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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Yummy Chicken Lettuce Wraps

I felt like making something that wasn't too heavy and was healthy.  A lot of restaurants serve lettuce wraps, and I thought it might be fun to learn how to make them.  So, I skimmed through what seemed like hundreds of recipes on line, trying to get an idea of what to do.  Every recipe called for chicken breast meat, but I like to use chicken thigh meat because it stays moist and is more flavorful.  So definitely write this one down because it is a keeper!

I think I used about 8 skinless/boneless chicken thighs
4 tbs low sodium soy sauce
4 tbs dark brown sugar (I had light brown, so I used that and it was delish!)
1 tsp rice wine vinegar
2 tbs vegetable oil
1 tbs sesame oil
1/2 Vidalia onion
3-4 carrots cut up
2-3 ribs of celery
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 8 oz. can of water chestnuts, drained and chopped
a handful of fresh mushrooms, chopped
chopped up peanuts
Romaine lettuce leaves

In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, brown sugar, rice wine vinegar, and vegetable oil. Set aside.

In a large skillet, pour in the sesame oil, then cook the thighs, turning every so often until they are cooked, about 15 minutes or so.  Remove from the pan and cut up.  In the same pan, add a little more sesame oil and the onion, carrots, celery, water chestnuts, and garlic.  Cook until tender.  Add the fresh mushrooms and chopped peanuts.  You can now add your cooked chicken as well. 

Pour the sauce over the entire mixture.  Even though the recipe didn't call for it, I had some Oyster Sauce in the fridge, so I added some of that for a little extra flavor.  Let cook for about 5 minutes.  Take a taste to make sure you don't want to add anything else.  That's it!

Now all you have to do is lay out the lettuce leaves and spoon some of the chicken mixture onto each leaf.

Every bite was so delicious... and serving the mixture on lettuce leaves made it really healthy...not to mention how nice it looks. 

 Problem is I couldn't stop eating them!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Beef (Steak) Barley Soup!

I feel like a broken record when I say that this is a very easy meal to prepare, but it truly is!  I think what makes it distinctly yummy is the fact that I used "good" beef as opposed to the traditional stew beef which tends to be tough and flavorless.  And, they don't call this "Beef" Barley soup for nothing. The beef is the star!  I had a bag of steak tips in the freezer that I thawed.  Wait, I'm getting ahead of myself... Let's back up to the beginning.

Cut up a Vidalia onion, a bunch of carrots and some celery and saute in a little butter.  I happened to have some leeks in the fridge, so I cut up two of those as well.  When the carrots and celery begin to get tender, add the leeks and cook for another 5-10 minutes.    

Now add the seasonings.... bay leaves, thyme, 2 cloves of chopped garlic, salt and pepper.  

Time to sear the steak tips.  Make sure you dry them really well before browning them.  If you don't, the steak won't brown, it will just bubble and turn grey, and you don't want that!  Once the meat is nicely browned, cut it into bite-sized pieces and add to your vegetables. 
You can also add 1 box of beef broth, as well as a can of diced tomatoes.  Let everything simmer together for approximately 15 minutes, and then taste.  You might need to add more garlic, or salt, or depends on how much you added in the beginning.  You want to make sure that you can taste all the wonderful ingredients.

The last ingredient you will add is the 1/2 cup of barley.  It takes about 20-30 minutes to cook, so time it accordingly.

That is all there is to this soup.  If you need more liquid, you can add more beef broth.  I'm not a big fan of adding water, only because I think it  weakens all the flavors that you have strived so hard to achieve.

So there you have it.  Trust me when I say that you need to use the right beef so that you will experience the wonderful flavor of this soup.  Enjoy...

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Very easy and delicious Chicken Piccata

I know Chicken Piccata sounds like a tricky, complicated meal to make, but honestly?  Not at all!  You just need to have all the ingredients on hand...and the only one that is a stretch is capers.  I just happen to keep a jar of them in my me crazy!  I have needed them enough times, that it is just something I make sure I have..

So, your basic ingredients are boneless chicken breasts, 1 sweet onion chopped, 2 cloves of garlic chopped, 2 tbs olive oil, 2 tbs butter, 1/2 cup of flour, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/2 cup of sherry or white wine, 2 lemons, 2 tbs capers, 1 cup chicken stock, and 2 tbs fresh parsley chopped.

Begin by juicing one of the lemons.  Set the juice aside until you are ready to make the sauce.

Cook your onion and garlic in the olive oil.   When they are translucent, remove and set aside.  Add the butter to the pan, along with a little more olive oil,  and let it heat til it gets foamy.  

Dredge both sides of the chicken breasts that you have pounded to about 1/4 inch thick, in the flour/salt mixture and cook 2-3 minutes per side until they are nicely browned.


When the chicken is done, set it aside and create the sauce by pouring the chicken stock, sherry or wine, lemon juice and the capers into your frying pan.  Let it simmer for about 10 minutes.  Then add your chicken.

 Let it simmer for about 5 more minutes, until the sauce has reduced slightly.  Add a lemon slice to each piece of chicken, along with some fresh parsley, and tadah!  You're done...

 This whole dish probably took me about 45 minutes to do.  My daughter wanted to eat light, so I didn't make any side dishes.  The sauce was delicious and the capers really give it a great flavor burst!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

A great salad with a delicious vinaigrette dressing

We had some friends stop by last night, and I was told we were going to order pizza.  I hated having people over for dinner and not cooking anything, so I thought maybe I could make a salad, and come up with a really delicious dressing.  So I went on line and looked at many recipes.  There was one that sounded good to me, so I decided to try it.  The ingredients were simple:

1/4 cup mayo
1 clove garlic, pressed
1 tbs whole grain mustard
1 lemon, juiced
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white wine
pinch salt
fresh ground pepper
about a tsp of tarragon

I combined all the ingredients and used my hand blender to mix everything.  I like to make the dressing in advance so that all the flavors can have a chance to explode.

My dressing was the "X" factor of this salad, seeing as I didn't really have a lot of ingredients to make my salad (such as tomatoes and cucumbers for starters...)  I had fresh spinach and Romaine lettuce, and I knew I had my trusty can of artichoke hearts in my pantry.  I found some asparagus in the fridge and decided to blanche them before throwing them in.  

My final touch?  French's fried onions, shredded Parmesan cheese,  and some crunchy La Choy chinese noodles

Believe it or not, this salad was delicious.   Just shows you what you can do when you don't think you have enough ingredients!

Delicious Buttermilk Pancakes

I have been making pancakes from scratch for my kids since they were babies.  Always chocolate chip.....

Recently, I became fascinated with buttermilk as an ingredient.  I've heard about the value of soaking chicken and pork in it, but even though "buttermilk pancakes" have been around forever, I have never made them.  So I decided to take a stab at them this morning.  Even thought the ingredients are very similar to regular pancakes, the "technique" is definitely different and very important.  You start by mixing the dry ingredients:

1 1/2 cups flour
1 Tbs and 1 1/2 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

In a separate container, mix the milk, eggs, etc.:

1 1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup milk
2 eggs
3 tbs butter, melted

Here's where the technique comes in.   Do not combine the liquid and dry ingredients until you are ready to cook the pancakes.   Mix gently - don't mix too much...there will be some lumps.

Now, as I said, my kids are huge chocolate chip pancake fans, so I made the first batch that way.  After I sprinkle the chips on, I cover them with batter so the chips won't stick to the pan when you flip the pancakes.  
There is something about this batter that makes the pancakes come out so light and fluffy.

I had quite a bit of batter, and seeing as I don't like chocolate chip pancakes, I decide to make a few banana pancakes for me.  The trick to these is to slice the bananas thin because they remain very moist when the pancake is cooked, and you want the batter around the banana slices to cook thoroughly.  Just as you did for the chocolate chips, cover the banana slices with more batter before flipping.

I think these have to be my favorite.  When they are done, I sprinkle them with a little cinnamon sugar.  That, along with some maple syrup, and every bite just sends you over the edge!

My oldest daughter came to breakfast and couldn't decide which one she wanted, so she decided to have one of each.....

Needless to say, after this breakfast, none of us were hungry until dinner!  These pancakes are unforgettable!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Sausage and Wild Rice Soup

I have a recipe for chicken and wild rice soup that I have shared with you a while ago.  It is so delicious....anyone I have made it for raves about how good it is.  Last night I wondered how it would taste if I made it with something other than chicken.  I decided to try it with sweet Italian sausage.  The other substitution I made was carrots instead of mushrooms, mainly because I had no mushrooms!

So here's what you'll need....(feel free to substitute something if you don't have the exact ingredients)
  • A box of your favorite wild rice, all prepared
  • carrots
  • onion
  • garlic 
  • sausage
  • tarragon
  • thyme
  • fresh parsley
  • salt and pepper
  • a can of evaporated milk
  • 1 box of chicken broth

All I did was cook the onion and carrots and put aside.  In the same pan, I removed the skins from the sausage and cooked it.  After draining the fat, I add the veggies back in.

Sprinkle about 2 tsps of tarragon, as well as a half tsp of thyme.  You can add salt and pepper to taste after you have added the liquid.  Chop up some fresh parsley and toss that in as well.  Add the chicken broth and evaporated milk.

Now just let it cook over low heat so that all the flavors can meld together.  I like this soup to be slightly thick, so I add a little mixture of cornstarch and water just before serving.  You need to do this when the soup is very hot, otherwise it will not thicken.

.....and believe it or not, it's done!  So delicious and easy, and just as good as the original recipe.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Beer-marinated Grilled Chicken Legs...Yum!

I love eating chicken legs and am always on the look out for new ways to cook them or new flavors I hadn't thought of before.  The other day, I came across an interesting marinade that I decided to try.

It starts out pretty basic, with a base of olive oil, and mixture of a 1/2 tsp of garlic powder, paprika, parsley, cumin, and some salt and pepper. I put about 1/4 tsp of cayenne pepper in as well.   I added 3 tbs of chopped onion and 2 cloves of chopped garlic.   Now for the interesting  I slowly poured a bottle of Harpoon IPA winter lager into the olive oil mixture, slowly being the key word, because it will foam up pretty quickly.  I placed the chicken legs in a zip lock bag and poured the marinade in.  The longer they can marinade for, the better.  I was making these after work, so I probably got about 1 1/2 hours for them to soak.  Let them get to room temperature before grilling.

 The rest is history!  I've to the realization that all meat tastes better when you grill it, so no matter what the weather is, I am out there, either with an umbrella or a winter coat and hat if needed..... 

I actually served these with the acorn squash stuffed with pearl couscous went really well together.