Sesame Chicken

There is a Chinese restaurant literally five doors down from where we live, so we can get takeout anytime we want.

The best thing about Chinese is that it’s never very expensive and you get enough food to feed you for days. The downside is that it’s not always very good, and our local takeout shop tends to be hit and miss.

Homemade Chinese is always so much better, anyway. And this simple Sesame Chicken recipe is no exception.

It’s also really quick to throw together, especially this dish which finishes in the oven while you can do other things.

I’m not going to tell you that I found it on How Sweet It Is because you probably knew that already. Can I just rename this blog “Recipes I stole from Jesssica” and get it over with!

I must be losing my mind as I grow older because as a classically trained chef, I always make sure I have my mise en place completely ready before I get started putting together a dish. But it was only after I had this one cooking that I realized I didn’t have any rice!

The same thing happened again this morning when I was making pumpkin spice waffles and realized I had no milk! What’s going on?!

Fortunately, I was lucky enough to have some tri-colored quinoia that I had bought some time ago at Trader Joe’s, which actually worked out even better. In addition to the quinoa, I served this Sesame Chicken with a quick sautee of white onion, green and red bell pepper, and jalapeno. The peppers are among the last from this year’s garden (bonus!).

I also used boneless, skinless chicken thighs because the local Food 4 Less wanted $4.38/lb for B/S chicken breasts. Wait, what?!

Simple Sesame Chicken

2 lb Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts (or thighs if you’re not the Rockefellers)

1/2 tsp Sea Salt

1/2 tsp Fresh Cracked Black Pepper

3 TBS All-Purpose Flour

2 TBS Sesame Oil

1 TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil

3 Garlic Cloves, minced

1 TBS Low-Sodium Soy Sauce

1 TBS Corn Starch

1 TBS Brown Sugar

1 TBS Rice Wine Vinegar

1/2 cup Reduced Sodium Chicken Stock

2 TBS Toasted Sesame Seeds

1. Preheat oven to 400F. In a bowl, whisk together chicken stock, brown sugar, corn starch, 1 TBS sesame oil, garlic cloves, soy sauce and vinegar. Set aside. In a separate bowl, toss the diced chicken with the salt, pepper and flour.

2. Place a large Dutch Oven over a medium-high heat. When hot, add EVOO. When smoking, add the chicken and cook until browned, stirring occasionally, about five minutes. Pour chicken stock mixture over the chicken, turn off heat and cover. Place entire pot into oven and cook 20 minutes.

To serve, spoon the chicken mixture over rice, noodles or quinoa. Arrange sauteed vegetables of your choosing along the side, then garnish all with the sesame seeds.

Chicken and Biscuits

When I was growing up, there occasionally would appear in my family’s cupboard a product called Chicken in a Biscuit.

These were crackers that tasted like chicken. I think my dad liked them. Even as a very young child, I knew that something about this just wasn’t right. Crackers aren’t supposed to taste like meat!

Chicken in a Biscuit crackers frighten me in some primal way, even though I now know they simply have a little chicken base mixed into the cracker dough. Still, I do enjoy the flavors of chicken and biscuits. And with yet another hurricane heading for poor, embattled New Orleans, I felt it was a good time to make some comfort food.

I debated whether to make fresh biscuits for this dish, or simply used the kind that comes in a tube. I’m still a little cautious about my own biscuits, scones and other quick breads, seeing as how I thought they nearly killed me once.

In the end, I opted for the store-bought variety due to time constraints. I’m glad I did because these biscuits were more like puff pastry, with layer upon layer of butter dough.

This is a very simple and old-fashioned dish. The innovation I added was to cook the biscuits right on top of the chicken stew, sort of like a chicken pot pie. Given the biscuits’ puff pastry-like qualities, it essentially was chicken pot pie.

Only I forgot to add the frozen peas that I bought. Oh, well. Something to make it better next time.

Chicken and Biscuits

1/2 lb Cooked Chicken, pulled from bone and chopped (I used leftovers from BBQ Chicken I made the night before)

2 TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 White Onion, medium dice

2 Carrots, peeled and medium dice

2 Celery Stalks, medium dice

14oz can Chicken Broth

4 TBS All-Purpose Flour

1 TBS Chicken Base

1 cup Frozen Peas, thawed (which I bought but forgot to add!)

1 tube Buttery Biscuits (makes 8 biscuits)

Sea Salt

Fresh Cracked Black Pepper

1. Put an oven-safe pot over a medium heat. I used my Dutch Oven. When hot, add EVOO. When smoking, add onions, celery and carrot. I threw in a diced green bell pepper from our garden because we are up to our ears in them, but they aren’t usually a part of this recipe. Stir around, cover and cook until onions are translucent, about five minutes. Stir in chicken, cover and cook another minute or two to heat the chicken through.

2. Add flour and chicken base to the chicken/vegetable mixture. Stir around until the flour begins to brown a little, about two minutes, then hit it with the chicken stock. Stir, cover and reduce heat to low. Cook for 30 minutes, stirrring once or twice. The stock will thicken during this time. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Preheat oven to 350F. Place uncooked biscuits directly on top of chicken mixture then put the entire pot, uncovered, in the oven and cook until biscuits are browned on top, about 25 minutes.

To serve, remove or two of the biscuits to get at the chicken stew, ladle some of the chicken mixture into a bowl and then cap with the biscuits.

This chicken and biscuits is so much better than a box of crackers!

Chicken Salad

The other day, Sandi and I were eating at our favorite neighborhood diner, Les Brothers, when a waiter walked past with a plate of chicken salad.

It was served old-school style inside a cut-up tomato. I don’t think I’ve seen chicken salad presented like that since the Reagan administration. I instantly knew I had to try it.

Serving compound salads — chicken, tuna, ham, egg, etc. — in hollowed out tomatoes used to be pretty common. But I suppose it had been done to death so people stopped doing it.

Well, I’m bringing it back! It not only is visually appealing, but it fits with my efforts to reduce the amount of white flour and white sugar I eat. Plus, now it’s nostalgiac. Bonus!

I served it with an Israeli cous cous salad. I wanted to make a macaroni salad, but Sandi wrinkled her nose at that, so I made this instead. But the joke’s on her because cous cous is simply a small, granular shaped pasta, so it’s exactly the same thing!

So much for my avoiding white flour, however.

Finally, I added one of my homemade dill pickles and garnished the plate with a few black, seedless grapes. I think it looks pretty elegant and wouldn’t be out of place on a posh lunch menu.

Chicken Salad

1 lb Chicken, cooked (I used half a baked chicken from dinner the night before), diced

1/2 cup Reduced-Fat Mayonnaise

1/2 cup Fat-Free Sour Cream

Juice of 1/2 Lemon

1 Garlic Clove, crushed

2 stalks celery, small dice

1/2 Red Onion, small dice

1/3  cup Dried Cranberries

1/4 cup Walnuts, chopped

1/4 tsp Lawry’s Seasoned Salt

1 Large Tomato

1. Combine chicken, celery, onion, cranberries and walnuts in a mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, sour cream, lemon juice and garlic. Mix a little of the dressing at a time to the chicken mixture until you get the proper chicken salad consistency, holds together but not too soggy. Season with seasoned salt. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes to let the flavors meld together.

2. Use a paring knife to make alternate zig-zag cuts around the perimeter of a tomato. Pull it apart then use the knife to remove some of the core from each half. Lay flat on the plate and use an ice cream scoop to place a large dollop of chicken salad in the center of the tomato half.

To plate the cous cous salad, I simply spooned the salad into a ramekin and patted it down. Then I placed the serving plate on top of the ramekin, turned the whole thing upside down and removed the ramekin. The salad will then hold the shape of the ramekin.

What kind of old school foods would you like to see come back into fashion? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!

 

Oven Fried Chicken

Fried chicken is one of those things I only get to eat once or twice per year, usually at  family parties.

But I look forward to it because, in my opinion, chicken was meant to be fried. The crispy golden breading that comes from immersing the chicken into a pool of smoking hot oil goes perfectly with the moist, rich texture of the meat.

Sadly, because it’s too high in fat, in my house we don’t eat legitimately fried chicken. I remember one time I burned the dinner so I went out and bought some Popeye’s chicken. My wife simply refused to eat it.

But this recipe is lower in fat, doesn’t require a deep fryer or a dangerous pan full of hot shortening, and still results in a crispy delicious chicken.

Although I love to eat fried chicken for dinner, what I love even more is wrapping the leftover chicken in wax paper the next day and bringing it on a picnic. This recipe is suitable for both.

I served this oven fried chicken with some smashed potatoes and with a red cabbage cole slaw (recipe to follow) to round out a perfect summertime dinner.

Oven Fried Chicken

1 Chicken, cut into 8 peices

1/4 cup Unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tsp Paprika

1 tsp Granulated garlic

Pinch of Cayenne pepper

1 tsp Sea salt

1/4 tsp Fresh cracked black pepper

1/3 cup Margarine (or butter for the truly indulgent)

1. Preheat oven to 425F. Rinse chicken peices and pat dry with paper towels. In a bowl, combine flour, paprika, gran garlic, cayenne, salt and pepper. Dredge chicken peices so that they are completely covered with seasoned flour mixture. If you prefer, you can use the “Shake and Bake” method by putting all the dry ingredients into a large plastic bag, then putting the individual chicken peices in the bag, sealing it and shaking it around so that each peice is completely covered with the coating. You will get the same result.

2. Place margarine in a 9″x13″x2″ casserole pan and place in oven. When melted, remove from oven and arrange chicken peices in the bottom of the pan, skin side down. Return to oven and bake for 35 minutes. Remove from oven, turn peices over and bake another 15 minutes.

Red Cabbage Cole Slaw

4 cups  Red Cabbage (about 1/2 head)

1 Carrot, peeled

1/2 White onion

1/2 Green bell pepper, ribs and seedes removed, fine dice

1/2 cup Reduced fat Mayonnaise

1 TBS Apple cider vinegar

2 tsp Granulated sugar

1 tsp Whole celery seed

1/4 tsp Sea salt

Fresh cracked black pepper to taste

1. Use a box grater to grate the cabbage, carrot and onion into a mixing bowl then add the green pepper. In a separate mixing bowl, make the dressing by whisking together the mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar, celery seed and salt.

2. Combine the dressing and the cabbage mixture and toss together with a spatula until it has a consistent texture. Season with pepper to taste. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes before serving so that flavors can meld together.

Ironically, up until a few months ago, there was a fried chicken restaurant at the end of our street (It recently closed and was replaced with a cash for car titles business!). Whenever I would walk the dogs past there, I would linger a few moments so I could absorb the smells of the frying chicken.

A fella can dream, can’t he?

 

Chinese Chicken Salad

This salad could go either way. It could be called a Chinese chicken salad or it could simply be called a chopped salad.

The only real difference between the two is the dressing and the crunch.

In the past, I’ve used dry, fried chow mein noodles to achieve the crunch. In restaurants, I think the guest expects this. But because I’m trying to cut down on white flour (and fried foods), I substituted a little fresh cabbage.

There was definitely less crunch, but it wasn’t really missed in the texture. And the cabbage added better flavor than chow mein noodles, which to me always taste kind of sawdust-y anyway.

The other difference is the dressing. On a chopped salad, I would use a simple vinaigrette or a low-fat creamy dressing. But because I was going for an Asian feel here, I used a fat-free sesame soy ginger vinaigrette I picked up at Trader Joe’s.

My sesame soy ginger vinaigrette is delicious, but it is not fat free. I wanted to try TJ’s version, and although it was sweeter than mine, I found it to be delightful.

On both a chopped salad and this Chinese chicken salad, all the ingredients are cut into small peices. This gives it a texture that is a little different and is easier to eat.

Any salad can be made into a chopped salad, including a Caesar salad, a Salade Nicoise, a Cobb salad or a chef’s salad. It’s all about the size that you cut the ingredients and it makes for a nice change of pace once in awhile.

This salad also is sometimes called a garbage salad, although I’ve always stayed away from that name on my menus. It just has kind of an off-putting connotation to me: “And here’s your plate of garbage, madame!”

Chinese Chicken Salad

1 Boneless, skinless chicken breast, cooked and small dice

1/2 head Green leaf lettuce, chopped fine

1 cup Shredded green cabbage

1 large Tomato, ribs and seeds removed, small dice

1/2 Red onion, small dice

2 Green onions, sliced thin

1/2 Green bell pepper, ribs and seeds removed, sliced thin

1/4 cup Crumbled Blue cheese

1/4 cup Crumbed Feta cheese

For Sesame Soy Ginger Vinaigrette

1 TBS Sesame oil

1/2 cup Extra virgin olive oil

2 TBS Rice wine vinegar

2 tsp Low-sodium soy sauce

1 tsp honey

1 TBS Fresh ginger, chopped fine

1 clove Garlic, crushed

Sea Salt

Fresh Cracked black pepper

1. Combine the oils in a bowl and mix. In a separate bowl, combine the vinegar, soy sauce, honey, ginger and garlic. Slowly add the oils to the vinegar mixture, starting with a drop at a time and slowly building, until dressing is emulsified. Then season to taste with salt and pepper.

2. Combine all salad ingredients in large bowl. Dress with vinaigrette and mix throroughly. To plate, use a tongs to pile the dressing high in the middle of a large salad or pasta bowl, trying to attain as much height as possible. Make sure large peices of the chicken are visible.

A word about lettuce: In this salad, I used a green leaf lettuce, which is my lettuce of choice, along with red leaf. You also could use Romaine, a spring mix blend or a mixture of escarole and any other kind of lettuce to get a great texture and a healthy salad.

One lettuce I would never recommend is iceburg lettuce, which ironically is the most popular because it also is the cheapest. Iceburg lettuce is composed almost entirely of water and that’s exactly what it tastes like. Also, it has almost no nutritional value.

It pains me to say this because this is supposed to be a budget cooking column, but where’s the savings if the flavor is poor and there aren’t any usable vitamins or minerals? Do yourself and your family a favor and spend the few extra pennies for greens that not only taste better but are much better for you!

 

Low Carb Chicken Roll-Ups with Spicy Avocado Sauce

I have been trying to cut out white sugar and white flour from my diet to drop some weight for the summer, but it’s been difficult.

Not so much that I have been craving these things, but because it seems like they are in everything!

So far, I’ve had to settle for drastically cutting back. This recipe, for example, features low-carb whole wheat tortillas, but they still contain some flour and a little sugar as well. Even the products that are suupposed to be better for you have sugar and flour!

This is a great use for leftover chicken. When I make chicken, I usually roast or grilll a whole chicken for just the two of us, so there is typically at least half of a chicken leftover. The next day, I separate the chicken from all the bones and skin, then pull the chicken into strips. Then I can either make it into a salad or toss it with some barbeque sauce and use it as a delicious pizza topping.

Avocados are one of our favorite foods, but because the weather has been so warm here in Chicago, we’ve had guacamole a lot already this year (OK, let’s face it, we never stop eating guacamole, even in the dead of winter).

So this time I went with a spicy avocado sauce that was super simple to make and was a delicious dressing for this wrap. The Sriracha sauce is very spicy, which was a refreshing compliment to the mellowness of the avocado and sour cream. But if you don’t like heat, you can reduce the amount or leave it out altogether.

This makes a delicious warm weather lunch or light dinner. I served it with plantain slices that I pan fried then simply seasoned with a little salt and pepper to give the dish a Carribean feel. The plantains were very good when they first came out of the pan, but they became soggy fast. Next time, I think I will either slice them thinner or grill them.

Low Carb Chicken Roll-Ups with Spicy Avocado Sauce

4 Low-Carb Whole Wheat Tortillas

1/2 lb chicken, pulled into thin strips

1/2 green bell pepper, ribs and skins removed, julienned

1/2 yellow bell pepper, ribs and skins removed, julienned

1/4 cup cabbage, sliced thin

2 green onions, sliced on the bias

4 to 5 leaves red leaf lettuce, chopped into thin strips

1/4 red onion, very thinly julienned

For the Spicy Avocado Sauce

2 avocados, mashed

1/2 cup fat free sour cream

1 TBS Sriracha Sauce

Sea salt

Fresh cracked black pepper

1. Basically, you are making a chicken salad. Put the chicken and all the vegetables in a mixing bowl and toss together.

2. Combine mashed avocados, sour cream and Sriracha sauce in a separate bowl and mix together with a fork or spatula. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Combine chicken mixture with dressing and toss until evenly coated. Lay tortilla on a flat surface, spoon filling into center then carefully roll up into a tight wrap. Try to prevent the salad from coming out the ends. Seal with a toothpick placed in the center of the roll-up.

What kind of warm weather dishes are you looking forward to making in the summer months? Share your ideas in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!

Lemon Chicken with Kalamata Olives

Now that the holidays are over, and all the excess that goes with them, this time of year, around my house we are always looking for meals that are faster and lighter. Because every January we’re busier and heavier.

This recipe for lemon chicken with Kalamata olives really fits the bill. The chicken is napped in a simple, light lemon sauce, then quickly broiled. I served it with Kalamata olives, which are my favorite. Steamed green beans and brown rice balanced out the plate.

Brown rice is one of those foods I know I should eat more often, but have a hard time doing it. Maybe it’s because brown rice and I have never gotten along. I can’t ever seem to cook it right! The rice either is undercooked and crunchy or overcooked and mushy.

I’ve tried everything: Cooking it on the stovetop, baking it in the oven like a pilaf, using my rice steamer, even microwaving it. Nothing works right.

For this meal, I thought I would try the crock pot. A few days earlier I cooked bulgur and lentils in the crock pot and they turned out great. Lentils and bulgur are sort of like rice, right?

Wrong! After two hours on low, the rice was still hard as pebbles. Apparently, the temperature was not hot enough for the stubborn little rice to absorb the liquid. So I transferred the whole thing to a pot, put it on the fire and simmered it for 50 minutes. The rice turned out better than it usually does, but was still not perfect. Man, I hate brown rice!

Lemon Chicken with Olives

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2 tsp EVOO

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 tsp lemon pepper

1/4 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and rough chop (or just sliced black olives)

4 thin slices of lemon

1. Turn oven to broil. Starting at the thickest edge of each chicken breast, cut horizontally almost to the opposite side, then open the cut chicken breast so it is an even thickness. This is a technique called “butterflying” and can be used to cook any meat — chicken, beef steaks, pork chops — faster, especially when broiling.

2. In a small bowl, mix oil and lemon juice. Dredge butterflied chicken breast in mixture then lay out on a sheet sprayed wit pan spray. Drizzle remaining mixture over chicken breasts. Sprinkle with 1/2 the lemon pepper and place on top rack of the oven so the chicken is about 4 inches from the broiler flame.

3. Broil for 5 minutes, flip chicken breast over, season the other side with the remaining lemon pepper, and return to the broiler for another 5 minutes. Remove chicken from broiler, arrange lemon slices and olives on top of chicken and return to broiler for another 2 minutes.

Is there a particular food that you have never been able to master? Share your story in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!

Chicken Breast Stuffed with Mushroom Duxelle

People often ask me what is my favorite dish to prepare as a chef. The answer is the onle that peope will love the most and that will make the restaurant the most money.

When I was a banquet chef, this dish was among the most popular for weddings, awards banquets and other catered affairs. It is very easy to make in bulk, especially if you have a big work table and can set up an assembly line.

The mushroom duxelle can be made ahead of time, as can the pesto. I would prepare huge batches of these, and then knock out hundreds of stuffed chicken breasts in an afternoon. Commercially, I used a shredded gruyere cheese, but for home use I substituted a simple cheddar and jack combination. You can really use any type of cheese you like.

When I made this at home, I served it on a potato latke and sauced it with some sour cream I put into a squeeze bottle, then garnished it with scallions. But in the banquet kitchen, I would serve these napped with a chicken veloute sauce, with rosemary roasted red potatoes and a combination of steamed carrots, broccoli, zucchini and yellow squash.

Honestly, once you master this dish, you can make a fortune catering banquets. People love it. Plus, for the home cook, it is easy to make many of these at the same time if you entertaining or hosting a dinner party.

Chicken Breast Stuffed with Mushroom Duxelle

1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts

1/2 cup basil pesto

2 TBS EVOO

4 oz container fresh button mushrooms, chopped fine

1/2 medium white onion, small dice

3-4 cloves garlic, crushed

1 TBS Italian seasoning

Sea salt

Fresh cracked black pepper

1-1/2 cups shredded cheddar and Monterey jack cheeses

1. To make mushroom duxelle, put cast iron pan on the fire. When hot, add the EVOO. When smoking, add onions and cook about 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook until all the liquid in them is evaporated and they start to brown, about 7 minutes. For the final minute of cooking, stir in the garlic and Italian seasoning. Remove from heat and let cool a little. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

2. Place chicken breasts on cutting board. If they are large, cut them in half horizontally,as if you were cutting a deck of cards. Each serving should have about 6 oz of chicken. Place a plastic freezer bag over the breast, then pound it with a meat tenderizer or a rolling pin so chicken breast if flattened out to about the size of your hand.

3. Preheat oven to 350F. Rub both sides of the breast with pesto. Place about 2 TBS of the duxelle mixture and about a TBS of shredded cheese in the center of each breast then roll up into a log shape, tucking the ends underneath to form a seal. Spray a sheet pan with pan spray, then lay each chicken breast seam side down on the pan. Arrange stuffed breasts so that they are not touching — you want the heat to surround them on all sides so they cook evenly. Just before they go into the oven, rub them with a little more pesto. Bake for 35 minutes, then remove from oven. Let rest about 3 minutes before cutting.

4. To serve, cut each breast at bias into about 4-5 medallions, then shingle on the plate over potatoes, rice or whatever starch you are using. Nap with sauce or serve unsauced.

To make the potato latke, shred a leftover pre-cooked baked potato then mix with 1/2 onion, diced small, and salt and pepper. Heat a small cast iron pan. When smoking, add some vegetable oil and let it get smoking hot. Melt a teaspoon of butter in the oil, then place the shredded potatoes in the pan and pat down slightly with a spoon or spatula. Fry about 4 minutes, then invert onto a plate. Get the cast iron pan back up to temperature, add fresh oil, a tab of butter, and slide the potato uncooked side down back into the pan. Finish frying and invert onto a sheet pan.

You can make multiple latkes ahead of time and line them up on a sheet pan. When ready to serve, reheat for about 10 minutes at 375F. These can serve as a delicious base for many different entrees, or serve them by themselves with a little sour cream or apple sauce, and garnish with sliced scallions or chives.

Wow, I’m really giving away all my chef secrets today! Thanks for looking at my blog!

Crock Pot BBQ Pulled Chicken

In my house, winter time means crock pot time.

We probably use the crock pot at least once per week from mid-October until the beginning of March. Crock pot cooking is super cost effective because you can use cheaper, tougher cuts of meat. The long, slow cooking time does the work of breaking down all the connective tissues.

Crock pot cooking also is time efficient because once you load the crock pot with whatever you are making, you don’t have to worry about it again until it’s ready. I like to prepare my crock pot meal the night before and refrigerate it. That way, in the morning, I just pop the crock into the pot, turn it on and forget about it.

Basically, a crock pot is just a big, thick ceramic pot that fits into a heating element. The way it works is that a low heat is distributed evenly throughout the sides and bottom of the pot, slowly cooking whatever is inside. It is almost impossible to burn something in a crock pot.

If you don’t already have one, buying a crock pot should not be a big investment. I’ve seen them available in the $20-$30 range. Ours has a lot of bells and whistles, and it only set us back about $45. For the use it gives us, that’s a bargain!

This crock pot BBQ pulled chicken recipe is a variation on a pork recipe I also make in the crock pot. The chicken version uses a store-bought BBQ sauce and beer. For the pulled pork loin recipe you kind of make your own BBQ sauce right there in the pan. I’ll post that one soon, I promise.

This is great served on whole wheat buns and tastes even better the next day, once the flavors have time to get to know each other. I always serve BBQ with lots of pickles on the side because the vinegar helps cut the fatty, sugary taste of the BBQ sauce.

Crock Pot BBQ Pulled Chicken

2-3 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts (frozen is fine)

2 TBS EVOO

1 white onion, sliced

1 tsp onion powder

1 tsp granulated garlic

1 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp sea salt

1/4 tsp fresh cracked black pepper

12 oz beer (any kind)

18 oz jar smoky barbeque sauce (thinner is better than thicker)

1. Put cast iron pan on the fire. Meanwhile, season chicken on both sides with onion powder, granulated garlic, paprika and S&P. When pan is hot, add EVOO. When smoking, add chicken breasts one a time, being careful not to splash yourself with the hot oil. Sear both sides, about 2 minutes each side, and place into crock pot.

2. Let pan get hot again, then add the other TBS of EVOO. When smoking, add onions and sautee until slightly carmelized, stirring frequently, about 5 minutees. Pour onions over chicken, then add BBQ sauce and beer and stir together.

3. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours, stirring if you happen to walk by. After about 6 hours, you should be able to pull chicken apart into strings using two forks. Serve on whole wheat burger buns. Don’t forget the pickles.

What are some of your favorite crock pot recipes? Let everyone in on the action by sharing them in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!

Matzo Ball Soup

With cold and flu season just around the corner, now is a good time to break out the only sure-fire cure for what ails you.

No, not Nyquil. I’m talking, of course, about Matzo Ball Soup.

Matzo Ball Soup

Matzo Ball Soup

I first discovered this miracle cure back in the late 1980s, when a single bowl of this magical stew at Mort’s Deli under the L tracks on Wabash Avenue in the Loop almost immediately cleared up lingering cold symptoms I had been battling for a couple of days.

From that moment on, I was a believer.

Sadly, Mort’s has not survived. The spot is currently occupied by a Popeye’s Chicken. Some people call it progress!

(A quick side story: One Sunday morning back in the late ’80s, I was walking into the building where I worked as a news reporter when I heard gunshots coming from the parking garage that also housed Mort’s. Intrepid cub reporter that I was, I ran to the scene and called my city desk from a pay phone. Then I saw that the actor Robert DeNiro was firing a gun at a bunch of policemen. Holy smokes, I told my editor, this is a huge story! It was only then that I noticed the movie cameras and lights. They happened to be filming “Midnight Run” that morning. So much for my scoop!)

Some people claim the curative powers reside in the matzo ball itself, with its pinch of schmaltz, or chicken fat, and the seltzer water that gives this dumpling its lightness. Others argue that the rich vitamin and nutrient content of the chicken stock is responsible. I think it’s a perfect combination of both.

Chicken Stock

Chicken Stock

Which is not to say you have to be sick to enjoy Matzo Ball Soup. It’s light, delicate flavor is delicious anytime.

Making Matzo Ball Soup doesn’t need to be complicated. In fact, whenever I make chicken stock I will freeze it for whatever cooking needs I have. It’s way cheaper than buying canned chicken broth. Making the matzo balls is simple and they also can be frozen.

Combine the two and it’s like chanting a magic spell. You will be healed. Also, sated with a delicious and inexpensive soup.

So this cold and flu season, don’t get caught off guard. Prep your chicken stock while you still feel well, and keep a lookout for a cannister of matzo meal at your local grocer. A lot of places will stock it only this time of year.

And if you see Robert DeNiro in a shootout with police, don’t call it in to your city desk. Unless you want to be made fun of. A lot. Forever.

Matzo Balls

Matzo Balls

Matzo Ball Soup

For the Chicken Broth

3-4 chicken backs, or 3 lb necks backs and wings

3 celery stalks, rough chop

3 carrots, rough chop

2 parsnips, rough chop

2 white or yellow onions, quartered

1 head garlic, cut in half horizontally

1-2 bay leafs

TBS whole black pepper corns

TBS sea salt

About 1-1/2 gallon water

Place chicken in stock pot and cover with about 4″ water. Bring to boil. Add remaining ingredients, being careful not to splash yourself with boiling water. Return to boil, then reduce to simmer. Cook 3-4 hours, uncovered, occasionally skimming the scum off the top.

Remove chicken and vegetables by pouring through a colander and cheesecloth (or a clean dish towel) into another large pot. Cool completely and skim fat before refrigerating or freezing.

For the Matzo Balls

1/2 cup matzo meal

2 beaten eggs

2 TBS schmaltz (rendered chicken fat, or you can use vegetable oil)

TBS sea salt

1/4 tsp cracked black pepper

2 TBS seltzer water (or chicken stock)

Mix ingredients together in bowl until moist. Cover bowl in plastic wrap and refigerate 30 minutes to make dough more workable.

Fill large pot with water and bring to boil, then reduce to simmer.

Wet your hands under the faucet to make it easier to handle the dough. Form 1″ balls in the palm of your hand and roll into ball shape. Drop them one at a time into the simmering water. Cover the pot tightly and cook for about 35 minutes. The balls will expand to more than double their size as they cook. Remove and cool.

Assembling the Soup

Heat a little chicken stock in a sauce pan. Drop in 2-3 matzoh balls and cook about 5 minutes until heated through. Transfer to a bowl and garnish with a little chopped parsley or dill, if you have some lying around.

Feel better.

What other comfort foods do you crave when you are feeling under the weather? Share your ideas in the comments section below. And thanks for reading my blog!