Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Popcorn Chicken is the Best

So this tidbit slightly horrifies me: Popcorn chicken was invented by KFC.

And my son lives for Popcorn Chicken.



Deep breaths, Susan.

Nothing against KFC, just the thing is The Jersey Girl does not do fast food. Oh yes, I ate my fair share b-b-b-back in the day. But I gave that shiz up for Lent in 1997 and haven't gone a day with it ever since. A great decision, I must say.

So my 6-year-old first got his hands on some popcorn chicken at school. Which is comical. Fast food. School lunch. Same thing? Argh. I hope not. My ignorance is bliss.

But he talked on and on (he tends to do that) about this mysterious Popcorn Chicken. Mommy, have you had Popcorn Chicken? Popcorn Chicken is the best. It looks like popcorn. It tastes like popcorn. Mommy, is popcorn actually in Popcorn Chicken? Mommy, we MUST make Popcorn Chicken.

So Pinterest to the rescue. Yeah, I am one of THOSE moms. I pin a good game, but do I really follow through on my 8,000-plus pinning acqusitions? Probably not.

The Baked Popcorn Chicken recipe from Tastes Better from Scratch is the bee's knees, for sure. Three out of three kiddos approved. And this is a great recipe to get your kids in the kitchen "helping" out. Banging the bejesus out of cornflakes is super fun. See below:




I served the popcorn chicken with ranch, spicy mustard and of course, ketchup for the kiddos. BBQ and buffalo sauce are also great dips. And I'm not gonna lie: The grownups got their popcorn chicken on, too. Enjoy!





Baked Popcorn Chicken
By Lauren Allen
Taste Better from Scratch

Ingredients:

2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts cut into bite-sized pieces (about 2-3 large breasts
2 large eggs
¼ cup milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 1/2  cups corn flakes cereal lightly crushed
½ teaspoon each of salt and pepper
½ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon paprika

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400° F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Place chicken pieces in a bowl or ziplock bag and add flour, stirring or shaking to coat completely. Set aside.

Add eggs and milk to a bowl and stir to combine. Set aside. In another shallow bowl combine crushed cornflakes, salt and pepper, garlic powder and paprika.

Dip each piece of flour-coated chicken into the egg mixture, followed by the cornflakes, gently pressing the cornflake mixture into the chicken. Place on prepared baking sheet.

Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes. Flip chicken and return to oven for an additional 7-8 minutes or until cooked through. 

Serve warm with BBQ sauce, ranch, or your favorite dipping sauce.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Jersey Fresh Turkey Chili

I thought up this recipe recently while jazzercising in my basement. Yes, I am an exercise hound. I get my fitness on solo each day with trainer guru type video vixens demonstrating routines all fab and done up with their motivational speak while my pathetic asthmatic lungs gasp for air and I  sweat profusely in my-oh-so-uncoordinated manner rocking designer Old Navy leisure wear. It ain't pretty, but it gets the job done. And I love it. Exercise is such a high.

I will admit, while visions of Jersey Fresh Turkey Chili danced in my head I found myself a few steps behind the Comcast OnDemand - or is it Xfinity OnDemand - workout gal. If she were instructing me in real life, I probably would have gotten a lecture or two. Or maybe she would make me drop on the spot and do twenty pushups - which  I would kill. Totally.

But whatevs, this chili rocks! And the fitness peeps would probably dig it because it is totally healthy and it does not make you feel like a disgusting fat slob after eating it. Yay. It doesn't have that whole heavy factor that so many chilis have.

Yes. You may notice I top it with sour cream and cheese. That's how chili is SUPPOSED to be enjoyed according to legend. Or according to me, the creator of this awesomeness. Honestly, the four toppings: chopped Jersey tomatoes and scallions, shredded cheddar jack cheese and a dollop of sour cream are like a quartet of perfection. Don't mess with it! Trust me.


Jersey Fresh Turkey Chili

Makes 6 to 8 servings

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1-2 jalapeno peppers, minced
1.3 lbs. ground turkey
2 tsp. cumin
2 Tbsp. chili powder, divided
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 orange bell pepper, chopped
2 small or 1 large poblano pepper, chopped
2 corn ears, cooked, with kernels stripped from the cob
1 15.5 oz. can black beans, rinsed
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup water
2 Tbsp. fresh cilantro, minced
Salt and pepper to taste

To serve:
Fresh tomato, chopped
Scallions, finely chopped
Sour cream
Shredded cheddar jack cheese

In a large soup pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, garlic and jalapeno. Saute for 4-5 minutes until glistening.



Add ground turkey. Brown the meat, stirring occasionally. Season with cumin, 1 Tbsp. chili powder and salt and pepper to taste.


Add bell and poblano peppers. Cook for about five minutes so that peppers soften.



Add corn, beans, broth, remaining Tbsp. of chili powder and water. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer partially covered for 30-35 minutes. The corn kernels will separate as the chili simmers.

Stir in cilantro. Adjust seasonings if necessary.

Serve in bowls, topping each serving with fresh tomato, scallions, sour cream and cheese.


Monday, July 24, 2017

Tomato, Zucchini and Fresh Corn Soup

I know it's 1,000 degrees out with a humidity level that is absurd, but this soup recipe is so necessary right now for the amazing tomatoes, zucchini, basil and corn that are rocking it in Jersey markets or in your garden. And, I'm holding out hope for some cool summer nights on the horizon, no?



Tomato, Zucchini and Fresh Corn Soup features roasted zucchini as the star, with corn, tomatoes and basil as the secondary players. All come together in a marvelous act. You will definitely want encore bowls of this yumminess.

You can also make the soup with just a can of chopped tomatoes or a bag of frozen corn if that's what you got. But when you have your hands on the good stuff - out right now - this soup is your everything.

It totally freezes beautifully, too.



Tomato, Zucchini & Fresh Corn Soup
From "Williams-Sonoma Soup of the Day"
By Kate McMillan

2 zucchini, trimmed, halved and sliced
3 Tbs. olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 yellow onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
4 plum tomatoes, chopped
4 cups (32 fl. oz./1 l.) vegetable or chicken broth
1 cup (6 oz./180 g.) corn kernels (from about 2 ears)
1/3 cup (1/2 oz./15 g.) chopped basil

Preheat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC). Toss the zucchini with 1 tablespoon of the oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes. Set aside.

In a large, heavy pot, warm the remaining 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, stir to combine, and cook for 3 minutes. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.

Puree half of the soup in a blender. Return to the pot and season with salt and pepper. Return the soup to a boil, add the corn and cook for 5 minutes. Add the zucchini and stir in the basil. Serve. Serves 4-6.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Eggplant Only in My Dreams

One of the benefits of my insomnia is that I dream colossal epic dreams that I remember quite vividly upon waking up no less than three times per night usually over a 6-to-7 hour rest, if you can call it that. Tossing and turning to settle; craving water; trying to find zen after crazy adrenaline triggered by copious amounts of asthma meds; dozing in and out; waking up to use the potty; tucking in the sheets; feeling hot; feeling cold; stretching; uber focusing on every creak, snore, breath that torments my ears as signs that others are at rest while my non-stop mind is not; pep talking to psyche myself up for some shut eye; making mental lists; worrying; fluffing pillows; pacing; refilling my water glass; anticipating the drill-like sound of the alarm (which I always beat by waking up before its shock-to-the-system buzz). This pretty much sums up my daily sleep situation for my whole entire existence. About once every month or two, I will crash and burn, sleeping hard and unscathed until like 10:30 in the morning. Then I wake up startled, heart racing, wondering what in the hell just happened.

My dreams stay with me for very long periods of time. I feel like this is a blessing because so many people forget their dreams instantly. I have dreamt of my deceased grandmothers; I knew I was having a baby boy without a doubt because of my dreams; I dream of people I haven't seen in ages and then that day I see them; I dream multi-chaptered dreams of my friends and family. And I remember so much. Plot lines. Character development. Dialogue. Costumes. Sets. The twists and turns. So many details. It's a bit trippy. But I accept this as my sleep reality: Little sleep and a whole lot to think about.

Last night, I dreamt of this: Eggplant on a bed of arugula, topped with goat cheese, a plum tomato salad and a drizzle of balsamic. The colors, the plating, the taste - all there in my dream. Vividly. I woke up wanting to eat this immediately. Of course, I needed to make this happen ASAP.



My dreams always mean something. I think. Probably not. Although, I have read that people who remember their dreams more than three times per week are considered out-of-the-ordinary genius masterminds as opposed to common folk who actually sleep a solid eight hours, feel well-rested and remember nada.

So clearly I am a major rock star omniscient smarty pants.

I tell this to myself daily as I walk into rooms with a purpose, the task at hand slipping from my mind in a blink of an eye. Why am I here? I'm so existential. Or when I leave the grocery store only to immediately create a new list of items because I forgot this or that.  Or when I run back to the house halfway down the street to double check that I locked the door or to grab my phone mocking me from the kitchen island.  But, but, but.... I'm a dream erudite. Who cares if I'm a total moron in real life.

So, Summer Eggplant Salad. That's what I'm calling this dish. It is a wonderful salad fit for a dinner party or a fancy shindig or just you and The Husband on a Monday. Cause that's how we do. You can prepare the tomato salad and grill the eggplant ahead of time. And then plate it right before serving. I love how this dish highlights so many Jersey Fresh goodies at this time of year: Eggplant, tomatoes, basil and parsley. The goat cheese and balsamic are some decadence thrown in for good measure.

Summer Eggplant Salad
Serves 8

Eggplant layer:
1 medium-large eggplant, cut into 8 to 10 half-inch thick slices
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat grill pan over medium-high heat.


Brush each side of eggplant slices with olive oil. Season each side with salt and pepper to taste. Grill each side of eggplant for 6 to 10 minutes per side until nicely marked. Set aside.



Tomato salad:
4 plum tomatoes, diced
1/4 cup red onion, minced
2 Tbsp. fresh basil, minced
2 Tbsp. fresh parsley, minced
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Gently mix all ingredients in a bowl. Set aside.



To assemble salad:
8 grilled eggplant slices
Tomato salad
4 cups baby arugula
8 Tbsp. fresh goat cheese
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Balsamic vinegar

On eight salad plates, place 1/2 cup of baby arugula. Season with a drizzle of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.

On top of arugula, place a slice of eggplant.



On top of each eggplant slice, place one Tbsp. of goat cheese.



Spoon 1/4 cup of tomato salad onto the goat cheese. Lightly drizzle 1/2 tsp. of balsamic vinegar onto each finished plate.


Serve and enjoy!




Thursday, June 22, 2017

Manic Working Weekday Din

When I'm mommin' it, workin' it and domestic goddessin' it, I cook a little something like this: Turkey Burgers and Mac and Cheese. Not exactly stylin' and profilin' but it gets the job done.



I mean, yeah, my 6-year-old has yet to taste a burger in his life, but whatever. He can eat two bowls of elbows slathered in cheese and we'll just call it a day.

Both recipes are vintage Rachael Ray. I did amend the burgers because hers involve bacon and red pepper relish and in my humble opinion both are totally unnecessary. Sometimes her recipes have like 100 flavors going on. Annnnd, that's not my style. The burger mix itself has 10 - yes 10 - ingredients. That's enough, Rachael. Seriously.

Also, with the mac and cheese I did not use nutmeg. I used ground mustard to season the sauce. And I used cheddar jack cheese because that's what I had up in the fridge. Also, a little black pepper never hurt anyone.

On the day I made this, I whipped up the mac and cheese first thing in the morning because of work obligations and four loads of laundry. I mixed the burger meat in the morning as well. And then after my son's t-ball game, I dusted off my pants and cooked the burgers, popped the mac and cheese under the broiler, got the boy washed up and poured a glass of wine. It's all about the timing and the juggle, no?

I literally had no extra time to get a salad or veg together so carrot and pepper sticks it is!

Here ya go with the recipes:

Cheddar Cheese and Macaroni
From "30 Minute Meals 2"
By Rachael Ray

Makes 4 entree servings or 8 side servings

1 pound elbow macaroni, cooked 8 minutes to al dente or to package directions

1 Tbsp. vegetable or olive oil (once around the pan)
2 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. flour
1 1/2 cups whole or 2% milk
3 cups shredded sharp white cheddar cheese
1/2 tsp. nutmeg, ground or freshly grated
1/4 tsp. ground cayenne pepper (a couple of pinches)
Salt, to taste

Heat a medium-size deep skillet over medium heat. Add oil and butter. When butter melts into the oil, stir in  flour.  Gently cook, whisking flour and butter, together until smooth and flour has had a chance to cook, about 3 minutes.

Slowly add milk while continuing to whisk. Gently bring milk to a bubble while stirring frequently. Allow the milk to thicken a bit, then stir in 2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese, a handful at a time. Season sauce with nutmeg and cayenne. Taste and add a little salt, if you like. Add cooked pasta to the sauce and coat completely by turning over and over in the cheese sauce. Transfer to a baking dish, top with the remaining cheese, and place under a hot broiler for a minute or two to brown the top.

Please note: The Jersey Girl uses dry mustard in place of nutmeg. She also uses fresh  black ground pepper to season the sauce and cheddar jack shredded cheese instead of white cheddar cheese. This dish may be made ahead and popped under the broiler when ready to serve.



Urban Cowboy Turkey Burgers
From "Cooking 'Round the Clock"
By Rachael Ray

Makes 4 burgers

1 package (1 and 1/3 pounds) ground turkey breast
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 large shallot or 1/4 red onion, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh thyme or 1 tsp. dried thyme
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro or parsley
1/2 small green, red or yellow bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 serrano or jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
2 tsp. ground cumin
1-2 tsp. hot sauce, such as Tabasco
2 tsp. Montreal Steak Seasoning by McCormick
Olive oil for drizzling
4 slices of pepper jack cheese
4 crusty Kaiser rolls, split

8 slices of turkey bacon (optional)
1 cup sweet red pepper relish or jelly (optional)
Red lettuce (optional)

Chop garlic and veggies.

If using bacon, heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat; cook bacon until crisp. Remove bacon, wipe excess grease from skillet, and return skillet to heat.

While bacon is cooking, combine turkey, garlic, shallot or onion, thyme, cilantro or parsley, bell pepper, serrano or jalapeno pepper, cumin, hot sauce and grill seasoning. Divide mixture into 4 equal mounds then form into patties. Drizzle patties with olive oil to coat. Cook in skillet over medium-high heat until done, 5 to 6 minutes on each side, placing the cheese over the patties in the last 2 minutes of cooking.

Serve on rolls with your toppings such as the bacon, red pepper relish and red lettuce. The Jersey Girl however likes romaine lettuce and tomatoes. Classic! These burgers are great open face as well or even without the roll if you are a carb-free kinda person.

Please note: The Jersey Girl uses the cilantro, jalapeno pepper and red pepper options when making these burgers. She cooks the burgers in a fab grill pan, not just a regular old skillet, also. See below:



Thursday, June 1, 2017

Don't Call it a Comeback

I read somewhere - most likely on the internets - which is why I can't quite recall, that sun-dried tomatoes are back, baby. (They say we don't remember what we read on screens. I read that fact from somewhere, too. Again, don't know where. But it does sound like something that I would have found on the Drudge. And I 100 percent believe it. But I digress.)

I do know for absolutely certain - because my good old fashioned cookbooks - like the ones printed and bound - have said this: sun-dried tomahtoes were all the rage, dahling, back in the 1980s and 1990s until they were overused so much they were shunned by anyone who is anyone in the world of cooking. Leading up to their demise, they were like the avocado of that time. Or the kale. Or the truffle oil. Or the quinoa.You get me? Off topic: How quinoa became a thang I will never know. When will quinoa's day come and go? That really is the question.

OK. Focus, Susan.

But just like bodysuits (gag) and flannels (this one I am behind as long as they are from J. Crew or Lucky or something), the cool stuff from the 90s is all the rage here now in 2017 and that includes sun dried tomatoes.

So, yay me for being right on trend with this fabulous Angel Hair Pasta with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Goat Cheese by Giada.



Truth is I have been making this dish since 2007 when I saw Giada whip it together in a very chic kitchen on the Food Network (remember when they actually showed interesting cooking shows of people actually cooking on the tellie?  Memories....). And soon thereafter, I got my paws on the cookbook Everyday Pasta. In 2007, sun-dried tomatoes still weren't exactly the hotness on ingredient lists. At that time it was more like fancy salts (eyeroll) and slabs of bacon.

But I treat my food just like fashion, bandwagons be damned. You won't ever catch my in a bodysuit or willingly eating quinoa whether it  is 1997 or 2017. And if I want a sun-dried tomato in a dish, I'm going for it. Because they taste good. And that's that.

The pasta is very bold in flavor, and the goat cheese adds a phenom touch. I love it tons.

And so did my son. Which floored me. A 6-year-old asking for seconds of sun-dried tomatoes and goat cheese. I'll take it.

I served this with a wonderful panko crusted salmon dish by Barefoot Contessa. Recipe is here: Panko-Crusted Salmon



Doesn't the salmon look fab?

As for the sun dried tomato pasta, I use tomatoes not packed in oil like the recipe says. I use regular olive oil in place of the sun-dried tomato oil. Also, I used spaghettini instead of angel hair aka cappellini. I find cappellini gets too dry for my liking.

And just a little tip so that you don't find tomato paste rotting in your fridge a week later: You can store leftover tomato paste in little baggies or in ice cube trays in your freezer. Yay!

Here is the salmon plated with the pasta. I love the colors and the textures:


As for the sun-dried tomato pasta, I use tomatoes not packed in oil like the recipe says. I use regular olive oil in place of the sun-dried tomato oil. Also, I used spaghettini instead of angel hair aka cappellini. I find cappellini gets too dry for my liking.

And just a little tip so that you don't find tomato paste rotting in your fridge a week later: You can store leftover tomato paste in little baggies or in ice cube trays in your freezer. Yay!

Angel Hair Pasta with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Goat Cheese

4 to 6 servings
From "Everyday Pasta"
By Giada De Laurentiis

1 (10 ounce) jar sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, chopped (oil reserved)
1 small onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 cup dry white wine
1 pound angel hair pasta
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
3-4 ounces fresh goat cheese, coarsely crumbled

Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil from the sun-dried in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until tender, about 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the wine and chopped sun-dried tomatoes and simmer until the liquid reduces by half, about 2 minutes.



Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Add the pasta and parsley to the tomato mixture and toss to coat, adding some of the reserved pasta water to moisten. Season the pasta with salt and pepper. Mound the pasta in bowls, sprinkle with the goat cheese and serve.




Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Classic for a Reason: Chicken Piccata



I was going to post the recipe last night - the actual day of making it. But it didn't seem right. A gal safe and sound in her house in Jersey sharing a classic, uncomplicated recipe for Chicken Piccata while all this turmoil was going on across the pond in Manchester.

I don't know.  I guess I take my news hard. After scouring the news channels and internets for hours, I just headed to bed where I tossed and turned and didn't sleep much - for about the thirtieth night in a row.

Cooking settles my soul.  I'm surrounded by chaos it seems day in, day out - regardless of what is happening in the current news cycle. I'm sure everyone feels at times that the hustle and bustle of work and child-rearing, bill paying and housekeeping can wear you down. That's when I turn to making something wonderful in my kitchen.

Chicken Piccata is a classic. It doesn't require fancy ingredients, and it often is a crowd pleaser. I find it very comforting as well. Two years ago, I suffered a miscarriage. My family insisted I eat something upon returning home from the hospital trying to conclude the most unsettling day I have ever had in my life. Head pounding, heart breaking, delirious from trying to understand the unfathomable. I ordered some Chicken Piccata from a local restaurant. I ate about five bites before collapsing into a bed filled with loss and tears. But in some way that simple Chicken Piccata made me feel like maybe everything will be ok. I like to make this dish when we need our spirits lifted. When we need a fabulous dinner without a lot of thought. I hope you do the same. 




Chicken piccata
Makes 4-6 servings

2 lbs. thinly cut chicken cutlets
½ cup flour, plus 2 Tbsp.
Zest and juice of 2 lemons
1 cup of white wine
1 cup chicken broth
2 Tbsp. capers
4-6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 shallot, finely chopped
¼ finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
Salt and pepper to taste

On a baking sheet, line up your chicken. Season lightly on both sides with salt and pepper.

In a shallow dish – like a pie dish – whisk together flour with salt and pepper to taste. Dredge the seasoned chicken cutlets in the flour.

Meanwhile, in a large pan heat up a Tbsp. olive oil. Lightly brown chicken on each side – about three to four minutes per side. Remove to a covered dish. Repeat until all chicken is cooked and removed from pan.

Melt butter and a little more olive oil in the pan over medium high heat. Add garlic, shallots and lemon zest. Saute until fragrant. Add 2 Tbsp. flour. Whisk until blended.

Add white wine. Bring to a boil and allow wine to reduce to about half. Mixture should slightly thicken. Add chicken broth. Bring to a simmer. Add lemon juice and capers. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer for about five minutes.

Return chicken to pan. Cover. Cook over medium-low heat until everything is cooked through.

Top with chopped parsley and serve.