Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Crock-Pot Chicken Fail (Sort Of)

First, here is a gratuitous picture of one of my favorite simple lunches; a Trader Joe's sesame bagel schmeared with smoked wild salmon (also from Trader Joe's), cream cheese, and dill pickles. Yum. The awesome Donald Duck mug came from The Christmas Tree Shoppe.

So, I still have plenty of the amazing bacon I talked about in this entry. I've been doing a lot of Pinterest prowling in search of great comfort food recipes and, of course,that means lots of Crock-Pot entries. I found this recipe for Slow Cooker Bacon-Wrapped Apple BBQ. It looked delicious and simple and combined two things I love---fruit and pork. Bingo. Also, it looks delicious in Chef in Training's photo. The ingredients and prep are very simple:
  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 cup BBQ sauce
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/8 cup lemon juice
  • 5 small apples, peeled and chopped
  • 8 slices bacon
  1. In a small bowl, combine BBQ sauce, brown sugar, lemon juice and peeled/chopped apples.
  2. Wrap each chicken breast with two slices of bacon and place in a greased slow cooker.
  3. Pour BBQ-apple mixture over chicken and cook on low for 6-8 hours or until chicken is done.

I only had 3 chicken breasts. I got a small bag of organic, locally raised chicken from Fertile Underground, a co-op in Providence. Three was plenty since I'm only feeding myself, my husband and my dad. I only used 2 apples, but they were very large ones I got from the older fruit section of Stop & Shop (a great tip if you are buying fruit for cooking---I also bought some barely old red peppers for super cheap which I took home and promptly roasted). I'm glad I did not use the amount of apples as instructed because the juice from just the two really made for a soupy final product.

It looks pretty in the Crock-Pot so far...

The instructions say to cook it on low for 6-8 hours. I was suspicious that the bacon would not get as crispy as it looks in Chef in Training's photo at that setting. I was also worried that the chicken breast would dry out. I wish I had listened to my instinct and experience. My results were far less visually appealing than Chef in Training's.

The bacon was soggy and unappetizing, the chicken was dry and there was way too much liquid. This was after cranking it to High for about 2 hours. All that really did was dry out the chicken and cook down some of the excess juice.

It smelled pretty terrific though. Here's how it looked plated up with some mashed potatoes and a veggie mix I concocted.

Would I cook this again? Maybe, but probably not in the Crock-Pot. I don't work so I can easily prepare a dish like this in a slow oven in my Dutch oven or other covered casserole. Where I may have gone 'wrong' was in making my own quickie BBQ sauce. Perhaps a bottled sauce, which contains corn syrup, would have thickened up more than my recipe which had a base of crushed tomato and about 1/2 cup brown sugar. I also forgot to add the lemon juice although that wouldn't effect the texture. If I were going to try this in the Crock-Pot again, I would cook down the apples for a few minutes on the stove top to release some of the juice. The juice can always be reserved and thickened with some flour or corn starch and added to the Crock-Pot during the last 30 minutes. Also, I would cook it on High for 2-3 hours rather than the 6-8 hours on Low called for in the recipe.

Was it tasty? Yes. In the end my husband proclaimed it "good grits" (a family saying he adopted when he married me, a girl with paternal roots in the South). It was sad that that beautiful bacon was mostly wasted in this. It did add nice flavor but I,personally,could not eat the soggy meat. My husband and dad probably did. It's not something I would serve to polite company.

I needed a nice veg to go with this but didn't feel like dealing with salad so I scoured the freezer for something I could cook up quick.

I chopped some garlic, tossed it in a large saute pan with olive oil and added some frozen cut green beans that had seen better days, some frozen corn (Trader Joe's---delish!), and some of those home made roasted peppers I mentioned earlier, diced up. A dash or two of Frank's Hot Sauce, some fine sea salt, and a grind of pepper and I had a nice vegetable side dish.

Stay tuned for an idea I have to adapt this recipe for a more successful outcome.


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Baked Eggs With Avocado and Bacon

I still have quite a few avocados that need eating so tonight's meal was going to be this
from crafty blogger Betsy at  The View From In Here  but even though I scooped out quite a bit of the flesh I had trouble with the whites spilling out over the avocado. 

I changed tactics before I had a total fail on my hands and carefully poured the eggs out of the avocado into a holding dish and instead, scooped out all the avocado flesh into a square baking dish sprayed with cooking spray. I didn't try to be particularly neat except to chunk the flesh up with the spoon a bit.

I made little wells for the eggs (well, I did after the first couple of eggs spilled into each other) and placed the eggs over the avocado. I had bacon ready that I had chopped and browned in a skillet. I didn't cook the bacon perfectly crispy because I figured it would brown a bit more in the oven. I topped the avocado with the bacon and added some chopped cilantro and halved grape tomatoes. I drizzled the top with 1/4 cup of half-and-half, a little salt and pepper, and popped it in a 425 degree oven for 20 minutes.

I would have liked to add some shredded Colby cheese but my husband loves his bacon and eggs but cheese, not so much. 

 I served the eggs (it cut like a crustless quiche) with a simple salad of Romain hearts and baby Romain, grated beets, and a dressing made from Trader Joe's blueberry preserves. 

I'm pretty proud of my method for making the dressing. The jar of preserves was nearly empty. I could maybe have scraped a scant tablespoon with a lot of effort. So I figured the jar would make a great shaker and just added the other ingredients;a bit of walnut oil, a bit of canola oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt; and shook it up. So simple. 

And on another note...last night's dinner was pretty great!

Simple Farmhouse Supper of Eggs, Roasted Bacon, and Baked Potatoes

My daughter has a friend who is the manager of Dismas Family Farm In Worcester, Ma. The following is their mission statement.
The mission of Dismas is to reconcile former prisoners to society, and society to former prisoners, through the development of a supportive community.
Supportive community is characterized by: students and former prisoners living together in a family setting, active involvement of volunteers from the broader community, and a spirit of open and participative decision-making by all in the community, with emphasis on the common good.
I've gotten beautiful fresh eggs from the farm in the past. A couple of weeks ago, Jen posted that they were offering a pork sampler for $50. The package includes: 
  • 4 pork loin chops (and these chops are at least 1" thick!)
  •  1 package of smoked bacon
  • 2 smoked ham steaks
  • 1 package of ground pork

It was a no-brainer for my husband and me. My husband and I love pork but I don't love factory-farmed meat. Also, the money supports a fantastic organization. Also, Jen is a fantastic person.

Last night's dinner was very simple. This isn't a recipe so much as a shared meal and one new technique if you've never roasted bacon before.

I started with the baked potatoes. Most people know how to bake a potato but here's my method:
Wash and pat dry a nice Russet potato. Poke all over with a fork or knife. Rub or brush with olive oil (or bacon fat if that's how you roll). Sprinkle the top with a little salt and place directly on the center rack of a 375 degree oven. Bake for 40-45 minutes.

Once the potatoes are done, raise the oven temperature to 400 degrees.

Place your bacon on a rack in a cookie sheet. For easier clean-up, line the cookie sheet with foil.  I had a last-minute inspiration and sprinkled fresh rosemary over the bacon. YUM!
Roast for approximately 15-17 minutes depending on the thickness of your bacon. I've read that this method works best with thick-cut bacon (for thinner slices you can broil the bacon for less time, keeping a close eye on it).

The finished bacon is perfectly crispy, with very little grease. Still, you should remove the bacon to a paper towel to absorb any remaining grease.

I cooked the eggs over easy which is my husband's favorite. My method is to cook over fairly low heat to insure a well-cooked white while preserving the runny yoke my husband and I love.

 If you've never had an egg straight from a farm, do yourself a favor and find a source. There is no comparison to those you find in the grocery store. Even the expensive 'cage-free' eggs do not come close. As for the bacon?

I'm one of those folks that finds the smell of bacon is so good that I'm left disappointed by the taste. This bacon was smoky without overwhelming the taste of the meat. The pungeant woodiness of the rosemary was a perfect compliment to the smoke. Heavenly.

My husband immediately transferred one of his eggs to his potato. It's not pretty but it's pretty delicious.

Fancy Lunch! Avocado and Tuna Salad

I had a bunch of avocados that need eating so I did a Pinterest search and came up with some great sounding recipes. This one was one I could make for lunch today. I adapted the idea to my own taste and what I had on hand.

I used:
  • 1 (very) ripe avocado
  • 1 can chunk light tuna in water
  • 2 tbs chopped roasted peppers
  • 2 dashes Frank's Hot Sauce
  • 1 tbs mayonnaise
  • squeeze from 1 lime wedge

Scoop out the avocado meat and save the shells. Mix all the ingredients in a small bowl, mashing to combine the tuna and avocado and scoop into the avocado shells (or into fancy cups or delicious bread). Alternatively, you could dice the avocado and added it to the prepared tuna salad, stirring carefully so as to preserve the chunks. This makes 2 servings for small appetites.  I ate one half and my dad had the other. 

Some other suggestions for add-ins:
  • cilantro
  • chopped water chestnuts
  • sun-dried tomatoes
  •  pickles (sweet or dill)
  • a tablespoon of salsa (the kind with corn would be appropriate)

Saturday, January 26, 2013

January 24, 2013

Modifying a  Pinterest Junk-Food Casserole

Yes, it's been awhile since I've blogged a recipe. I won't go into reasons why. I'm back and it's a good thing.
I've been following Pinterest again lately-- mostly indulging in food porn. Frequently I come across a recipe that looks really horrible from a food aesthetic but appeals to the junky in me in when it comes to fat, salt, and overall cheese content.
I decided last week I would have a "Junk Food Friday". My daughter cam up with the day based on when her boyfriend comes to visit for the weekend. He, with his youthful, boyish metabolism and his willingness to try nearly everything with the exception of broccoli, would contribute a large part toward the consumption of whatever messy, cheesy, processed mess I might come up with, thereby saving my husband and me from caloric overload. 

Tonight was the first Junk Food Friday and I went to the grocery store armed with a list of ingredients for this recipe ; a popular Doritos chicken casserole. I've since discovered variations but this was the one I came across first. The ingredients are:
3 cups cooked chicken, chopped 
8 oz sour cream
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 1/2 cups salsa or 1 can Rotel
1 can of corn, drained
2 cups Mexican cheese, shredded
1 bag of nacho cheese Doritos

I took this cook's prompting and used a rotisserie ingredient (I'm an on-and-off vegetarian but I absolutely love rotisserie chickens for the convenience even if I sacrifice sustainable quality for it--I feel guilty but I do it any way). 

When I got to the canned soup section and actually got a look at the ingredients in a can of cream of mushroom soup, even in the low-sodium variety, I just couldn't bring myself to buy it. It's just way to easy to make a tasty bechamel sauce and that is really the only reason to use a cream of crap soup in a recipe. It is the easiest thing in the world to make a bechamel sauce and you can make it as low-fat or as fattening as you like depending on your choice of liquid and your method for making the roux.

For this recipe I chose to make a low-ish fat bechamel sauce and pre-mixed my milk and flour and seasonings, rather than melt a lump of butter in the sauce pan and stir in the flour.

I used 1/4 cup of flour, 2 cups of whole milk ***I considered using almond milk for about 2 seconds and then figured, "Who am I kidding?" and went with the whole milk that we keep in the 'fridge for my dad's cereal. 

To the flour and milk mixture in the saucepan I added:
1 tsp onion powder

1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp ground mustard 
1 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp dried thyme 

I whisked the mixture until smooth and then turned the heat to high, just long enough to bring to a boil, then turned it down to low, cooking and stirring occasionally until the sauce was thick enough to coat a spoon.

In the meantime, I removed most of the breast meat and the thigh meat from the chicken and shredded it with my hands. I put about 2 cups of Cool Ranch Doritos in a gallon sized zip-lock bag and crushed them until coarse. I sprayed a 9"x 13" baking dish with canola oil spray and spread the crushed chips in an even layer.
I added 1 cup of frozen corn to the bechamel, tested for salt (I added teeny bit more) and added the shredded chicken. I added about 2/3 cup of grated colby cheese and spread the mixture over the Doritoes.
I grated another 1/2 cup of cheese over the top, added sliced cherry tomatoes and diced jalapenos, sprinkled the top with smoked paprika and baked in 375 degree oven for 30 minutes. 

My husband pronounced it to be 'Crack' and my daughter's boyfriend had two servings. I feel like I could have added about 1/2 cup of sour cream to the bechamel* with the cheese and perhaps a bit of salsa on the side or an avocado garnish. Otherwise, it was very good, Nicely creamy, not overly salty as it would have been with the two cans of cream of crap soup, and the Doritos provided a nice crunch. 

*In reading over the ingredients, I see that I neglected to add the sour cream to my shopping list. It definitely would have added something. I'd probably have gone for low-fat sour cream for this recipe.