4.17.2014

Fast from Frozen: Pressure Cooker Sesame Chicken

or the love affair grows - pressure cooker frozen chicken for those who fail to plan, or just like good food

The original recipe: Pressure Cooker Frozen Chicken in Duck Sauce
The variation: Sesame Chicken

So to say that my husband jumped on board the frozen chicken band wagon might be an understatement.  And I honestly love the fact that this method somehow turns out perfect almost every single time.  But the biggest bonus for me is that I can prep this in the cooker in 5-10 minutes and then spend some time focusing on my toddler while it cooks on its own.  She is loving being in the kitchen and helping mommy cook, I can still accommodate this by putting the pressure cooker on the back burner while helping her with her special "dish" a few feet away.  

I have been playing with different sauces to keep it fresh and different ways to keep it an easy and complete meal.  Adding more veggies was definitely a win and so was the sauce below.  I love ordering Chinese food as take-out but the greasiness of my favorite dishes (mostly batter fried chicken or shrimp) isn't always easy on my stomach, or - let's be honest - all that good for me.  This isn't the truest recipe for authentic sesame sauce but it is pretty darn close to some of our local take-out restaurants so it definitely satisfies my cravings and gives me the "fix" I need.  I did make an adjustment to the original recipe for cook time with this type of sauce, if you want to have leftovers you need to decrease the cook time to 8 minutes for frozen thighs.  With nine minutes the chicken is moist and delicious the first day but can dry out when reheating, at eight minutes it is still cooked through and is able to retain that moisture as leftovers too.  Here is how I changed things up:

Sesame Chicken

1 cup white sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 cup chicken stock
3 tbsp rice vinegar
3 tablespoons dark soy sauce
3 tablespoons sesame oil
1 ½ teaspoon chile powder
1 tsp minced garlic
½ tsp minced ginger
3 boneless chicken breasts or 5 boneless thighs, frozen
½ cup frozen broccoli
¼ cup large dice carrots or frozen carrots

Hardware: pressure cooker

1. Mix the sugar and cornstarch in the base of the pressure cooker. Add in the chicken stock, stir to combine, then bring to a simmer. And the remaining ingredients except for the chicken and vegetables and stir to combine. Continue to simmer for 5 minutes to reduce the sauce.

2. You can remove a cup of the sauce to save for other uses or leave it all in the cooker. Add in the frozen chicken and vegetables, stirring and flipping to coat. Spoon a little sauce over the side of the chicken that is left facing up.

3. Seal the cooker and bring to high pressure. 
Once high pressure is reached, turn it down to the lowest level where it can maintain that pressure.  For the frozen breasts cook for 12 min once pressure is reached, for the frozen thighs cook for 8 minutes.

4. Release pressure according to manufacturer guidelines. After the cooker is opened, flip over the chicken and stir the vegetables. Serve over prepared white rice with extra sauce as desired.

I hope you enjoy this as much as we do, and make your own adjustments to suit your tastes.  Enjoy!

4.01.2014

Fried Chicken Patty Fun

or another walk down memory lane for a childhood favorite - homemade chicken nuggets

I am kind of stuck in this personal retro throwback mode.  I loved a lot of the instant foods as a kid.  No matter what my mom would do to entice me otherwise I couldn't get enough boxed mac n cheese (new variations one and two here), powder based instant potatoes, and canned tomato soup with grilled cheese (as explored in last month's post).  A favorite among my friends that always stood out was chicken nuggets and there were truly few in my elementary school class that would pass up that hot lunch given the option, and that is where this exploration begins.

Recreating this one seemed like a bit of challenge since I do not own a meat grinder attachment for my stand mixer, but the market has begun to work in my favor and now I am able to regularly find ground chicken at the grocery store so I was excited to give it a go.  I started out making larger chicken patties that are excellent on their own or made into chicken burgers for a hand held meal (see variation at the end), but the recipe works just as well for those ever tempting little nuggets of deliciousness I so fondly recall.  It just comes down to the size and cook time so keep that in mind as you go along.  It's easy to adjust seasoning to your tastes, but you'll want to keep in mind the wet to dry ingredient ratio since going too far in one direction can give you either a gooey mess or a dried out hockey puck, and nobody wants to eat that.  For something they do want to eat, check this out and give it a go:

1 pound of ground chicken
1 quarter cup of whole milk
2/3 cup bread crumbs Italian style
2/3 cup panko bread crumbs
1 quarter cup Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 of a small yellow onion grated
Salt and pepper
Vegetable oil for frying

Hardware: high edged fry pan, optional - cookie sheet

1. Mix together the milk, garlic, onion, salt and pepper. Add in the ground chicken and combine with your hands. Gradually add in half of the Italian bread crumbs, half of the Panko bread crumbs, and the Parmesan cheese working it into the mixture evenly with your hands.

2. 
Toss half of the extra breadcrumbs in a bowl big enough to move one of the chicken patties around in and mix together. Form into 8 equal patties or into two inch round “nuggets.”  Put one patty in at a time and shake lightly to coat the first side, flip and repeat. Remove the patty and press both sides to help the bread crumbs stick. Place on a plate and repeat with the rest of the chicken patties, adding the remaining breadcrumbs to the bowl when it runs low. Place in the fridge while bringing oil to temp.

3. 
Bring oil to 350F or a bread cube browns in 1 min. Cook time depends on size and thickness of the patty, internal temp needs to be 165F. Flip at least every minute for even browning.  Place on a wire cooling rack if possible and salt lightly as they come out.  Test as needed for internal temp.


* For 8 patties (from 16 oz of ground chicken, so approx 2-3 oz each once all the ingredients are added) I was good with approximately 3 minutes but you will need to test this to be sure as you go. Once golden you can always toss them in the oven to finish or keep warm. 





Alternate variation: Skillet Chicken Burgers

Ingredient changes:
1/3 cup Italian bread crumbs
1/3 cup Panko bread crumbs
1 tbsp oil

Hardware changes: 
cast iron skillet, optional cookie sheet

Complete Step 1 above.

2. Form into 6 equal patties and place in the refrigerator to cool while you prep your side dishes and the cast iron skillet. Turn the oven to keep warm.

3. Add a tablespoon of oil to the skillet once it is hot and swirl it around to coat. Cook the patties 3 at a time. Sear lightly and then lower the temperature some and continue to cook for about 3-5 minutes. Then flip and repeat. Once the internal temperature has reached 165F place in an oven safe dish in the oven to keep warm. Repeat the process with the second batch.

Optional topping ideas (not to be used all at once!): provolone cheese (melted on top in the oven), mayo mixed with Parmesan cheese, ranch dressing, relish, lettuce, tomato, yellow onions sauteed with the burgers in the skillet…

3.28.2014

Slow Cooker Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper Soup

or easy comfort food for fast or frozen

Tomato soup and grilled cheese is a classic comfort food combination that many people love from childhood on.  Yes, it is true that you can get this in minutes from a can, and there are times that I will admit that I crave just that.  There is just something about your childhood favorites that can bring those wonderful feelings of simple joy flooding back.  It is also true that this can be made stove top in about 40 minutes, but I am a fan of instant satisfaction and slow cooking not only gives you dinner in the same amount of hands on time it would take you to cook up the canned version but it also gives the flavors even longer to mingle and get to know each other.  The additions to the flavor give the soup a bit more depth without being overwhelming and it is a great base to build from and try out different combinations.

Bonuses for stress reduction: this can easily be a back up pantry meal made with items you can keep on hand, it freezes really well in individual portions for lunches and in freezer bags for family meals.  We've tried three different variations and love them all!  The tips for alterations are included at the bottom.  I hope you enjoy and find some new ways to customize it to your tastes!

The base version is great alongside provolone topped garlic bread or mozzarella grilled cheese sandwiches (outside sprinkled with house seasoning before cooking).  Here's how it's done:

2 tsp dried minced onion
½ tsp fresh minced garlic
¼ tsp salt
½ teaspoon paprika
1 can crushed tomatoes (24 oz) or 2 pounds fresh tomatoes, chopped
½ cup sliced roasted red peppers (prepared already, about ½ of a jar)
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock

Hardware: slow cooker, immersion (or regular) blender

1. In the slow cooker: Add the tomatoes, roasted peppers, onion, garlic, salt, and paprika. Stir well to combine. Next add in the stock and stir until blended.

2. Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours.

3. Using an immersion blender (or transfer to a blender, working in batches), puree until almost smooth. Stir well then season with salt and pepper to taste.

Add in options for serving: 1 cup frozen cheese tortellini, a drizzle of olive oil and Parmesan cheese for garnish. Directions - turn the slow cooker up to high after step 3.  Add in the frozen tortellini. Continue to cook until heated through, approximately 20 min. Then top each bowl with a drizzle of olive oil and a light dusting of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.  

Alternate variation: Add ½ tsp chili powder in with the other spices and serve drizzled with both olive oil and lime juice. This version could be served either hot or chilled (try it with some diced fresh bell peppers and tomatoes tossed in).

3.19.2014

Simply Shortbread

or a slightly less dense and crumbly comfort food delight

I love shortbread.  It has been one of my favorite comfort foods from the time I could climb up onto my mom's counter and sing until she made some for me ("mama's little baby loves short'nin, short'nin. mama's little baby loves short'nin bread" I assumed this was referring to shortbread as a kid but I was wrong, it got my message across anyway though).  There are many ways to enjoy shortbread and I have made a lot of them: bars, triangles, Irish, Scottish, "muffins," and cookies.  Everyone in our family loves shortbread so I have never had any complaints about these experiments, and the minimal time commitment is a huge bonus when you need comfort food fast for quick stress reduction.

Most shortbread gets kind of crumbly after the first day so my husband uses that as an excuse to eat as much as he can within the first 8 hours after they are made.  Well, I wanted to have some that I could hide away for my lunches, at least for a couple days, so I started looking at recipes again trying to find something a little less dry.  It takes a few more ingredients this way but the comfort lasts a few more days so I think it is worth it, plus when it comes out of the oven my family is lining up at the kitchen door so I think that speaks well to its success.  I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

2 cups white flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar + 1 tbsp
1 cup butter softened
1/4 cup milk

Hardware: 8" square or 9" round glass baking dish, stand mixer or hand mixer

Preheat oven to 350 F

1. Add the flour, baking powder, salt, powdered sugar, 1/2 cup of granulated sugar to the mixing bowl and turn on for a few seconds on the lowest speed to stir well.

2.  While it is running, add in the butter in tablespoon sized sections.  Once all the butter is in, pour in the milk.  Turn the speed up one level and mix until a stiff dough forms.

3. Grease the baking dish and then dump in the mixture.  Spread it out evenly and pat down lightly so the thickness is consistent and it reaches all edges (I like to take a piece of plastic wrap and lay it over the top during this process if I need to keep my hands clean).  Prick holes evenly throughout with a fork and then sprinkle remaining granulated sugar over top.

4. Bake in oven for 30-35 min or until it is turning golden.  Take out and place dish on a cooling rack.  Allow to cool until "warm" to touch then cut. (I suggest 1" x 2" rectangles in a square baking dish)

3.03.2014

Good for the Soul Gumbo

or this Northern girl's take on a Louisiana classic

Well, here it is - my 100th post!!! (cue the balloons, streamers, Chinese lanterns, and celebratory music)  I know, I know, I should have hit it last year at the latest but I am still thrilled to reach this milestone and to have each and every one of you along for the ride.  I truly appreciate your interest in my thoughts and recipes whether this is your first visit or you are a regular viewer.  To me recipes are to be shared and not hidden away as "secret" so the original cook is the only one who can make them "just right."  Inspiration comes from many sources and whenever I can recall who or what inspires me I do my best to credit the source, though often I take bits and pieces from friends, the web, and various books so it is hard to trace.  I hope that you are enjoying the recipes that I am sharing here and are able to make them your own by adding the flavors and ingredients that you love because that is where food and cooking really come to life.

I thought about what may be an appropriate recipe to share that properly celebrates reaching this milestone and one practically sprung to mind - Chicken and Sausage Gumbo.  This is one of my husband's new favorite dishes, it even ranks right up there with Shepherd's Pie and I thought nothing could possibly reach that level.  This dish is a labor of love.  It is not a quick weeknight meal for us but rather one to savor from the moment the vegetables are sauteing until the last bowl of leftovers has been enjoyed.  It just makes you feel good when you are eating it and warms you from the inside out.

I learned a base for gumbo in a cooking class so I used that basic technique for the process, then I adjusted the seasonings and ingredients to fit our tastes.  I have no idea how true this is to what is traditionally considered to be gumbo, but I highly suspect that mine lacks the strength of spice that is used so if you are used to more spice you may want to adjust it to taste and can expect to have to add a fair amount.  We love it just as it is.  Here is how this northern girl takes on gumbo:

Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

8 tbsp (1 stick) of butter
1 tbsp olive or vegetable oil
1/2 cup cut or medium dice celery
1/2 cup cut or medium dice carrots
1/2 cup diced yellow onion
2 tsp fresh minced garlic
8 tbsp flour
1 tsp Gumbo file
1 tsp Cajun seasoning
1/2 tsp house seasoning
1 can diced tomatoes (12 oz)
8 cups chicken stock
2 fully cooked boneless chicken breasts
9 oz Kielbasa (about 2/3 of a 14 oz package)
1/4 - 1/3 cup very small dice mixed bell peppers
1-2 cups cooked rice

Hardware: dutch oven or large stock pot
Time investment: 1 hr 30 min

1. Melt butter in the bottom of the pot with the oil (to help prevent burning). Add celery, carrots, and onions. Cook for 5 minutes stirring occasionally.

2. Add in the flour, mixing well, and continue to cook until the roux becomes a medium brown (you will need to stir frequently, being careful not to burn). Approximately 7-8 min.

3. Season with Gumbo File, minced garlic, Cajun spices, and Top Secret. Blend spices into the roux.

4. Add the tomatoes, and then stir in the chicken stock until evenly blended. Continue to simmer for at least 45-50 min

5. Add in the cooked chicken breast, kielbasa, and peppers.  Stir to combine.  Heat for an additional 15 min, then turn the temperature down to low and cover to keep warm until ready to serve. Stir in the cooked rice before serving or place in the bottom of the bowls before pouring the gumbo over top.


Serve with fresh cornbread or biscuits.


I don't have a picture, I am sorry.  Every time I make it I forget until after we have eaten it all.  Hopefully I will remember next time and be able to add one for you all!

2.21.2014

Fast from Frozen: Pressure Cooker Chicken in Duck Sauce

or how I got my husband to like frozen chicken

So once again I forgot to defrost chicken the night before, and since my husband claims the texture of frozen chicken seems off I generally have to take it out the day before so it can go in the slow cooker in the morning.  Well, some days that is just a bust.  So what can I do with frozen chicken?!  Turns out, boneless frozen chicken cooks just fine in the pressure cooker.  That's right, my beloved pressure cooker has a new purpose in life - to save me from failure to plan.  I have used it for applesauce, quick and easy risotto, pork ribs, and of course my all time favorite - corned beef (among other things).  But I had no idea it could work with frozen foods too.

I was inspired by an entry on the blog Frieda Loves Bread that used frozen chicken breasts and BBQ sauce in an electric pressure cooker.  I tried a variation on hers first with the frozen thighs, I used more sauce than she did (though less honey) and coated both sides before cooking.  I also had to shorten the time for the thighs since they are smaller.  They turned out great!  So I decided to go on a search for other sauces I could do this with and found quite a few possibilities.  I settled on a sauce inspired by Chinese Duck Sauce.  I like one pot meals that are quick and easy, this was pretty close to perfect in that sense (it lost one point because rice has to be cooked separately).  That was made up though because it was easy enough that I could do most of it with my toddler on my back in our Ergo, though she did have to step aside when we got to the pressure release part.  And the huge bonus?  My husband doesn't notice any texture differences from fresh chicken!  This was a winner all around.

Here's what I did:

4 boneless chicken thighs frozen (or 3 chicken breasts)
2 carrots peeled and cut into bite sized chunks
½ cup bell pepper (mixed varieties) cut into strips
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup pear sauce
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 teaspoons minced ginger
2 tablespoons honey

Hardware: Pressure cooker (I use a standard cooker, but an electric one would work too)

1. Put everything except the chicken and vegetables in the pressure cooker pot and heat to a simmer uncovered. Stir until everything is dissolved and well blended.  This will only take a minute or so.

2. Add the prepared vegetables to the pot.  Then place the chicken facing up in the sauce to coat the bottom with the sauce, after a minute flip over so they are upside down in the cooker in a single layer. Secure lid and bring to high pressure. Cook for 9 min for thighs, 12 min for breasts (from frozen, time is shorter from fresh - probably 4 to 5 minutes instead).

3. Remove from heat and release pressure according to manufacturer guidelines. Remove the lid and flip the chicken over again to coat with sauce, allow to sit for a couple minutes.*


Serve over prepared rice or noodles (I like white rice or udon noodles but other styles would work well too).

* If you desire a thicker sauce, remove the chicken and vegetables to another container and cover lightly with aluminum foil. Bring the liquid in the pot back up to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until it reaches desired consistency. I would recommend adding a bit of a slurry (equal parts cornstarch and water) to speed this up.

We were out of rice when we made this last but it was definitely delicious as is!

2.17.2014

Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix

or how to thaw out on this cold winter days

Can I just say it?  I am done with the cold weather.  I have lived in Michigan most of my life and adore the change of seasons, but this winter is definitely one of the most frigid that I can remember.  We have set records for low temps as well as snowfall this year and I am ready for the thaw!  I am generally warm blooded and have been known to go the entire winter season without ever donning a sweater for fear that I would melt in the warmth.  This year I have felt like I couldn't get warm no matter what I have done on multiple occasions.  So yes - in case you are so unwise as to risk your life and ask - it is indeed cold enough for me.  I know I will be the first to complain when the temperature goes over 80 F this summer and I feel no shame, all I am asking for is a balmy 32 F so my daughter can play in the snow that is piled up around our house.  Well, enough of my rant, but I do feel a bit better getting that out.

What it comes down to is how can I possibly stay warm?!  I don't drink coffee, it upsets my stomach and the caffeine is just too much.  I love tea, both with and without honey, but can only drink so much.  I have always liked hot chocolate but the aftertaste you get from many commercially made mixes was a big turn off.  So I started looking into making my own.  It can't be that hard, right?  Well there are a ton of tasty recipes on the web.  And no doubt the very best involve melting chocolate of various types on the stove top with milk, but that is hardly portable and they simply don't have a stove top in the office.  The mix I decided on was based off of Alton Brown's recipe here.  I made a couple changes but you can't really mess too much with perfection.  The type of cocoa powder makes a big difference, I am happy with something like Hershey brand cocoa but it would be divine with higher end dutch cocoa.  The best part of this recipe is that there is no chalky or weird aftertaste, and you can always adjust the mix by adding more or less cocoa and/or sugar to your tastes.  I use a food processor or blender for this, it makes the particles smaller and they dissolve more easily, but you can simply mix by hand if you prefer.  Here's how I stay warm:

1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 1/4 cups powdered whole milk
    (if using granulated the food processor/blender is essential)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cornstarch

Hardware: food processor or blender

1. Pour the powdered milk into the food processor and pulse until smooth.  Next add in the granulated sugar and repeat.

2. Add the remaining ingredients to the processor and pulse a few times until it appears to be consistent throughout.

3. Use 2-4 tbsp per 6 oz serving depending on how strong you like the flavor.  You can mix into hot water, hot milk for extra creaminess, or try my favorite - hot water with an ounce of heavy cream and a teaspoon of honey.  Store remaining mix in an airtight container.