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Chicken Croquettes and Potato & Leek Braise

*Post by Angela.

Yesterday morning, I looked into my fridge, realized the contents were reaching critical mass, and decided I wanted to clean it all out without wasting anything.  And the food gods must have been smiling down at me, because I just happened to have almost all the ingredients I needed to make the potato and leek recipe I'd been eyeing in All About Braising, a cookbook I got as a birthday present from one of my best friends.  At the same time, I still had a ton of leftover chicken from our little Sunday night feast, and I was sort of sick of chicken sandwiches.  So I did a little Googling and came up with this recipe for chicken croquettes.  I LOVED the potatos and leeks, so subtly flavorful and tender.  Mark's favorite part of the meal was the chicken croquettes - the chicken was already delicious to begin with, and I punched up the original recipe with some red pepper flakes.  And everything tastes better fried.  While a litttle work intensive and time consuming, this was a great and tasty way to clean out the fridge.



List of ingredients for the potato and leek braise:
  • 3 medium leeks (about 1 1/2 lbs with the dark green tops cut off)
  • 1 1/2 lbs Yukon gold potatoes
  • 1 1/2 tsp chopped fresh thyme
  • Pinch of ground nutmeg
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/4 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock or mock chicken broth for a vegetarian dish)
  • 2 tbsp butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream

First I preheated the oven to 325 degrees, and put the chicken stock on the stove to simmer.  I trimmed the root ends and dark green parts of the leeks, then quartered them lengthwise and sliced them into 3/4 inch pieces.  I rinsed the leeks in cold water twice to get rid of the grit, then drained them.


I also peeled the potatos and cut them into 3/4 inch chunks.  I buttered a casserole, put the leeks and potatoes in, sprinkled them with the thyme and nutmeg, and generously seasoned them with salt and pepper.  Then I tossed it all together to make sure the seasoning and herbs were thoroughly distributed.  I took the hot broth off the stove and poured it over the leeks and potatoes, then dotted the top with the pieces of butter. 


I covered the casserole tightly with foil and put it in the oven.  I took it out after 45 minutes, removed the foil and stirred the leeks and potatoes.  Since there was barely any liquid in the pan, I covered it again with the foil and put it back into the oven for another 35 minutes, until the leeks and potatoes were completely tender (if there is a lot of liquid left, go ahead and leave the foil off).  To finish the dish, I took it out, uncovered it, and increased the oven temp to 425.  I stirred the leeks and potatoes again, and poured the cream over them.  I put the dish back in the oven and baked another 30 minutes (until the top was browned and bubbly and cream was mostly absorbed).



List of ingredients for the chicken croquettes:
  • A day old mini baguette
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 6 tbsp butter
  • 3 cups cooked, finely chopped chicken
  • 1 tbsp fresh chopped parsley
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2-3 eggs, lightly beaten
First I had to make the bread crumbs.  I preheated the oven to about 200 degrees.  Then I tore the mini baguette into small pieces and ran them through my food processor until I had...well, crumbs.  I spread them out on a baking pan, drizzled a little olive oil, and seasoned them with salt and pepper.  I then put the pan in the oven, and after about 20 minutes, turned the oven down to the "warm" setting - I didn't want to toast them, just dry them out.  I took them out after about an hour.  To cut down on time, you could also just use store-bought bread crumbs, but I had a leftover mini-loaf from my Saturday night Girls' Night/Wine and Fancy Cheese Night I wanted to use up - I told you, I was cleaning house!



Next, I melted 2 tbsp butter in a pan and sauteed the onions until soft, about 10 minutes.  I set them aside to let them cool. 




Once the onions had cooled, I combined them in a large bowl with 1 1/2 cups of the bread crumbs, the finely chopped chicken, and parsley.  I seasoned with a little salt and pepper, threw in the red pepper flakes, then mixed in the eggs.  Start with 2 eggs, and if the mixture still won't hold together, add in a third.  I formed the mixture into small, thin patties, making sure to pack them pretty tightly so they didn't fall apart in the oil. 



I heated 1/8 cup olive oil with 4 tbsp butter in a pan, then fried the patties until golden brown, about 3-4 minutes a side.



So good.  I'm so excited about the way the braising turned out - I can't wait to try the rest of the recipes in the book.  And I know exactly what I'm going to do with my chicken leftovers from now on.



Lemon and Garlic Roast Chicken and Asparagus

*Post by Angela.

 In my kitchen, there are a few individuals I consider royalty - Giada De Laurentiis, Tyler Florence,  Ree Drummond (the Pioneer Woman), my favorite ginger, Mario Batali, Deb from Smitten Kitchen, Jaden  Hair...But reigning over all of them?  The Barefoot Contessa herself, Ina Garten.  I've never made a recipe of hers that I didn't love, and watching her cook and cavort with her fabulous friends soothes my soul.  One recipe of hers that  I had yet to tackle was her roast chicken, but after seeing it pop up on all of my favorite blogs,  I had to see what all the fuss was about (with my own modifications, of course).  I paired it with a simple recipe for parboiled asparagus from - where else -  Simply Recipes for some color.  And neither the Contessa nor the Simply Recipes lady disappointed - the result was incredibly flavorful, juicy chicken and tender-crisp, zesty asparagus.  A perfect Sunday night feast to end the weekend. 


List of ingredients for the chicken:
  • 1 roasting chicken (mine was about 6 1/2 lbs)
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large bunch fresh thyme
  • 4 lemons
  • 3 heads garlic, cut in 1/2 crosswise
  • 3 tbsp butter, melted
  • 1 lb bacon
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • Handful of corn starch

First, I preheated the oven to 425 degrees.  I removed the giblets from the chicken,  rinsed it, and patted it dry.  I seasoned the cavity of the chicken heavily with salt and pepper, then stuffed it with the thyme, one lemon, halved, and 2 halves of garlic heads. 



I rubbed the melted butter all over the outside of the chicken and seasoned with salt and pepper.  Then I tied up the legs with kitchen string (or in this case, some random black cord I had lying around).  I quarted the remaining lemon and tossed it in the roasting pan with the rest of the garlic. 



I also layered the bacon over the top of the chicken, like a nice cozy, porky blanket.  Have you ever seen anything so beautiful in your entire life?  I didn't think so.



I put the pan in the oven for about an hour, then removed the bacon (saving it for later).  I left the chicken in the oven for another 45 minutes.  When the juices from the chicken ran clear (after piercing between the leg and thigh), I took it out of the oven and out of the pan, and tented it with foil.


I skimmed the fat out of the pan, leaving about 2 tbsp, placed it on the stove top, then added the wine and chicken stock and brought it to a boil.  I then lowered the heat to a simmer, and let the liquid reduce down by half, whisking occasionally and scraping all the yummy flavorful bits off the bottom of the pan.  I also threw in a handful of cornstarch (maybe 1 1/2 tbsp) to thicken up the gravy.


While the chicken was in the oven, I started in on the asparagus.


List of ingredients for the asparagus:
  • 2 lbs asparagus
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 tbsp Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 2 tsp lemon zest
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

First, I cut the white bottoms off the asparagus, and sliced the rest of it on a diagonal into 1 1/2 inch pieces.


I brought a pot of water to a boil, added the asparagus, reduced the heat slighty and cooked for exactly 2 minutes.  I don't know why, but the Simply Recipes lady was VERY clear about that. 


I drained the asparagus and tossed it into a bowl with the oil, cheese, and lemon zest, then seasoned with salt and pepper.


These were both really simple and straightforward recipes, but the result was pretty great - a meal you can serve to friends and family at a dinner party, or just a nice way for you to end the weekend and start your week (with lots of delicious leftovers in the fridge for lunch)!


Spicy Summer Peanut Sauce with Chicken and Thai Cucumber Salad

*Post by Angela.
As much as I love our fair city, summer (especially August) in the District can be miserable at times.  Hot, humid, and generally unhappy-making.  And as the temperature and humidity rise, my appetite seems to decrease propotionately.  We got a little taste of that weather this week, and so I turned to my go-to hot weather cuisine, Thai.  Mark found this great recipe in the Express the other day, and I paired it with some chicken skewers and a gorgeously tangy, crunchy, refreshing-to-the-nth-power Thai salad for a perfect hot-weather meal.



List of ingredients for the spicy summer peanut sauce:
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 cup cilantro, washed and dried (stems included)
  • 2-inch by 1/2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup of smooth peanut butter
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp sesame oil
  • 4 tsp Sriracha sauce
Let's start with the star of the meal, the peanut sauce. So easy!  I just threw everything in a food processor (but started with only 2 tbsp soy sauce and 2 tsp Sriracha sauce) and blended it until kind of smooth.  I added another tablespoon of soy sauce and 2 teaspoons of Sriracha to taste because I like things salty and spicy (like me!), but you can add (or not) to your liking.   I cannot fully express how much I loved this sauce.  I can see myself making this to dip french fries in, or crudite. Or to serve over pork chops.  Or steak.  Ooh, I bet it'd be great on fried pickles!  And...well, you get the point.  It's GOOD.



Okay.  On to the chicken marinade


List of ingredients for the chicken marinade:
  • 1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 2 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 shallot
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 1/2 tsp Thai fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp lime zest
  • 1 tbsp ginger
  • 1.5 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts
First, I sliced the shallot (very thinly), minced the garlic and the ginger, and zested up a lime.  I picked this recipe specifically because it mirrors notes in the peanut sauce.



Then I whisked together all of the ingredients (except for the chicken) in a plastic container.  You could try to whisk in the chicken, but I don't imagine that would go very well.  Next, I pounded the chicken until about half an inch thick, cut it into strips and placed it in the marinade.  I let it sit about 2 hours.



Finally, I put together the salad, which I found at Recipezaar.


List of ingredients for the Thai salad:
  • 3 tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 3 tsbp rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp canola oil
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 tsp brown sugar
  • 2 tsp lime zest
  • 1 jalepeno
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 hothouse cucumber
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 medium carrot
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped dry roasted peanuts
First, I minced up some more garlic, grated up some more lime zest, and seeded and chopped up the jalepeno.  Again, I picked this salad because the flavors in it overlapped with those of the peanut sauce and marinade.  Plus, I didn't have to get as many ingredients.  That made me very happy.



I whisked all this together with the lime juice, the rice wine vinegar, the oil, and the brown sugar, and threw in a little salt and pepper for good measure.



Next, I seeded my cucumber, then sliced it up thinly, and cut the bell pepper and carrot into matchsticks. Mark has been telling me lately that we should eat more colorful food (a.k.a. vegetables), and I was happy to be right on target with this salad.



I then tossed the veggies together with the dressing and let the whole thing sit for about an hour, to really let the flavors get acquainted, date for awhile, then make it official with a beautiful, but tasteful wedding.


Back to the chicken!  I took the chicken strips out of the marinade and skewered them.



I drizzled my grill pan with a little vegetable oil, heated it over medium high heat and cooked the chicken 2-3 minutes on each side, just until cooked through, with some light grill marks.  I bet these would be even better on a real grill; unfortunately, my "backyard" consists of 1 square foot of concrete, so it's grill pan for me.



I layered the spicy peanut sauce on the chicken, plated it with the salad, and topped it all off with some chopped dry roasted peanuts. I was really pleased with the way this turned out - light, yet satisfying, healthy, yet full of flavor. Mark really loved it, too. I suspect this salad will be making more appearances as summer really kicks in, and that sauce? Well, I wouldn't be surprised if I ended up making it on a monthly, if not weekly basis.



Chicken Breasts with Whole-Grain Mustard Sauce

 *Post by Angela.
Right now, I have 5 huge, hard-covered cookbooks on my living room table (plus a handful of cooking magazines).  Every week, Mark and I salivate over the gorgeous photos in these cookbooks, picking out recipes we'd like to make/think we could handle making.  Yet every time I cook, I find myself running to the Internets (all hail the Internets!) to find recipes.  I think it's mostly due to the fact that most recipes I find online (especially those from allrecipes or recipezaar) have suggestions and alterations posted from people who have actually made the recipes; it might also be because I can no longer read anything that isn't on a computer screen.  Whatever the reason, I've decided to make a very, very belated New Year's resolution (maybe an April Fool's Day resolution?  That makes no sense) to use my cookbooks more, and decided to try another recipe from my Williams-Sonoma cookbook - with my own little spin, of course - chicken breasts with whole-grain mustard sauce.  The result was juicy, tender chicken with a pleasantly piquant and creamy sauce that's versatile enough to use on the protein of your choice. 

List of ingredients for the chicken & mustard sauce:
  • 3 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 shallot, finely minced
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 3 tbsp. whole-grain mustard
I'm not a huge chicken breast fan.  I usually prefer dark meat, as I think it's more flavorful, and doesn't dry out as quickly.  But there is one way that I love making chicken breasts: pounding them thin, coating them with flour, then pan-frying them in a combination of butter and oil (the original calls for sauteeing the chicken, unbreaded, but that is not how I do).  The flour coating and the quick cook time seals the juices in the meat and virtually guarantees you moist, tender chicken.


First, I placed each breast in a plastic bag and pounded it until it was about 1/4-1/2 inch thick.  The important thing is to make sure that the meat is pounded to a consistent thickness, so that it cooks evenly.  That being said, the thinner you pound the meat, the quicker it cooks.  I ended up cutting each piece in half to better fit in the pan.


Next, I put the flour in a container with a generous helping of salt and pepper (maybe a couple of tsp. each) and dredged each piece of chicken in the mixture.


I heated the butter and oil together in the pan over medium high heat.



Once the foam subsided, I added the chicken, cooking about 4-5 minutes per side (until golden brown and cooked through).


I removed the chicken to a plate and covered it with foil.  Then I started on the mustard sauce.


I returned the pan to medium heat and added the minced shallots, cooking them until softened, about 3-4 minutes.


I added the wine and whisked, making sure to get all the browned bits off the bottom of the pan.  I simmered until the wine had reduced down to about 3 tbsp., about 5 minutes.



I stirred in the cream and seasoned with salt and pepper.  Then I brought the mixture to a boil and cooked about 3-4 minutes, whisking constantly, until the sauce was sufficiently thickened.  I also threw in about a tsp. of flour to help out (with the thickening).


Finally, I removed the pan from the heat and whisked in the mustard until the sauce was smooth.


I served this with some leftover mashed potatoes.  While my first chicken recipe from this cookbook didn't turn out quite the way I wanted it to, the easy-peasy and deliciously tangy mustard sauce more than made up for it - I can see serving this with any number of things, fish, pork, steak, vegetables...  Mark, who claimed he wasn't that hungry when he showed up for dinner, begged for a second helping.  The Great Cookbook Experiment of 2010 is off to a great start!



Curried Chicken Salad

 *Post by Angela.
When Mark lived in Chicago, his favorite restaurant was a tapas place called Cafe Ba Ba Reeba, and his favorite dish there was the chicken & curry salad.  Now, I don't know much about chicken salad.  It was definitely not something we ate at my house growing up, and I've probably eaten it less than a dozen times as an adult.  But I've liked the chicken salad that I have eaten, and I'm intrigued by the combination of flavors and textures.  I've tried making curried chicken salad once in the past, and it turned out okay, but not great.


Because I'm the best girlfriend in the entire world (and because I felt like chicken salad had the kind of consistency that might not offend my very sensitive throat), I had the urge to give it another go with a recipe from Dave Lieberman, the man responsible for my very successful cauliflower soup last week.  The recipe is pretty darned simple, and result was much better this time around, like a piñata full of yummy flavors and textures in your mouth - I'm starting to think that this Dave Lieberman character might deserve a place on my Food Network all-stars list (along with Tyler Florence and Giada De Laurentiis).

List of ingredients for the curried chicken salad:
  • 4 whole chicken thighs
  • 1 lemon
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro leaves, chopped
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro stems
  • kosher salt & black pepper
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp. curry powder
  • 1 tsp. honey
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 3 green onions, very finely minced
  • 2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup seedless red grapes, quartered
  • Bread of your choice (I used whole wheat)
First, I prepped the cilantro, separating the leaves from the stems and giving them a rough chop.  I'm not sure why it's important to do this, but whenever a recipe specifies something weird, and I have no idea why, I default to following directions (as long as it's not a pain in the ass).

I also quartered a lemon, removing the visible seeds.



I threw the chicken, lemon, cilantro leaves and stems into a saucepan, and added just enough water to cover the chicken. I then added salt and pepper (a couple of tsp. of each), brought the water to a boil over medium heat, then reduced to a very gentle simmer.  I then went back to catching up on last week's Human Target (What?! That Mark Valley is so dreamy. And it's got Rorschach!). 


After about 45 minutes (when the chicken was falling-off-the-bone tender), I scooped the chicken out of the saucepan, let it cool, then stripped the meat off the bones, throwing away the skin.  I used a fork to shred the remaining meat.


In a bowl, I mixed together the mayonnaise, curry, honey, and lemon juice. Once all those ingredients were combined, I gently stirred in the green onions, celery, grapes, and chicken, and seasoned to taste.


I toasted a couple of pieces of whole wheat bread, and spread the chicken salad pretty thick.  I liked it a lot, but next time, I might throw in some chopped jalapeno for some heat and more crunch.  And even though it wasn't quite up to Ba Ba Reeba standards, Mark loved it.  I'm definitely keeping this recipe in the rotation for lunch options.