Archive for September, 2011

Paper bag chicken strips

The secret to really good chicken strips? It’s in the bag (sorry, I’m a sucker for lame puns). That’s right, instead of tossing chicken pieces into buttermilk and then the dry coating in a plastic bag or even by hand in a bowl, use a paper bag. With the paper, the flour coating doesn’t stick to the bag–it sticks to your chicken making for crispy tenders that are still crunchy as leftovers.

I had to pass this recipe along today since next week I’m sticking to veggies. That’s right to kick-off Vegetarian Awareness Month (ironically the same month that celebrates all-things candy coated), I’m going to go through some of my favorite vegetarian dishes.

Just a note or two about this recipe: I’ve tried substituting milk soured with lemon juice but it’s just not the same. And you’ll need to soak the chicken pieces in the buttermilk for at least an hour. What I do to streamline the process is when I’m making dinner one night, say a stir-fry, I chop enough chicken for that recipe and then make extra strips to put in the buttermilk for the next night.

Recipe

Coating the chicken in the bag

Ingredients

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2 cups buttermilk

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

¼ teaspoon cayenne powder (optional)

2 cups flour

½ cup cornstarch

Salt

oil

1 grocery store paper bag

Directions

  1. Cut the chicken breasts into thin strips.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, pour in the buttermilk and then stir in the spices. Then place the strips into the buttermilk, stir and let them sit overnight in the refrigerator (alternatively, let them soak at least one hour in the buttermilk).
  3. Heat about 2 inches of oil in either a heavy-bottomed pan or a wok (preferred). Allow the oil to come to a high heat (if you put a pinch of flour in it, it should sizzle on contact).
  4. Meanwhile, place the flour and cornstarch in the paper bag.
  5. Drain the buttermilk from the chicken strips.
  6. Working in batches place 1/3 of the strips into the bag, close and shake vigorously. Then put the coated strips into the hot oil.
  7. Fry for about 3 minutes per batch or until golden brown. Drain on a wire rack and sprinkle with salt.
  8. Repeat with remaining batches. (Note: there will be extra flour in the bag when you’re done.)
  9. Serve hot with barbecue sauce or ketchup for dipping.

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Bakery Blueberry Muffins

A lone bag of fresh blueberries in the freezer inspired me to make one of my kids’ favorite after school snacks–blueberry muffins.

But making blueberry muffins without them turning, well blue, can be tricky. If the batter is too thin then the berries end up sinking to the bottom of the muffin cup and you end up with a layer of blueberry in your muffin. And if it’s too thick? Then the blueberries break apart as you’re trying to stir them in.

This muffin recipe fixes both problems with a heaping tablespoon of baking powder to keep the blueberries from sinking. It’s also a stiff batter that you can still stir the berries into, without them getting mushed (just stir gently!).

Instead of fresh blueberries, I like to use frozen ones. I find that the blueberries tend to stay intact better as I stir if they’re more solid. Over the summer, I’ve been buying extra blueberries to use through the winter, but you can still find fresh ones at the store, at least for a little while. Freeze ‘em yourself or buy frozen to make these muffins.

Recipe

Prep time: 15 minutes + baking

Servings: 12 muffins

Ingredients

2 cups flour

1 cup sugar

1 Tablespoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

6 Tablespoons butter

1 egg

2/3 cup milk + 2 Tablespoons

1 Teaspoon vanilla

1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)

Directions

  1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Mix the dry ingredients together in a food processor. Add the butter, cut up, and process until it has the texture of cornmeal (alternatively, you can cut the butter in with a pastry cutter). Pour into a large mixing bowl.
  3. In another bowl mix together the milk, egg and vanilla.
  4. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry mixture until fully incorporated. The batter will be thick.
  5. Gently fold the blueberries into the batter being careful that they don’t break apart.
  6. Add batter in spoonfuls into 12 muffin cups lined with paper or baking spray. (I like big blueberry muffins so I usually only have 10.)
  7. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until just browned.
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Savory apple pizzas

I saved my favorite bistro pizza recipe for last. Layered with tart apples and a hardy cheese, this pizza was inspired by one of my favorite snack combos, Cortland apple slices with either sharp New York cheddar cheese or whatever strong cheese I had on hand, Fontinella, Fontina, Gruyere, even Parmesan works.

A few things that make this recipe work:

The size. The less traditional mini-size pairs well with the less traditional ingredients. I can’t imagine eating a big slice of apple pizza, can you? But a hand-sized one seems perfect.

Fresh ingredients. The apples are at their flavorful peak right now. I like something with a bit up a bite that holds up to baking. I used Cortland apples, but Granny Smith would be a good choice too.

Deli dough. You can make the dough from scratch, but I stop by my neighborhood Italian deli and pick it up to make the meal prep even faster (they have white or whole wheat dough available).

Sweet slather. Before putting on the apples and cheese I brush the dough with agave nectar. You can use honey too, but I prefer the consistency and slight maple flavor of agave.

Even though my kids like the margarita and the meatball pizzas, apple was the surprise winner in our week of bistro pizzas and this was the only recipe I didn’t plan out beforehand. I had extra dough so I looked through my fridge for inspiration and came up with these pizzas. (Side note: I knew I had a good recipe when my daughter asked if she could bring an apple pizza to school with her for lunch.)

Recipe

Ham also goes well with the apple cheese topping

Servings: 4 mini-pizzas


Ingredients

1 bag pizza dough

3-4 tart apples, sliced thin

8-10 small slices of strong cheese (about 8 ounces, Fontinella, Parmesan, Gruyere)

Agave or honey

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Divided the dough into four equal pieces using a floured knife.
  3. Roll each dough piece out into a 5-6 inch circle, then place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment.
  4. Brush each dough piece generously with agave or honey
  5. Layer the apple and cheese slices on top.
  6. Bake for 15 minutes until cheese is golden.
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Meatball margarita pizza

Here’s a good reason to start hunting for a good Italian deli in your area–meatballs. Of course, fresh pizza dough, mozzarella, homemade sausage and pasta make the list too, but when I want a quick meal, I’ll often pick up meatballs and sauce at Alesci’s then all I have to do when I come home is make the pasta.

But meatballs have so many possibilities–why not as a pizza topping? I merged two of my kids’ favorite Italian meals–meatballs and margarita pizza for these mini-meals.

Recipe

Prep time: 15 minutes

Servings: 4 mini-pizzas

Ingredients

1 bag pizza dough

1 1/2 cups marinara or pizza sauce

1 bunch basil

8-12 ounces fresh mozzarella

12 meatballs*

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Divided the dough into four equal pieces using a floured knife.
  3. Roll each dough piece out into a 5-6 inch circle, then place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment.
  4. Slather each pizza with sauce.
  5. Place three meatballs, mozzarella, and fresh ground pepper on top.
  6. Bake for 10 minutes, remove pizza and add basil then cook for an additional 5-10 minutes or until cheese is golden. (You can leave the basil on the whole time if you don’t mind it getting a little crispy. I actually like the basil crisped so I put it on at the beginning of cooking, it’s up to you!)

*Tweak this mini-meatloaf recipe to make your own meatballs. Cut out the mustard, vinegar, Worcestershire, tabasco and add plenty of torn fresh basil and dried oregano instead.

Coming up later this week:

  • Breakfast pizza failure
  • Apple Gruyere pizza (a new favorite)
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Bistro pizza week–margarita

I’m keeping it simple and fun this week by passing along a few mini-meal ideas we’ve been trying out–welcome to bistro pizza week! Now you can definitely make your own pizza dough, but to keep this meal fast I buy pre-made dough from an Italian grocery store near our home. With dough at $1 per bag, I pick up three and make four mini pizzas with each.

It’s fun to play around with the small sizes and experiment with the flavors. But to start off, I’m passing along a classic–Margarita pizza, topped with only three fresh ingredients: mozzarella cheese slices, roma tomatoes and basil. Named after an Italian queen whose visit to Naples inspired the idea, I find the simple ingredients are appealing to picky eaters. Maybe it’s that the ingredients are so easy to identify, or that every part of the pizza is fresh, but this is the most requested pizza at my house. We even picked up yellow tomatoes to make it again this week–gotta tweak right?

Note: It’s easy to double or triple this recipe and it makes for great leftovers to send in kids’ lunches–or to have for breakfast…

Recipe

Prep time: 15 minutes

Servings: 4 mini-pizzas

Ingredients

1 bag pizza dough

2 roma tomatoes

1 bunch basil

8-12 ounces fresh mozzarella

olive oil

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Divided the dough into four equal pieces using a floured knife.
  3. Roll each dough piece out into a 5-6 inch circle, then place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment.
  4. Brush each dough piece generously with olive oil.
  5. Place tomatoes, mozzarella, and fresh ground pepper on top.
  6. Bake for 10 minutes, remove pizza and add basil then cook for an additional 5-10 minutes or until cheese is golden. (You can leave the basil on the whole time if you don’t mind it getting a little crispy. I actually like the basil crisped so I put it on at the beginning of cooking, it’s up to you!)

Coming up later this week:

  • Meatball margarita pizza
  • Breakfast pizza failure
  • Apple gruyere pizza (a new favorite)
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More Mexican dishes & an announcement

Thinking about what kind of taco to eat next after climbing a pyramid in Mexico

I hope you enjoyed Mexican Independence Day, yesterday. But just in case you’re still looking for Mexican dishes to make this week (can you tell yet it’s my favorite kind of food?)  I’ve gathered up all of MKES’s Mexican recipes for you to look through here. And just so you don’t have to dig for this post, I’ve also added a tab with links on the main page.

But before you start looking through recipes, I wanted to let you know that I’ll be contributing once a month to WanderingEducators.com, an amazing site filled with information that can help you teach your kids about other cultures. I feel privileged to be one of their editors, I will be covering Global Cuisines & Kids. My first post about Finding an Authentic Mexican Taco Shop went live on Friday.

Let’s make a meal

Dinnertime tostadas

A good meal to use up plenty of leftovers from corn tortillas, to chicken, to lettuce and whatever else you have in your fridge.

Authentic Red Chile Enchiladas

This sauce takes time, but it’s worth the effort. Plus you can freeze some for later.

Homemade Sopes and Tortillas

Hand-crafted tortillas are deceptively difficult to make, but the thicker, easier to flip sopes–so much easier!

Authentic Mexican rice

The secret behind this rice is to start with a mixture that resembles pico de gallo.

Amish Nachos

Nothing authentic about ‘em, just an excuse to fuse really good bacon with some Mexican flavors.

Turkey picadillo tacos

So easy and a great way to use ground turkey.

Salsas


Quick chipotle pico de gallo

This salsa is so versatile you shouldn’t shy away from adding other, unexpected ingredients like dried cherries, chipotle….

Black bean salsa

For a heartier pico de gallo, add your favorite kind of beans.

Sweet stuff

Rice pudding

So soothing after a hearty meal packed with chiles.

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Mexican rice

Continuing with dishes to make to celebrate Mexico’s Independence Day tomorrow, here’s my favorite version of Mexican rice.

The ingredients behind good Mexican rice may sound almost like you’re making a pico de gallo—tomatoes, onions, cilantro, garlic. But instead of dipping chips into a chunky salsa, you puree the tomatoes and other ingredients and add them to the rice after you’ve sautéed it in oil. Each of these steps guarantees that each rice kernel will get coated in seasoning and have that bright red color.

This recipe is based on one I discovered in The America’s Test Kitchen: Family Cookbook, one of my favorite cookbooks. But I’ve made quite a few changes to make it even faster and easier to put together. The original recipe calls for you to cut up fresh tomatoes, seed jalapenos. When I’ve done that I always seem to end up with either too much jalapeno—meaning the rice is way too spicy to eat or there’s not enough oomph with the jalapeno (but I still had to get chile juice underneath my nails after getting them prepped for the recipe). I bypass all those steps by using canned tomatoes with green chiles. The milder chiles have the perfect balance of spice.

Recipe

Prep time: 20 minutes + baking

Servings: 6-8

Ingredients

2 10-ounce cans sliced tomatoes and green chiles

1 small onion, peeled, quartered

1/3 cup vegetable oil

2 garlic cloves

2 cups chicken broth (or water)

2 cups rice

1/2 teaspoon salt

fresh cilantro (optional)

¾ cups peas (canned or frozen, thawed optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Rinse the rice with water to remove the starch.
  3. On the stovetop in a heavy-bottomed pan bring the oil to a medium-high heat.
  4. Add the rice and cook until the rice is no longer translucent (about 5 minutes).
  5. In a blender or food processor, mix the tomatoes, salt, onion and garlic.
  6. Carefully pour the tomato puree into the rice, cook for 3 minutes then add in the chicken broth.
  7. Bring the rice mixture to a boil and then place it in the oven for 20 minutes. (Alternatively, you can cook the rice on the stovetop.)
  8. Remove the rice from the oven, checking to make sure all of the liquid is absorbed. Add in the peas and cilantro and fluff with a fork.
  9. Serve with lime wedges to drizzle on top.
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Tostadas for dinner

Do you see the little Halloween ghost, cat and bat I used on top?

This Friday is Mexican Independence Day. Don’t confuse Independence Day with Cinco de Mayo (literally the 5th of May, which is more of an American holiday). To celebrate, I wanted to pass along some of my favorite Mexican dishes this week. That brings me to tostadas. It seems like tostadas are often thought of as an appetizer. But trust me, it doesn’t take much to turn ‘em into a meal.

First things first. There’s going to be some frying involved. Please don’t buy those stacks of pre-made tostadas you sometimes see at the store. They’re tasteless. Instead, use corn tortillas you may already have at home or buy a pack at the store. This is one of the times that fresh tortillas are actually harder to use (more moisture means splattering when you fry). I fry the tortillas in a wok that has about 1 1/2 to 2 inches of canola oil in the bottom. Bring it to a medium-high heat, checking the temp by dropping a sprinkle of flour into the oil–if the flour immediately begins to sizzle, you’re ready to go. Fry ‘em in batches of two or three about 2 minutes on each side. Remove them when they just begin to have golden spots (you don’t want them too crisp). Keep in mind the tortillas may form an air bubble as they fry, just push ‘em down gently into the oil and the bubble should go away. Drain the tortillas on paper towels and sprinkle with salt. As far as servings go, I make two tostadas for kids, three for adults. And one last note, these are meant to be eaten with your hands, trying to cut these with a fork and knife…well…I wouldn’t recommend it.

Now for the fixins’. I raid the fridge. Granted, I usually have quite a bit of Mexican ingredients on hand. But here’s the idea–it’s like

Someone is ready to eat!

building a taco salad using the fried corn tortilla as the base. You can use store-bought rotisserie chicken to keep it easy, or I usually have some kind of meat leftover that I toss in a pan that’s been heated to medium-high with a little bit of oil and then I crisp the meat and add ground cumin, garlic powder and chili powder or cayenne for a bit of a kick. (We also make these meatless and use sauteed zucchini instead of pork or chicken). Then I make sure I have refried beans, shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, shredded sharp cheddar cheese (authentic tostadas would usually have a fresh white cheese like queso fresco on them) and a dollop of sour cream. I also had some leftover diced green chiles and corn so I put those on too.

Now as long as I had the oil out and heated, I had to add some fun to my tostadas. I recently bought a Halloween linzer cookie cutter (hey, I had a 40% coupon at Jo-Ann Fabrics, which surprisingly has cooking stuff too). I used the small cutters to make shapes in the corn tortillas and then I fried those. Caution: they fry fast. I had at least one burnt bat.

For and easy to scan recipe, here you go–

Dinnertime tostadas

Ghostly tostadas

Prep time: 45 minutes

Servings: 4

Ingredients

8-12 corn tortillas

2 cups chopped, heated chicken, pork, beef or zucchini

1 can refried beans, heated

3 cups shredded lettuce

1 cup chopped tomato

1 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1 cup corn (optional)

1/2 cup green chiles (optional)

1 lime (optional)

Sour cream

Canola oil

Salsa

Directions

  1. Bring 1 1/2 to 2 inches of oil to medium-high heat in a heavy-bottomed pan or a wok.
  2. Fry the corn tortillas 2-3 at a time until just crisped, drain excess oil on a paper towel.
  3. For each fried corn tortilla, slather refried beans on the top (this is important because the beans act as the glue between the corn tortilla and the rest of your ingredients).
  4. After the beans, layer the rest of the ingredients on top in this order–meat, lettuce, tomatoes, corn, green chiles, whole beans, squeeze a little lime on top, then add the cheese and sour cream. (If you fried up some ghosts, you can use those too. Any small cookie cutter will do for cool shapes)
  5. Serve warm with salsa.
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Easy raspberry tart

Raspberry picking. Yes it’s that time of year. Once you’ve had your fill of popping fresh raspberries by the handful, try this easy tart (and yes, I snuck in some blackberries and blueberries too).

You’ll need a tart pan for this recipe—a pie plate just won’t do. You could try using a 9-inch springform pan in a pinch, but once you’ve tried making tarts, my guess is you’ll want to have one on hand anyway. Tart pans aren’t expensive and you can find them at any large home goods store.

You pre-bake the piecrust to keep it from getting soggy once you add the berries. To pre-bake, the oven will need to be at a higher temperature and you’ll also want to add some weight on top of the crust so it doesn’t get air bubbles in the dough. Simply place some heavy-duty aluminum foil on top, along with either uncooked rice or beans and you’re set. (Once you’re done cooking, carefully remove the aluminum foil and pour the beans or rice back into its container once they’ve cooled. You can still use them.)

The berries are the easiest part of the tart: Wash and dry the berries, then mix in cornstarch, sugar, and lemon. I like my tarts, well, tart, so I don’t add in as much sugar as most recipes call for. If you want to increase the sweetness go ahead and double the sugar.

No fresh berries? Don’t worry, this recipe works well with frozen berries too (or do half and half). Thaw the frozen berries and follow the recipe according to the directions.

Raspberry Tart

Tweaked from How to Cook Everything (Wiley, 1998)

Prep time: 15 minutes + baking

Servings: about 8

Ingredients

1 pre-made pie crust (Trader’s Joes is my fave)

¼ cup sugar

¼ cup cornstarch

1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice

zest from one lemon

3 cups raspberries (fresh or frozen, thawed)

Directions

  1. Lightly coat a tart pan with cooking spray. Lay the dough onto the pan and then press into the edges and up the sides. Trim any excess.
  2. Prick the dough with a fork and then place a piece of aluminum foil on top and weight it with either rice or beans.
  3. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Once heated, cook the crust for about 15 minutes of until barely golden.
  4. Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl stir together sugar and cornstarch. Toss in the raspberries (reserve ¼ cup) and lemon juice and zest.
  5. Mix the berries into the cornstarch/sugar combination. Press the berries with a fork so that some break apart.
  6. Pour the berries into the cooked tart crust. Add the reserved berries on top.
  7. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees and cook the tart for another 20-30 minutes, or until the berries’ juices are bubbling.
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Flank steak spinach salad

Lean, flat flank steak is a quick-cooking meat that’s perfect for weekday dinners or jazzed up with fixins’ for weekend meals.

This recipe takes a little planning ahead: you rub a flavorful paste into the meat the night before you plan on grilling. (I usually make two at the same time—one for dinner that night, one for leftovers for a meal the next). Don’t be put off by the rub’s main ingredient. The mustard base (note: DIJON, regular mustard won’t work) brings together several marinade musts, including vinegar and other acidic ingredients so you don’t have to hunt down each one. They’re in there. I add in a few of my favorite seasonings like garlic and paprika, but if you have a good smoky seasoning mix you like, toss some of that in too.

You’ll notice I upped the pepper in here. Most of the pepper’s spicy edge is burnt off during grilling, it’s the tanginess that’s left over. But, you’ll need to use freshly ground pepper versus the finely ground variety you’ll find in most shakers. Don’t have a pepper shaker? They aren’t much more expensive than the regular variety and it really does make a difference. Plus, unlike some spices, you’ll use pepper all the time.

As with most meats hot off the grill, this one is better if you wait about 5 minutes before cutting. A little patience gives the meat time to soak up all those marinade ingredients you worked to rub in. Flank steak works well with many meals, fajitas come to mind, but I like serving it with a simple spinach salad.

Recipe

Mmmmm...flank steak

Prep time: 15 minutes + marinating + grilling

Servings: 4-6

Ingredients

1 pound flank steak

Wet rub

1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

½ teaspoon paprika

½ teaspoon garlic powder

½-1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

¼ teaspoon cayenne powder

Soy sauce

Agave syrup or honey

Salad

1 bag baby spinach

1 tomato, sliced

Parmesan cheese

green onions

Balsamic vinegar

fresh basil (optional)

Directions

  1. Stir wet rub ingredients together to form a paste.
  2. Rub the paste into the flank steak using your fingers.
  3. Place in a large plastic bag overnight.
  4. Remove flank steak from the bag about 30 minutes to an hour before grilling.
  5. Bring grill to high heat and place the meat on the rack.
  6. Grill for 5-7 minutes on each side.
  7. Optional, but REALLY good—in the final 1-2 minutes cooking on each side brush generously with a combo of equal parts soy sauce and agave or honey (called a finishing sauce). If you don’t use the finishing sauce, make sure to sprinkle with salt at the end of cooking.
  8. Allow meat to cool for 5 minutes before cutting to retain juices.
  9. On each plate place a generous serving of spinach, followed by tomato slices. Place several pieces of steak on top followed by a drizzling of Balsamic vinegar then green onions, Parmesan cheese and bits of fresh basil.
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