What to do with breasts. Specifically chicken ones.

We eat a lot of chicken in our house. For a while, I almost always bought skin-on split chicken breasts because they’re easy to roast and use in a lot of different dishes. They are also pretty much the only chicken parts that Ina Garten’s recipes ever call for, and we know how I feel about her. (Side note: if you like Ina Garten, you need to Google Ina Garten memes – so funny)

I used to avoid buying boneless, skinless breasts unless I was making chicken cutlets. I never knew how to cook them without them being dry and boring. However, in my efforts to save a few bucks, I’ve been buying big packs of them, so I had to find some tasty ways to use them. Good news…I found some!

Caprese Chicken – I found this one on Pinterest and I love it because it has a ton of flavor and requires very little prep or chopping. I shave two or three minutes off the cooking time on the chicken and use regular mozzarella instead of buffalo because I’m strange and don’t like buffalo mozzarella.

On a whim, I bought this Balsamic Reduction glaze and it’s so good. The caprese chicken is perfectly delicious with regular balsamic vinegar, but when you can drizzle this sweet syrup on it, why wouldn’t you??

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One-Pan Chicken Burrito Bowl – Here’s another one I found on Pinterest. I loved it so much that I think I made it three times in the month after I found it. As the title indicates, you only use one pan, which makes clean up easy IF you don’t use heat that’s too high. The second time I made this I guess I left it simmering a bit too high and there was a whole layer of cooked rice stuck to the bottom of the pan. Ugh.

The other change I make to this recipe is that I swap out the can of diced tomatoes for a jar (or really three quarters of a jar) of salsa. It adds some extra flavors and with the huge variety of salsas on the market, you can really customize the recipe based on your taste.

Chicken Chili – This one comes from Dinner: A Love Story (a great place for solid recipes) and it’s another fast and easy one. When I read through the recipe for the first time, I saw four tablespoons of chili powder and thought, “whoa! That’s a lot of heat.” I like a little spice but not too much. To be safe I used two tablespoons and I thought that was plenty of heat.

I had serendipitously just bought Whole Foods Organic Fire Roasted Corn and it was PERFECT in this recipe. Obviously regular frozen corn is fine too, but the flavor from charred corn was delicious and added zero extra work. If you don’t have a Whole Foods nearby, I’m pretty sure Trader Joe’s carries a similar product.

5 Ingredient White Chicken Chili – yet another Pinterest find! It’s really more of a soup than a chili and it’s so fast and easy that I felt guilty just pouring everything in the pot and saying, “Ok, I made dinner!” The secret to this recipe is salsa verde. If you’ve never had it, it’s a very mild salsa and it’s delicious.

The base of the soup is only the salsa verde, chicken, chicken stock, cumin, and Great Northern Beans but then you can add so many delicious toppings at the end. I like cilantro, avocado, sour cream, cheddar, and broken up tortilla chips.

Do you have any go-to recipes for chicken breasts?

Get cooking!

recipe chaos

I have never been good at organizing recipes. Up until recently, if I wanted to find a recipe I would have to look in one of several places: an actual cookbook, a shamefully messy file folder of magazine cutouts and scraps of paper with handwritten notes, my various Pinterest boards, the Food Network website, and various other cooking blogs.  That’s not including the phone calls to family members with questions like, “Remember that thing you made for that thing? Where did that recipe come from?” It was time consuming and completely inefficient. The worst part about it is that I know I made a ton of good meals that then were never made again because I found the recipe in some far corner of the internet and then never printed or saved it. RIP creamy pasta dish I made that one time.

A few weeks ago, I decided enough is enough. I made a folder on my browser titled Recipes and then a few subfolders for different meals and types of foods. Since then, every time I make something I like, I bookmark it in that folder. I was tempted to add recipes I hadn’t tried yet, but then it was a little overwhelming. Instead, I made a separate folder to put those in since I don’t actually know if they’re reliable yet.

Screen shot 2015-01-15 at 12.19.08 PMAs you can see, I edited the names of the first three recipes to make them more concise and I’ll do the same with the others when I have some free time.

If you’ve been feeling a little stagnant with your cooking, here are some places to look:

Barefoot Contessa cookbooks – At Home, Family Style, and Back to Basics are my favorites, but they are all good. Many of her recipes are also on the Food Network website.

Smitten Kitchen – I especially love her website for baking

 Martha Stewart and her more casual offshoot, Everyday Food

(I picked this image because I love Seth Meyers)

Dinner A Love Story – the cookbook and the blog are fantastic

Pioneer Woman – she seems to only make the most gluttonous food on her Food Network show, but her website has a wider variety of great recipes and ideas

What do you do, friends? Have you abandoned your cookbooks to rely solely on the internet? How do you keep track of it all? For now, I’ve organized my recipes by meal and main ingredient, but I wonder if maybe it should be more lifestyle-related. Perhaps separate them into folders like, Make Ahead, Fast Dinner, Dinner Party, or Stuff Nolan Actually Eats.

new recipes in the rotation

For many people 2013 was the year of quinoa and kale. I wish I could say that was true for me!  My year of cooking’s keywords would be ones like cream, braised meat, and pancetta on everything. This year I want to do more cooking but make fewer dirty dishes. Because you know what sucks at the end of a delicious meal? Doing the dishes.

Here are two meals that I made a lot last year. Try them and let me know how it goes. Or better yet, make them and invite me over. I’ll bring some wine and a crazy toddler.

chicken thighs

Crispy-skinned chicken thighs – Inspired by this recipe from Dinner: A Love Story, I have been making this (at least) once a week for the past month or two. I follow the recipe pretty closely but I omit the mushrooms and I add a veggie to cook in the pan after the chicken is done.

It doesn’t matter if the chicken thighs are boneless or not, but they definitely should NOT be skinless. I’ve been using grapeseed oil instead of olive oil for recipes like this because it has a high smoking point and is pretty flavorless (in a good way).

To add the veggies, after the chicken comes out of the oven, remove it from the pan and let it rest on another plate. In the mean time, add a veggie to the pan with the onions and thyme and saute for a few minutes. Spinach works perfectly because it wilts quickly. If you’re using something firmer like carrots, string beans, or French beans, you may want to blanch them ahead of time so they won’t be completely raw when you throw them in the pan. Brussels sprouts would be great too.

Pasta with arugula in a lemon cream sauce – Ina Garten really can do no wrong. This recipe is published in her cookbook Barefoot Contessa at Home and is a bit different from the web version because there is no broccoli mentioned in the book.

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I like to add cooked pancetta or prosciutto (bake it on a sheet pan at 375 for 8 minutes or so until crisp and then blot with paper towels to absorb any oil). I use gemelli pasta instead of fusilli because I illogically hate fusilli (almost as much as I hate rigatoni). The recipe calls for two cups of heavy cream and I’ve experimented with using half and half, or whole milk and heavy cream, and while it tastes pretty much the same, I find that using something other than cream gives a curdled quality to the sauce. It really tastes fine but the lemon juice reacts strangely and makes it a little lumpy. Also, don’t get freaked out if your garlic turns blue. It has to do with the acid in the lemon juice. It has only happened to me a few times but it was unsettling and made me think of Bridget Jones’s blue soup.

Best Kitchen Gadgets Under $20

The kitchen is a room that is easy to fill with expensive goodies. Appliances (big and small), fancy knives, pots and pans – thousands of dollars spent faster than you can say Crate and Barrel.  The good news is that there are tons of useful, fun tools and gadgets that aren’t pricey but still making cooking easier. Here are some of my favorites:

Microplane Zester ($15.95) – a must-have for zesting citrus fruits, you can also use this for fine shavings of chocolate and cheese.

Citrus Reamer ($3.95) – while it certainly doesn’t have the power of a large electric juicer, this little sucker makes it surprisingly easy to get tons of juice out of citrus fruits. This is a favorite of mine when making cocktails!

Steaming Basket – an easy way to gently cook vegetables and it’s invaluable for making baby food!

Liquid Measuring Cups ($11.95) – did you know that liquid and solid measuring cups aren’t the same? It’s true. One cup in a dry measuring cup is different than one cup in a liquid container.  It makes a big difference when baking because you need precise measurements. This measuring cup from Crate and Barrel is pretty with its green markings, don’t you think? Pyrex and Anchor make sets of these in different sizes for very reasonable prices.

Cookie Dough Scoop ($12.95) – If you bake cookies with any regularity, using a scoop helps keep the cookies a consistent size so everything cooks evenly. It also keeps your hands clean (that is until you start eating cookie dough).

 What about you, fellow home cooks? What low-cost gadgets and tools are invaluable to you?

Thanksgiving Dinner Menu

Need some last-minute inspiration for Thanksgiving menu ideas? Here is what I’m making:

Roast Turkey – Barefoot Contessa’s hands-off approach to turkey hasn’t failed  me yet. No brining. No basting. Moist and delicious. Her recipe is for a 12 lb. turkey; I adjust accordingly for my 20 lb. bird. I make this gravy (minus the business with the giblets) and it’s easy breezy.

Mashed Potatoes – Again, love Barefoot Contessa’s. I don’t bother with putting them through a food mill, however. I gently mash them by hand and then use a stand mixer. The thing with mashed potatoes is that they have to be made last-minute. Last year I attempted a baked version from The Pioneer Woman and I have to say, it just wasn’t the same. To give yourself a little extra time, you can keep mashed potatoes warm for a while in a bowl over a pot of simmering water.

Carrots – I’m trying these for the first time this year because they look easy and I’m interested to see how the chili powder and the pumpkin pie spice come together.

Cranberry Sauce – Pioneer Woman’s is sweet and a touch tart. I’ve tried other ones that are too citrusy or too lumpy but this is just right. I like mine a little smoother so I put half the cooked batch in the food processor and pulse two or three times to break up the cranberries.

String Beans – I don’t really know what I’m doing here. Probably blanching them, and then sauteeing with butter and shallots.

Sweet Potato Casserole – I’ve made a half-dozen different versions and loved and them all but I think I’m sticking with the copycat recipe for the Ruth’s Chris Sweet Potato Casserole. It’s dessert on the dinner table.

For appetizers I’m doing the basics, cheese and crackers, hummus and veggies, and spinach dip in a bread bowl.

I love Thanksgiving because it’s a holiday that everyone celebrates. It’s food and it’s family and it’s the intro to Christmas and the holiday season. What I DON’T love is that tons of stores are opening on Thanksgiving. I have plenty to say about the hypocrisy of people cutting time short with their families to go buy gifts for…their families. And what about all the poor people who have to work these stores?? Ugh, that’s a post for another day.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Thanksgiving 2009

Get your veggies with roasted asparagus

Roasting vegetables is the easiest and most delicious way to whip together a vegetable side dish. One of my favorites is asparagus. Asparagus is sold in bunches and one bunch is usually enough for 2-3 people.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Snap the tough ends off each stalk (it’s usually about an inch or two) and put them on a sheet pan. Drizzle the asparagus with about a tablespoon of olive oil, one teaspoon of kosher salt, and a half teaspoon of black pepper. Mix it all up with your hands and arrange so that the stalks are flat on the pan.

I like to serve it with pancetta or prosciutto on top, but you can leave it off if you don’t like that. I broke up two slices of thinly sliced pancetta and spread it on top.

Roast at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes (20 if it’s REALLY thick asparagus). If you’re leaving off the meat, put some shredded Parmesan on for the last 2-3 minutes. Mmmmmhmmm.

If you’re new to asparagus, get ready for some SMELLY pee. Asparagus has an enzyme called mercaptan and when you digest it, there is a smelly byproduct that comes out in your urine. It’s all worth it because roasted asparagus is full of folic acid, low-calorie and delicious.

Nick and Toni’s Penne Alla Vecchia Bettola

I have no idea what half the words in that title even mean, but it is the name of the recipe I tried out yesterday. Nick and Toni’s is a popular restaurant out in East Hampton and the chef was featured on an episode of Barefoot Contessa.

Nick and Toni's chef (as you can see, I didn't mind watching him cook on Barefoot Contessa)

This pasta dish is basically Penna alla Vodka “with the volume turned up” (as BC would say) and I liked it, but didn’t initially LOVE it. The first time I made this I followed the recipe exactly and found that all that fresh oregano gave the sauce a very perfume-y taste I didn’t enjoy. This time I left it out (read: forgot to buy fresh oregano) and I enjoyed it more, though I did tweak a few other parts of the recipe as well. Here is the recipe as it was presented on the show. My slight variation is below.

Ingredients:

1/4 cup olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

2 28 oz cans whole peeled tomatoes

3 cloves of garlic, chopped

1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

2 tsp dried oregano

1 cup of vodka

1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese

3/4 to 1 cup heavy cream

1 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

3/4 to 1lb penne

Preheat the oven to 375.

Heat the olive oil in a large oven-proof pan/dutch oven. Saute the onions for five minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally to make sure they don’t burn.  Add the garlic and saute for one minute. Add 3/4 of the oregano (1 and 1/2 tsp) and saute for another minute. Add the vodka and cook until the liquid is reduced by half (about five minutes).

Drain the tomatoes or just pluck them out of the can one by one and crush them (by hand) into the pot. While you don’t want the sauce/puree that’s in the can, you do want the juice that’s in the tomatoes.

The tomatoes really squirt so you should probably wear an apron.

Oops! Add the salt and pepper and stir it up!

Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and bake for 90 minutes. This really concentrates the flavor, which in the end, you may or may not like. Toward the end of the cooking, you should prepare the pasta water.

This is what it looks like after you cook it. Let it cool for 15 minutes and then spoon the mixture into a blender. Blend for 30 seconds or so until it’s smooth.

Add it back to the pot and add up to a cup of heavy cream to achieve the right consistency. Add another half a teaspoon of oregano and season if necessary. Heat over a low flame for about ten minutes and add the parmesan. Combine with pasta and enjoy!

I don’t have a final product picture because I ate it…sorry!