 8 cloves smashed garlic, 2 tablespoons ginger, the yogurt, ½ cup lemon juice, and ¼ cup salt in a large bowl. Score the chicken at 1-inch intervals and immerse in the yogurt mixture; cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to 8 hours, turning occasionally.

3. When the chicken has marinated, heat the butter in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until the foaming subsides. Add the onions, 4 cloves minced garlic, and the remaining 2 tablespoons ginger. Cooking, stirring occasionally, until the onions start to brown at the edges, about 8 minutes. Add the remaining spice mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Puree, either with an immersion blender or in batches with a regular blender. Stir in the cream and the remaining ¼ cup lemon juice. Season with salt if necessary; set aside.

4. Heat a grill to high heat. Grill the chicken without moving until charred, 5-7 minutes. Flip the chicken and char the second side. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and allow to rest for 10 minutes. The chicken should not be cooked through. (The chicken can also be broiled instead of grilled.)

5. Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces; transfer it to the sauce. Bring the sauce to a simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently, until the chicken is just cooked through, about 10 minutes. Serve immediately with rice or naan, topping with the remaining cilantro.

chicken tikka masala 9

chicken curry

chicken curry 5

I don’t get too hung up on authenticity. If the food is good and I can find the ingredients, I’m happy. On the other hand, I’m not opposed to authenticity if I can get it. This recipe strikes me as pretty close, and it was good and I was able to find the ingredients, so it was a score on all accounts.

chicken curry 2

Indian food might be an easier cuisine to tackle in a town without specialty food stores than something like Chinese food, which always seems to involve ingredients I can’t find. This recipe in particular is a pretty standard list of ingredients – a lot of spices but nothing unusual, chicken, tomatoes, cilantro. The quick marinade of nothing but lemon juice, salt, and pepper was unusual, but considering how good this recipe was, I wouldn’t change a thing.

chicken curry 3

The spices are toasted, onions and garlic are processed into a paste that is then browned, then tomatoes are added and the chicken braises in this mixture until tender and infused with flavor.  It wasn’t a difficult or time-consuming recipe, and served with coconut rice and cinnamon cumin roasted cauliflower, we had a fantastic meal of Indian food – something not found often in a small town in southeastern New Mexico.

Printer Friendly Recipe
Chicken Curry (adapted from Indian Simmer)

Serves 6

I prefer whole canned tomatoes to diced, especially for something like this, because diced tomatoes contain more citric acid, which keeps them from breaking down into the sauce as smoothly.

¼ cup lemon juice from 1-2 lemons
salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
2½ pounds chicken thighs
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons minced, peeled fresh ginger
2-3 serrano peppers, seeded and minced
1 (14-ounce) can whole tomatoes, chopped
1 cinnamon stick
4 whole black cardamom
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
5 cloves
3 dried bay leaves
2 tablespoons coriander powder
1½ teaspoons garam masala powder
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon butter
¼ cup minced cilantro

1. In a large bowl, mix the lemon juice, ½ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper. Add the chicken; stir to coat. Refrigerate 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, transfer the onion, ginger, garlic, and peppers to the bowl of a food processor; pulse until pureed to a paste. Crush the cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, and cloves in a small bowl.

3. In a 5-quart Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat until it flows like water when the pot is tilted. Add the crushed spices, bay leaves, coriander, garam masala, and turmeric; cook, stirring continuously, until they just start to smoke. Add the onion mixture; cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is dry and golden brown. Add 1 teaspoon salt and the tomatoes. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes break down, about 10 minutes. Add the chicken and stir to coat in the sauce. Reduce the heat to medium-low; cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes, until the chicken is cooked and the liquid is reduced to a sauce.

4. Add the butter and stir until blended. Cover; let set off the heat for 15 minutes. Stir in the cilantro and serve with rice or naan.

chicken curry 4

general tso’s chicken

general tso's chicken 4

I’ve never understood fried foods that are coated in sauce, like General Tso’s chicken and buffalo wings. For me, the best part of fried food is the crisp browned coating. Once you mix that with sauce and it loses its crunch, what’s the point?

general tso's chicken 2

So I knew from the beginning that I wouldn’t be deep-frying for my version of General Tso’s chicken. Pan-frying sounded a lot easier, as least as far as clean up goes, and it seems like it should be lighter than dumping the entire piece of meat in oil, right?

general tso's chicken 3

The chicken did end up good – like tender chicken nuggets – but I still have to wonder if using shredded roast chicken instead of breaded pieces would really be so bad. The rough texture of shredded chicken would soak up sauce just as well as the crags of breading. It would certainly be easier. I think the difference it would make on the final dish would be minimal, and it would without a doubt be worth avoiding the calories and mess of frying.

general tso's chicken 5

One year ago: Prosecco Raspberry Gelée
Two years ago: Espresso Chocolate Shortbread
Three years ago: Pickled Coleslaw
Four years ago: Eclairs (Daring Bakers)

Printer Friendly Recipe
General Tso’s Chicken (adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Feed and Food and Wine)

Serves 4

A couple of the commenters on the ATK recipe noted that the sauce lacked something, and I’d say what it’s lacking is balance. It was very sweet and dominated by hoisin, although this might depend largely on the brand of hoisin you use. (I used Sun Luck, the only one available in my town.)

½ cup hoisin
¼ tablespoons white vinegar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1½ cup water
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch chunks
2 teaspoons oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons grated ginger
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1½ cup cornstarch
½ cup flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
3 egg whites
oil for pan-frying
4 scallions, white and green parts, chopped

1. In a medium bowl, mix the hoisin, white vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, 2 tablespoons cornstarch, and water. Transfer 6 tablespoons of this mixture into a bowl with the chicken; stir to combine and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

2. In a medium skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add 2 cups of the hoisin mixture; increase the high to medium-high and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 2 minutes, then remove from the heat and cover.

3. Add the cornstarch, flour, and baking soda to the bowl with the remaining hoisin mixture. Stir with a fork until the mixture resembles coarse meal. In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites until frothy.

4. Heat an ⅛-inch of oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Dip half of the chicken pieces in the egg whites, then the cornstarch mixture. Transfer to the hot skillet; cook, without moving, for 3-4 minutes, until the bottom is browned. Flip and brown the second side. Transfer to a plate. Repeat with the remaining chicken.

5. Reheat the sauce over the medium heat. Add the chicken and toss to coat. Serve over rice, topping with the scallions.

general tso's chicken 6

paella

paella 8

I will always associate paella with the group of friends I hung out with in graduate school. We all enjoyed good food and good drinks, so whenever we got together, everyone would bring food and wine to share. One of my friends was from Spain, and he made paella at several of these get-togethers. Of course, it was fully authentic, cooked in a paella pan set on a tripod over an open flame. The smoked paprika, saffron, roasted red peppers, and rice came directly from Spain, picked up on his latest trip home to visit his parents. Sitting around the fire in my friends’ backyard, drinking good wine and eating paella is one of my most vivid food memories.

paella 1

I knew that cooking paella in a Dutch oven on the grill wouldn’t be the same, but I was hoping for just a twinge of that taste, that memory. That’s why I insisted on cooking it outside on the grill instead of using the much easier option of the stove and oven. Maybe it would pick up a hint of smokiness from the coals, but it was more than just the flavor I was after, it was that feeling.

paella 2

I got some of each. With the cast iron Dutch oven, the one Dave and I have taken camping for the last ten years, heated over coals on the grill, I got some of the fun of cooking outdoors. Dave sat outside with me with a glass of wine and let me babble on about different rice dishes in cultures around the world.

paella 3

The food was good, but I need some paella practice before it’ll be up to the standards of what I remember. The biggest mistake I made was preventing the formation of a soccarat, a layer of crusty bits on the bottom of the pan, which is one of the best parts of paella. Letting rice stick to the bottom of the pan goes against years of rice-cooking training, and I ended up adding too much liquid, making a wetter, saucier paella. I also think I’ll leave out the tomatoes next time. They were included in a number of the paella recipes I looked at, but it’s not a flavor I associate with paella.

paella 6

Overall, it was a successful meal, in that I had fun making it and it tasted good. But next time, I’ll use the lessons I learned, like not stirring the rice and leaving out the tomato, and my paella will be that much better. However, I doubt it’ll ever taste as good as one cooked over a fire in a paella pan while enjoying the company of good friends.

paella 10

One year ago: Bruschetta with Chickpea Puree
Two years ago: Grilled Potato and Vegetable Salad
Three years ago: Casatiello
Four years ago: Soba Salad with Feta and Peas

Printer Friendly Recipe
Paella (adapted from Cooks Illustrated, Alton Brown, the New York Times, Leite’s Culinaria, and About.com)

Most of my problems came from not following this method, adding more liquid and stirring more often because I was worried about the rice cooking unevenly. However, it should be noted that the recipe given here has not been perfected.

The recipe specifically refers to charcoal grilling methods, but I think it could be easily adapted to a gas grill.

4 cups water
8 ounces shrimp, peeled, shells reserved
1 onion, half sliced, half diced
2 garlic cloves, 1 sliced, 2 minced
1 small bay leaf
1 large thyme sprig
salt and pepper
1 pounds chicken legs and/or thighs, bone-in, skin-on
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 red pepper, diced
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon crumbled saffron
1 cup short-grain rice, preferably Bomba
7 ounces canned diced tomatoes with juice
2 tablespoons white wine
½ cup peas

1. In a medium-size pot over medium-high heat, bring the water, shrimp shells, sliced onion, sliced garlic, bay leaf, thyme sprig and 1 teaspoon salt to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for about 30 minutes. Strain, discarding the solids. Return the broth to the saucepan, cover, and keep warm over low heat.

2. Combine the shrimp with 2 teaspoons olive oil, the minced garlic, ¼ teaspoon paprika, and a pinch of teaspoon salt. Mix well to coat with seasonings and let marinate at least 15 minutes or up to 1 hour.

3. Light about 2 quarts of charcoal briquettes; once the briquettes are lightly covered with gray ash, spread them over the bottom grate of the grill, then top with another 2 quarts of unlit coals.

4. Heat a 10-inch cast-iron skillet or Dutch oven directly over the coals. Add the shrimp and cook, without moving, until browned and pink on one side, 30 seconds to a minute. Flip the shrimp to brown the second side. Transfer to a plate.

5. Season the chicken generously with salt and ground black pepper. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the hot skillet (or Dutch oven). Add the chicken, skin-side down, and cook with moving until the bottom is deeply browned, 3-4 minutes. Turn each piece of chicken to brown the other side. Transfer the browned chicken to a plate. (Because the chicken is mostly raw and the shrimp is cooked and will only be briefly reheated, don’t put them on the same plate.)

6. Add the diced onion, red pepper, and a pinch of salt to the skillet; sauté, stirring frequently, until softened and lightly browned, 8-10 minutes. Add the saffron and remaining ¼ teaspoon paprika and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about a minute.

7. Add the rice, stirring well to coat with the onion mixture. Add the tomatoes, wine, half of the hot shrimp broth, ½ teaspoon salt, and the browned chicken. Bring to a brisk simmer, stirring once. Simmer, uncovered, until most of the broth has been absorbed, about 10 minutes.

8. Add the remaining broth and cook for an additional 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and arrange the peas and shrimp over the surface of the rice in one layer. Cover the pan with a clean dish cloth. Let the rice rest for 10 minutes before serving.

paella 9

asian lettuce wraps

asian lettuce wraps 5

I try not to order dishes in restaurants that I can easily make at home, but PF Chang’s lettuce wraps had so many raving reviews that I had to get them the first time I ate there. They were just as good as I was hoping, but were also simple – too simple to pay someone else to make them for me. I made a mental note to try these at home.

asian lettuce wraps 3

That was years ago, but I still hadn’t gotten around to making this easy dish that promised to be just as tasty as it was healthy. That is why this recipe, which requires no great skill or time-investment, no new ingredients or techniques, made the list. Sometimes I just need a little extra push, even if it’s from myself.

asian lettuce wraps 4

I don’t think I’ll need that extra push to make these again. It will be hard to forget how well the savory filling compliments the crisp mild lettuce and sweet hoisin sauce. I can’t compare them to the restaurant’s version, since it’s been years since I’ve had theirs. I won’t wait so long before I eat lettuce wraps again, not after this reminder of how good they are, and how easy they are to make myself.

asian lettuce wraps 6

One year ago: Stromboli
Two years ago: Maple Oatmeal Scones
Three years ago: Twice-Baked Potatoes with Broccoli, Cheddar and, Scallions
Four years ago: Mandarin Pancakes

Printer Friendly Recipe
Asian Lettuce Wraps (adapted from Rasa Malaysia)

Serves 4

I used a combination of ground pork and lean ground beef, but many recipes call for ground chicken. Use whatever lean ground meat you want; I particularly recommend chicken or pork.

Marinade:
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon dry sherry
½ teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 green onion, finely chopped
chile-garlic sauce (optional)

Filling:
1 pound lean ground meat
1 tablespoon oil
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
5 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded, caps thinly sliced
1 (5-ounce) can water chestnuts, chopped
2 green onions, thinly sliced

1 small head of Boston or Bibb lettuce, leaves separated, rinsed, and dried

Dipping sauce:
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon water
½ teaspoon sriracha (optional)

1. In a large bowl, combine all of the marinade ingredients. Add the ground meat; use a fork or your hands to coat the meat with the marinade, breaking up large chunks. Set aside for 15 minutes.

2. Heat the oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until it flows like water when the pan is tilted. Add the shallot, garlic, and ginger; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about one minute. Add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms soften. Add the chicken with its marinade and the water chestnuts; cook, breaking the meat into small pieces, until no pink remains, about 6 minutes. Stir in the green onions.

3. Combine all of the dipping sauce ingredients in a small bowl. Serve with the meat and lettuce leaves, filling the lettuce just before serving to prevent wilting.

asian lettuce wraps 8

spice-rubbed picnic chicken

picnic chicken 7

Family vacations require a careful balance of time together and time apart. Originally, my family found that cruises worked well – everyone does their own thing during the day and we meet up for dinner. The last few years, we’ve started renting a house on the beach for a week. We still make sure to have dinner together every evening, but now we have to cook it ourselves.

picnic chicken 1

Despite my love for spending time in the kitchen, I have a greater love of sitting on the beach drinking margaritas. No one in my family is willing to cook dinner for the group every night. Instead, we take turns. On one trip, I made pasta with tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, salad, and crostini topped with white beans and with tuna. Last year, everyone built and then grilled their own pizza. Fajitas and chicken gyros are also crowd-pleasers.

picnic chicken 2

Between shredding cheese, preparing toppings, and stretching out ten rounds of dough, last year’s pizza extravaganza was ambitious. This year, I wanted something easier. This baked chicken is perfect because it’s actually meant to be cooked in advance, which means I can do it whenever I need a quick break from the sun.

picnic chicken 4

I mixed up the spices at home, so all I need to do on vacation is rub them on the raw chicken the day before it’s my turn to cook and store the meat in the refrigerator overnight. The chicken soaks up spice and salt, which also helps it retain moisture as it bakes. It ends up tasting like barbecued chicken that’s been smoking all day on the grill, but it’s completely undemanding. Undemanding is what vacation is all about.

picnic chicken 5

One year ago: Green Goddess Salad
Two years ago: Lemon Meringue Cake
Three years ago: Tuscan-Style Couscous Salad

Printer Friendly Recipe
Spice-Rubbed Picnic Chicken (from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 8

If you have space to store 5 pounds of chicken pieces in your refrigerator all lined up on a baking sheet, you are lucky to be so rich in fridge space. I just pile the spiced chicken in a bowl with a cover.

As you can see from the pictures, I did not cut the breasts into smaller pieces. Obviously it took longer to cook, but it worked fine.

5 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces (breasts, thighs, drumsticks, or a mix with breasts cut into 3 pieces or halved if small), trimmed of excess fat and skin
2 tablespoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
¼-½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1. Use a sharp knife to make 2 or 3 short slashes in the skin of each piece of chicken, taking care not to cut into meat. Combine the salt, sugar, and spices in a small bowl and mix thoroughly. Coat the chicken pieces with the spices, gently lifting the skin to distribute the spice rub underneath but leaving it attached to chicken. Transfer the chicken skin side up to wire rack set over rimmed foil-lined baking sheet, lightly tent with foil, and refrigerate 6 to 24 hours.

2. Secure the skin of each breast piece with 2 or 3 toothpicks placed near the edges of the skin.

3. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position; heat the oven to 425 degrees. Roast the chicken until the thickest part of smallest piece registers 140 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 15 to 20 minutes. Increase the oven temperature to 500 degrees and continue roasting until the chicken is browned and crisp and the thickest parts of the breast pieces register 160 degrees, 5 to 8 minutes longer, removing pieces from the oven and transferring to a clean wire rack as they finish cooking. Continue to roast the thighs and/or drumsticks, if using, until the thickest part of the meat registers 170 to 175 degrees, about 5 minutes longer. Remove from the oven; transfer the chicken to a rack and let it cool completely before refrigerating or serving.

picnic chicken 6

chicken gyros

chicken gyros 14

Elly’s chicken gyros are so very popular for good reason – it’s a simple recipe with exceptional results. I, of course, can’t keep anything simple. After I made Elly’s recipe a few times, I noticed how similar it is to chicken fajitas – marinated chicken wrapped in flat bread with vegetables. My favorite chicken fajita recipe has a few tricks up its sleeve that I love, so I started incorporating those into Elly’s chicken gyro recipe.

chicken gyros 1

My favorite trick is saving a portion of the marinade (before mixing it with raw meat, of course) to stir into the cooked and shredded chicken, reviving any flavors that might be lost during cooking. Another portion of the marinade is stirred into the vegetables, brightening their flavor while the vinegar tames the onion’s bite. I also insist on taking advantage of everyone’s favorite cooking method – fire. I love grilling the chicken and then toasting the pita over the remaining coals.

chicken gyros 2

I’m fairly certain that traditionally, gyros aren’t topped with red peppers and feta, and the first few times I made this recipe, I served those on the side as part of Mediterranean Pepper Salad. But each time, more and more of the salad made its way onto the gyro, and eventually I stopped keeping them separate at all. With the vegetables right on top of the marinated grilled chicken and toasted flatbread, topped with tart white sauce, these were even more similar to chicken fajitas, except – dare I say – even better.

chicken gyros 5

One year ago: Croissants (Martha Stewart’s recipe)
Two years ago: Rhubarb Scones
Three years ago: Pita (cook these right on the grill instead of baking!)

Printer Friendly Recipe
Chicken Gyros (adapted from Elly Says Opa and from Cooks Illustrated’s Chicken Fajita recipe)

Greek yogurt is often sold in 7-ounce containers. If you don’t have extra plain yogurt around to use in the marinade, using 2 tablespoons of the Greek yogurt meant for the tzatziki recipe in your marinade won’t hurt your tzatziki at all.

Chicken:
¼ cup juice from 1 to 2 lemons
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 medium garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
table salt and ground black pepper
2 tablespoons plain yogurt
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1½ pounds), trimmed of fat, tenderloins removed, pounded to ½-inch thickness

Tzatziki:
½ cucumber, unpeeled, shredded
½ teaspoon kosher salt
7 ounces Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ tablespoon white wine vinegar
½ tablespoon minced fresh dill (optional)
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For serving:
½ red onion, quartered lengthwise and sliced thinly
1 large red bell pepper, quartered lengthwise and sliced thinly
½ cucumber, quartered lengthwise and sliced thinly
1 tomato, chopped medium, or 1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
½ cup feta, crumbled
4-6 (6-inch) pocketless pitas

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, oil, garlic, vinegar, sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, and ¾ teaspoon pepper. Reserve 3 tablespoons of the marinade in a small bowl; set aside. Add the yogurt and another teaspoon salt to the remaining marinade. Place the chicken in the marinade; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 15 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, using a large chimney starter, ignite 6 quarts of charcoal briquettes and burn until the coals are fully ignited, about 20 minutes. Empty the coals into the grill, spreading them in a single layer; place an additional 20 unlit coals over the lit coals on one side of grill to create a two-level fire. Position the grill grate over the coals and heat the grate for 5 minutes; scrape clean with a grill brush. (For a gas grill, light all burners and turn to high, cover, and heat the grill until hot, about 15 minutes; scrape the grill grate clean with a grill brush. Leave one burner on high heat while turning the remaining burner(s) down to medium.)

3. For the tzatziki: Place the cucumber in a strainer set over a medium bowl and add the salt. Set aside for at least 15 minutes to drain. Transfer the cucumber to a clean kitchen towel and squeeze dry. Combine the drained cucumber with the yogurt, lemon juice, vinegar, dill, garlic, and pepper.

4. Add 2 tablespoons of the reserved marinade to a bowl; add the sliced onion to the marinade. Set aside to lightly pickle while you prepare the remaining toppings. Mix all of the vegetables and feta into the bowl with the onion.

5. Remove the chicken from the marinade and place it smooth side down on the hotter side of the grill; discard the remaining marinade. Cook the chicken until it’s well browned, 4 to 5 minutes; using tongs, flip the chicken and continue grilling until it’s no longer pink when cut into with a paring knife or an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers about 160 degrees, 4 to 5 minutes longer. Transfer to a plate; cover to keep warm.

6. Working in 2 or 3 batches, place the pitas in a single layer on the cooler side of the now-empty grill and cook until warm and lightly browned, about 20 seconds per side (do not grill too long or the pitas will become brittle). As the pitas are done, wrap them in a kitchen towel or a large sheet of foil.

7. Slice the chicken into ¼-inch strips and toss with the remaining tablespoon of reserved marinade in another bowl; arrange the chicken and vegetables on a large platter and serve with the warmed pitas.

chicken gyros 8

roasted chicken thighs with root vegetables

I am highly susceptible to the Sunday Sads. I start out every weekend thinking that I have infinite time before going back to work to catch up on chores, hobbies, and sleep. I make pizza and drink beer the first night. Make something fancy for dinner and drink wine the second night. Sunday, though, turns into a mad rush to catch up chores from the previous week while preparing for the upcoming week. I still want something fantastic for dinner, but not something that’s going to keep me in the kitchen all day.

This one-dish meal is the perfect antidote to the Sunday Sads. The original recipe had a long staggered cooking method, in which the chicken roasted, then the vegetables, and then they’re combined to finish cooking. I don’t have that kind of patience on Sunday, so I cooked the whole thing in one dish at the same time. While it baked unattended, Dave and I shared a bottle of our favorite champagne – my other foolproof method of dissolving the Sunday Sads.

An easy meal is one thing, but what busy Sundays really need is something that tastes delicious. This mixture of browned potatoes, caramelized vegetables, and moist chicken that takes next to no time to put together eases the blow of facing another busy work week.

One year ago: Lamb Stew
Two years ago: German Apple Pancake

Printer Friendly Recipe
Roasted Chicken Thighs with Root Vegetables and Potatoes
(adapted from Bon Appétit)

Serves 4

The chicken thighs provide plenty of fat, probably too much, to coat the vegetables so they cook evenly. I think this would probably work with bone-in, skin-on breasts as well, or at least a mixture (with the breasts cut in half cross-wise so they cook in the same time as the thighs).

If you aren’t a fan of parsnips, replace them with more carrots or another root vegetable.

nonstick spray
1 pound medium carrots, peeled, cut into 2-inch-long, ½-inch-thick spears
1 pound parsnips, peeled, cut into 2-inch-long, ½-inch-thick spears
1½ pounds unpeeled medium Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed, cut into 2-inch-long, ½-inch-thick spears
1 onion, cut into 8 wedges
8 large chicken thighs with skin and bones
1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon freshly grated or ground nutmeg

1. Preheat oven to 450°F. Mix salt, thyme, 1½ teaspoons pepper, and nutmeg in small bowl. Spray a 9×13-inch baking pan with nonstick spray. Place the carrots, parsnips, potatoes, and onion in the pan and spray with a light coating of nonstick spray. (The chicken will provide plenty of cooking fat, but you want to make sure every vegetable has at least a light coating.) Stir half of the salt mixture into the vegetables. Lay the chicken, skin-side up, over the vegetables. Rub the remaining salt mixture on the chicken and under its skin.

2. Bake until the chicken is golden and cooked through, 35-45 minutes. Serve.