Pesto Stuffed Chicken Parmesan with Angel Hair

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It’s been so gloomy and rainy in Charlotte this week that it’s taken a pretty nasty toll on my mood. So what better way to spend a rainy evening than with good food and a snuggle on the couch with the one I love? Plus, pasta and sauce were both on sale at Publix tonight, so it seemed like a good night for something in a hand waving, “vaguely Italian looking if you squint at it right” and a good film noir, in this case The Maltese Falcon.

Pesto Stuffed Chicken Parmesan with Angel Hair Pasta

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Roughly 2-3 tablespoons pesto (homemade or bottled would do, but I used bottled–approximate amount is fine)
4-6 slices mozzarella cheese (from a pack of pre-sliced cheese)
1-1 1/2 c. flour
Salt
Pepper
Onion powder
Garlic powder
1 egg, beaten
1-1 1/2 c. Italian seasoned bread crumbs
1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 jar of spaghetti sauce
1/4 c. shredded Parmesan cheese
Angel hair pasta, cooked to package instructions, for serving

Preheat oven to 350F. Put the chicken breasts between two pieces of plastic wrap and pound them out as thin as you can without them falling apart. On each, set a slice of mozzarella and a spoonful of pesto, as pictured below.

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Fold the chicken in half so that the cheese and pesto are on the inside and pin it closed with a toothpick. Put the flour on a plate and the bread crumbs on another. Season the flour generously with salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Coat the chicken with the flour, then egg, then bread crumbs, and cook until the outside is browned on both sides, then place in an 11×7 inch baking dish. Pour over enough pasta sauce to cover the chicken and the bottom of the dish, and lay the remaining slices of mozzarella over the top of the chicken, then sprinkle the Parmesan over the top. Bake about 20 minutes, until the chicken is thoroughly cooked and the cheese is starting to brown a little. Make a bed of pasta on the plate, spoon the sauce from around the chicken onto the pasta, and serve the chicken on top.

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Chicken and Andouille Jambalaya

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I will never understand what drives a cookbook to become a bestseller when the recipes in it don’t do the one thing recipes should do: provide instructions for food that actually tastes good. I tried making the jambalaya in Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything, and I’m telling you, I would be embarrassed to put my name to a jambalaya that bland. I mean, it makes plenty of food, but gods, there’s no flavor in it! So I used that as a basic framework and came up with one that actually tastes like food. You’re welcome. (Also Dale won’t eat shrimp, so I changed the meats in it, too.) I also fixed some of the methods in it, because there’s a whole lot of “do it the hard way for no good reason” in the original.

Chicken and Andouille Jambalaya
salvaged from Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything
Serves 2-4

1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil or olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced (I used a yellow onion, but it doesn’t really matter what kind–you want about 1 1/4-1 1/2 c. of slices)
1 1/2 cups diced bell pepper, a mix of green and whatever other color you have on hand–I used green and orange
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 boneless skinless chicken breast, 8-12 ounces
1/2 pound andouille sausage. cut in half lengthwise and sliced
2 cups chicken stock or broth
1 cup diced tomatoes (drain first if canned)
Roughly 1/2 teaspoon ghost pepper sauce or other hot sauce
1 1/2-2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves (eyeball it)
1 cup long grain white rice

Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a medium-sized pot. Add the onions, peppers, chicken, sausage, and garlic. Cook until the onions and peppers are soft and everything is nicely browned up. In a separate pan, over medium heat, heat up the chicken broth with the thyme, salt, pepper, and hot sauce.

Add the tomatoes to the main mix and cook until the tomatoes start breaking down. Can’t really give an exact time, because that’s going to be affected by the exact temperature that medium-high is on your stove, whether or not you used fresh or canned, and how much moisture is in them. You’re just going to have to keep an eye on it–this isn’t a dish you can really just walk away from. Gotta babysit it a bit at this stage.

Add the broth mixture to the pot, then add the rice. Bring it to a boil, then reduce to about a medium heat. What makes this different from a lot of stovetop rice dishes is that you’re not going to cover the pot at this point. You’re actually going to cook it uncovered just until all the liquid is absorbed, stirring every so often to keep it from sticking too much (but let’s get real, it’s rice, some of it is going to stick a bit). Serve it up with your hot sauce of choice.

I’m pretty sure with the original, Bittman’s claim that it serves 8 must have been as a side, because there’s no way. I served this up as a one-dish meal, and my version, which is halved and then fixed, was perfect for the two of us. In case you’re wondering, here’s what I changed:

  • Original called for shrimp, added late in the process. Nope. Too expensive, and Dale doesn’t like the stuff, so that’s not happening.
  • I halved the recipe, because 8 servings (or 4 realistic servings) was more than we needed.
  • The original called for less onion, less garlic, and “preferably red or yellow” peppers. It needs at least some green pepper in it, because the contrast of the sharpness of the green pepper and the sweetness of the red/yellow/orange/whatever you have (I had orange) gives a much more complex flavor. I used about double the amount of garlic that the original called for.
  • The original called for cooking the tomatoes and garlic in the broth instead of in with the meat and vegetables. I used canned tomatoes, so the extra cook time wasn’t necessary. Also, it’s kind of doing things the hard way. In addition, putting the garlic in at the beginning means that the meat picks up the garlic flavor all along the way.
  • Traditionally, this is made with cayenne pepper, but that always seems a little one-note to me. I used ghost pepper sauce, and used about twice as much as I would have if I were sticking close to the original, but you could also dice up about half a canned chipotle pepper and add that, or just the adobo sauce that the chipotles come in, if you wanted the smoky pepper flavor without as much heat.

Doing it my way, it’s definitely something I see myself making again. If you try it, I’d love to hear how it turns out for you!

Great-Grandma’s Sugar Cookies with Cinnamon and Nutmeg

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This recipe has been in my family for as far back as my grandma can remember, and it’s one of the first that I learned to make. When my great-grandma submitted the recipe to her church’s cookbook, she called it “Grandma’s sugar cookies.” Probably dates from just after the turn of the 20th century, because it calls for vegetable shortening, which didn’t come out until the early 1900s.

Yes, those are beer bottles in the picture. Since we just did sandwiches for dinner (it’s been that kind of couple of days), I figured, you know what? Dessert wines are a thing, but neither of us likes wine. Coffee is a thing with cookies, too, right? So, Highland Black Mocha Stout. Dessert beer!

Sugar Cookies

2 cups sugar
1 cup shortening
3 eggs
5 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (imitation is fine for this)
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon nutmeg (less if you’re using freshly grated)
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
Cinnamon sugar, for dusting

Cream together the sugar and the shortening with an electric mixer. Add eggs, milk, and vanilla. Sift together the dry ingredients and add to dough, a little at a time, beating after each addition. Chill the dough (well, you’re supposed to, and they spread less if you do, but…I don’t bother, because COOKIES NOW) for an hour or so. Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto  a cookie sheet and sprinkle the tops with cinnamon sugar. Bake at 375F for 7-9 minutes, or until you can touch the top of one of the cookies and it springs back rather than leaving an imprint of your finger. Any cookies you don’t use can be stored in an airtight container, but I can’t tell you how long they stay edible, because they’re long gone at my house before then.

Spicy Tamarind-Ginger Chicken

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When I have a Saturday off work, we like to go to the Hot Box food truck that parks in front of the brewery on Dale’s street. Last week I got a Jarritos tamarind soda to go with my risotto fritters, and he commented that he couldn’t detect a flavor he could call tamarind, because all he tasted was sweet. So, since I spent enough time in the tropics to learn to love the tart flavor of tamarind, I decided to do something about that.

Tamarind is the seed pod of a tree originating in Africa and now found in tropical climates throughout the world. I used the straight fruit pulp, found in the frozen section of large supermarkets and Latin-American markets (Goya Fruta was the brand I used). It has a very tart flavor, which is why I balanced it with the big flavors of garlic and ginger, the heat of sriracha, and the sweetness of honey. I like it still pretty tart; you may prefer to add more of the other ingredients to tone it down.

Spicy Tamarind Ginger Chicken

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 lbs)
3/4 c. tamarind pulp (thaw before measuring–it will be pouring consistency)
1/4 c. soy sauce (can substitute tamari if you have gluten issues, or rice vinegar plus a little extra salt if you are allergic to soy)
2 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 Tbsp. sriracha (Huy Fong Foods, the manufacturer of the original, says it’s gluten free, but there are dedicated gluten free versions out there)
1-inch slice of fresh ginger, finely grated
1-2 Tbsp. honey, to taste
1/2 tsp. kosher salt

Cornstarch for dredging
Vegetable oil for frying

Green onions, sliced, for garnish

Cut the chicken breasts into chunks, a little smaller than an inch, and coat with cornstarch. Pour about 1/4-1/2 inch of oil in the bottom of a large skillet and fry the chicken pieces until light golden brown–I had to do mine in 2 batches to keep from crowding the pan. Remove cooked chicken from the pan onto a plate lined with a paper towel, to drain the excess oil.

Once you’ve got all your chicken fried and drained, combine the remaining ingredients in a bowl and give a quick stir to make your sauce. Clean the pan (or get out a new one, if you’re slack) and return the chicken to it, pouring the sauce over the top and stirring to coat. Heat it through; your sauce will thicken a bit as it heats up. Serve over rice, garnished with green onions.

Orange-Rosemary Roast Chicken, and Spinach Salad with Orange-Chipotle Vinaigrette

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I have another Sunday off, and you know what that means: Sunday dinner! Today was a rosemary-orange roast chicken, plus a spinach salad with orange-chipotle vinaigrette, and angel biscuits. The trick to a really good roast chicken is to use an air-chilled chicken, rather than a typical water-cooled one. This means the chicken has been flash-frozen using a blast of cold air, rather than being dipped in a water solution and then frozen. It also means that the chicken cooks faster, leaving it moister. I know it sounds silly that adding moisture would result in a drier bird, but trust me–a shorter cook time yields more moisture.

Orange-Rosemary Roast Chicken

1 air-chilled whole chicken (roughly 4 lbs or so)
2 sprigs rosemary
1/2 large orange
1/2 small onion
1 clove garlic
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Black pepper

Preheat your oven to 400F. Give the chicken a quick rinse. Cut the orange half and the onion half into quarters, and put into the cavity of the chicken along with a cracked garlic clove and the rosemary. Rub the outside of the chicken down with the olive oil and season well with salt and pepper.

If you have a roasting pan with a rack, that would be ideal. I didn’t, so instead, I put a couple of balls of aluminum foil into the bottom of a 13×9 inch baking pan and set the chicken up onto that. Roast the chicken for 15 minutes at 400F, then turn it down to 350F and roast for an additional 20 minutes per pound or so. Take it out of the oven, tent some aluminum foil over it, and let it rest for 10-15 minutes–I timed it alongside the baking angel biscuits. Should serve 4-6; we made it dinner, plus chicken salad to eat over the next couple of days.

Spinach Salad with Orange-Chipotle Vinaigrette

1/2 bag baby spinach (maybe 2 cups or so)
1/2 small red onion, chopped
1 plum tomato
Zest and juice of 1 large orange
2 chipotles in adobo
1 medium clove garlic
3/4 c. olive oil

Combine the orange zest and juice, the chipotles, the garlic, and half the chopped onion in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until blended. Add the olive oil, a little at a time, pulsing well before each addition.

Combine the spinach, the rest of the onion, and the tomato. Add the vinaigrette to taste and toss to coat. Serves 2 with lots of dressing left over. You can add croutons, bacon, cheese, whatever, but this is the basic version. Feel free to get fancy with it if you want.

Egg and Chorizo Breakfast Tacos

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Like a lot of people, when I have a day off, I’m torn between the desire to make a big, filling breakfast and the desire to plant my butt in bed and not come out until I have to. These breakfast tacos are protein-heavy, filling, flavorful, and really fast and easy, making them perfect for those lazy mornings. (Especially if I’ve had a bit to drink the night before.) It’s very important to use Mexican-style chorizo, a crumbly sausage that comes in a plastic casing that you cut open, rather than the Spanish-style smoked chorizo. I get the packs that are 6 small links for a total of 1 pound, and it’s enough for several meals for us.

Huevos con chorizo is a very common Mexican dish, but that typically includes onion and extra peppers, and is served with rice and beans. It’s something I like a lot, but for breakfast at home, I go with this simplified version.

Egg and Chorizo Breakfast Tacos (serves 2)

2 links (just over 5 ounces) Mexican-style chorizo, removed from casings
4 eggs
Generous pinch of sazón (a Latin American seasoning mix that I put in just about everything–I prefer Goya brand Culantro y Achiote flavor)
6 flour tortillas (can also substitute 12 corn tortillas and double them to make the tacos)
Crumbled queso fresco (if you like crumbly, white cheeses–feta also works) or shredded cheddar cheese
Your favorite salsa, bottled or homemade
Cilantro, crema mexicana or sour cream, and lime wedges, optional

Brown up the chorizo in a large skillet, breaking it up as you go. It’s darker and fattier than most sausages, so you’ll definitely have a good bit of grease coming off, and it’s going to look really dark in color when it’s done. Beat the eggs in a bowl with the sazón, then pour over the chorizo and cook as for scrambled eggs.

Fill the tortillas with the eggs and meat, and top with your preferred cheese. I like the dry, crumbly queso fresco, but today I had sharp cheddar on hand, and that works. I usually like to top it with some homemade salsa, crema mexicana (kind of like sour cream, but thinner) and some chopped cilantro, but today all I had on hand was bottled salsa, and it was fine. I also like to squeeze a lime wedge over the top.

I have this with a cup of coffee and/or some orange juice, and I’m ready to deal with whatever my day throws at me. It only takes a few minutes, and it’s absolutely delicious.