Sweet and Sour Chicken

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I don’t think I’ve ever been to a Chinese restaurant that didn’t have some variation of sweet and sour chicken. It might have even been one of the first Chinese dishes I’ve ever had. It has fruit in it so it’s kid friendly, right?

So much of our Chinese food is westernized beyond recognition so I am almost embarrassed to call this Chinese food. To educate myself, I decided to learn more about the origins of this dish. I am glad to report that sweet and sour sauce actually originated in China, but it is more of a light vinegar and sugar mixture. It wasn’t until it came to America did we decide to bread and deep fry the meat, throw in peppers and pineapple, and then toss it in that glossy syrupy thick sauce common in most restaurants in the US. Naturally we would take a relatively healthy dish and supersize it. It’s the American way.

Although this recipe has peppers and pineapple, I’m also glad to say that this recipe is way more mellow and delicious than what you’d find at Chinese restaurants. It doesn’t have any of that sickly sweet goop smothering everything. You might not go back to restaurant sweet and sour chicken. I definitely will think twice and stick to Mongolian beef.

Prep all your ingredients. This is known as “mise en place.” Leave it to the French to come up with a phrase for prepping food. Ok, I actually love it. Makes me feel organized.

Be sure to use canned pineapple in 100% juice because you’ll need to save the juice for your sweet and sour sauce, which you’ll make next. After making the sauce, chop up your veggies and chicken into bite-sized pieces. Chop the chicken after the veggies so you don’t contaminate the board and have to use a second board for the veggies. Less mess. Coat the chicken with cornstarch and season with salt. I chose to use thighs instead of breast meat for the extra flavor.

Mince your garlic and ginger. To mince the ginger, I actually use a cheese grater. You don’t have to peel the ginger or deal with any of the tough fibers found in ginger. You could also grate your garlic, but I know I’ll grate my fingers and that’s just not right.

Sweet and Sour Chicken

Once you have everything ready to go, making the dish goes pretty fast.

Sweet and Sour Chicken

Stir-fry your veggies in a little oil. The case of this recipe from the Kitchn and they recommend waiting until you have charred spots in the peppers, but I disagree. I like my veggies to be firm and slightly hold their shape, which means you should stir the veggies often. Add the garlic and ginger.

Sweet and Sour Chicken

In less than a minute, everything should smell pretty good, which means it’s time to transfer all this to a plate or bowl, and cook the chicken separately. This is the trick to ensure everything is ready at the same time. You won’t end up with mushy veggies or dried out chicken.

Instead of deep-frying the chicken, only add a couple tablespoons of oil to the pan. After heating up the oil, spread the chicken into an even layer in the pan. Now, DO NOT TOUCH IT. Resist the urge. It will not burn. You want to brown the chicken to provide flavor to the dish, and you want the cornstarch to stick to the chicken, creating an almost crispy texture that resembles deep-frying. You’ll flip it after it’s brown on one side. You’ll know this because the chicken will no longer stick to the pan. You definitely want to wait until this happens so all your cornstarch doesn’t stick to the pan.

Sweet and Sour Chicken

After the chicken is cooked, return everything to the pan plus the pineapple and pour the sauce over it all. Stir until everything is coated. Wait a few minutes, stirring a couple times, until the sauce is thickened to your liking. The cornstarch you used on the chicken will help thicken the sauce.

Sweet and Sour Chicken

Serve over rice if you don’t care about carbs. Eat.

What I really liked about this recipe is how healthy and fresh it tastes without any overwhelming sugary taste. After all, it’s a main dish, not dessert. The apple cider vinegar really stands out for that sour element, but it has just enough sugar to make it sweet. Two-thumbs up.

Sweet and Sour Chicken

Sweet and Sour Chicken

Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces canned pineapple chunks in 100% pineapple juice with juice reserved
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar packed
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoon canola oil divided
  • 1/2 medium onion
  • 2 medium bell peppers any color
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt divided
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 tablespoons ginger grated
  • steamed rice

Instructions

  • Drain the pineapple, but save keep 1/4 cup of the juice from canned pineapple. Set the juice aside in a small bowl. Set the pineapple aside.
  • In the bowl with your pineapple juice, add ketchup, vinegar, brown sugar, and soy sauce. Whisk to combine. Set aside.
  • Cut onions and peppers into 1-inch pieces. Set aside. Cut chicken into 1-inch pieces. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of salt and cornstarch. Toss until well coated.
  • Mince garlic with a knife. Using a cheese grater, grate ginger.
  • Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onion and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the peppers, season with 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, and stir-fry for about 3 to 4 minutes.
  • Add the garlic and ginger to the vegetables and stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
  • Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in the pan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the chicken and spread into an even layer. Cook without stirring until browned on the bottom, 3 to 4 minutes. Flip and cook without stirring until the chicken is browned on the second side and cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes more.
  • Return the vegetables to the pan. Add the pineapple and sauce into the pan.
  • Stir-fry until thickened and coats the chicken and vegetables, 1 to 2 minutes. Serve over rice.
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Kielbasa Fried Rice

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Fried rice is yummy and convenient. It’s one of those things you can usually make with your spare ingredients. All you need is some meat, veggies, rice, and eggs. Some soy sauce and garlic helps too.

So why don’t I make fried rice very often? Because I’m on this low carb deal and I’d have to make two sets of fried rice, one with actual rice and the other with riced cauliflower. I should try that sometime, but now is not this time. Instead, I’m going to run through the two-thumbs up fried rice I made the other night. I found the recipe on Bon Appétit, but it wasn’t in a recipe format so providing you with a recipe is my value add here. That and I’ll explain a few things because I have opinions and you’re reading this so I might as well share them with you.

The nice thing about this recipe is that you can use fresh rice. Most fried rice uses leftover rice, which you can still use, but I rarely have cooked rice around so I made some in my Instant Pot before I started.

Although this recipe uses kielbasa, you can use any protein like chicken, pork, tofu, or even a combination. Whatever you have should work. I purchased kielbasa because I wanted to follow the recipe exactly and I was not disappointed.

I sliced up the kielbasa and then the green onions at an angle (other than it looks fancier, I have no idea why recipes suggest this) and garlic. Again, you can probably use any type of onion. I was a little wary of not mincing my garlic, but it all worked out fine.

Kielbasa Fried Rice

Throw the kielbasa in the pan. Then, don’t touch it! When you brown the kielbasa, be sure not to constantly stir it around. If you do, you’ll end up with warmed up, bland meat. Blah. Searing the meat is key. You want to let it sear on one side before moving it around so it creates a nice, golden caramelization that adds a bunch of flavor to your dish.

Add your onions, garlic, and a pinch of salt, and then flip the meat over to cook the other side.

Kielbasa Fried Rice

Cook it until the onions are slightly soft. Add your rice, another pinch of salt (remember you are adding layers of flavors instead of dumping all your salt at the end like your mom probably taught you, if she even let me add salt, but that’s another story), a few splashes of soy sauce, and a pinch or two of sugar to add a bit of sweetness. Salty sweet. Mmmm… Mix it around.

Kielbasa Fried Rice

Now the fun begins! Egg time. Whisk up 3 eggs with a pinch of salt. Make a wall of rice mixture on each side of the pan and pour your eggs down the middle.

Kielbasa Fried Rice

Let the eggs sit for a minute or two to let them cook a little and then scramble them a bit. When they are cooked, mix the rice and goodies with the scrambled egg. Throw it in a bowl, squeeze some lime over it for acidity, and eat! Nothing’s easier than this for a delicious weeknight meal. So many flavors…salty, sweet, umami (a fancy way of saying savory) with that soft, sticky rice mixed with scrambled eggs…ok, I really need to take a bite to make sure it’s ok. Mmmm… Damn carbs.

Kielbasa Fried Rice

Kielbasa Fried Rice

Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • 1 cup cooked rice
  • 14-16 ounces Polish style kielbasa
  • 8 green onions
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • kosher salt
  • soy sauce
  • white sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • lime

Instructions

  • Make rice. While it's steaming, slice the Polish style kielbasa into coins about 1/4" thick. Thinly slice green onions on an angle. Thinly slice garlic.
  • Heat vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add the sliced kielbasa in the pan and let it cook without stirring for about 3 minutes until the underside is a deep brown color.
  • Add the sliced green onions and garlic to the pan. Add a pinch of salt. Flip most of the kielbasa to the other side and stir. Continue to cook for another couple minutes, until the green onions begin to soften.
  • Add the steamed rice into the skillet, a 1-2 pinches of salt, a 2-3 splashes of soy sauce, and 1-2 pinches of white sugar. Stir everything together so the green onions, garlic, and kielbasa are evenly distributed.
  • In a small bowl, whisk 3 large eggs and a pinch of salt.
  • Split your rice mixture in half and push each half to each side of the skillet so that a strip of pan with nothing in it runs down the middle. No rice should be in the middle.
  • Pour the eggs into the middle section of the skillet. Let the eggs cook for 1–2 minutes without stirring. Then, scramble quickly, scraping along the bottom of the skillet. When the eggs have cooked through, combine the egg into the rice mixture to distribute the eggs throughout the rice evenly.
  • Pour into bowls and squeeze a quarter of lime over each bowl.
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Mac and Cheese with Ham

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I love mac and cheese. Pasta. Cheese. Gooey deliciousness. What’s not to love? To make a more hearty meal, add a protein or mix it up a bit. Use tortellini instead of macaroni or shells. Top with a cracker crumble. Throw in some chicken and broccoli. That makes it healthy, right? Other add-in ideas: meatballs, bacon (mmmm…bacon), spicy sausage, veggies, pesto, or even tuna. I decided to take it up a notch by throwing in some diced ham.

I have a super yummy recipe when I don’t want to make boxed mac and cheese. You can use any kind of cheese that melts easily, like American (which does have its place but not today), but this is fancy mac and cheese so you swap out the American for a more grown up cheese: Gruyere. Gruyere is a type of Swiss cheese that doesn’t taste anything like that strong, holey Swiss cheese. Instead, it’s sweet, salty, and nutty without being overpowering. It’s also really creamy and melts easily so it’s perfect for fondue, grilled cheese, and of course, mac and cheese.

Making homemade mac and cheese is not hard, but is a little more time consuming that the box. The “hardest” part is making the actually sauce, but it’s a lot easier to make than you think. You won’t mess up. It won’t come out lumpy or burnt if you follow a few simple steps. I promise.

Do your prep work. Shred a bunch of cheese and dice your ham into bite-sized pieces.

While you’re cooking your pasta (to slightly under al dente because it’ll continue to cook a little in the oven), make your sauce. Heat up some milk. When it’s ready, it should be hot, but not boiling. If you can stick your little finger in it and it’s a little uncomfortable, but not burning, it’s perfect. It’ll also coat the spoon and pan a little. It took about three minutes for me on medium heat.

The key is not to heat it on high and or it might scorch the bottom of the pan. If that happens, just start over and be patient. It’ll do the right thing if you don’t rush it.

While this is going on, melt some butter that you’ve cubed into smaller squares so it melts quickly and more evenly than if you threw the whole stick in. Add the same amount of flour and whisk over low heat for about two minutes. Watch you go! You’re now making a roux, which is just a fancy way of saying you’ve combined some butter and flour that you can use to thicken a lot of stuff.

I depend on time to make sure the roux comes out right. After you’ve made a roux a few times, you’ll know what to look for, but for now, just stick to stirring for two minutes and note that it’s bubbly, no longer has that raw flour taste, and slightly darker than before. You can cook it longer to a more golden-brown if you want a darker, richer sauce, but I prefer mine fairly blond.

Add the hot milk and whisk the entire time for one to two minutes. The sauce will be thickened and smooth. Next comes the cheese. Throw that all in along with your seasonings and ham. When it’s well mixed and melty, it’ll look like fondue and it’ll be difficult not to dip cubes of sourdough bread into it. Resist the temptation. I mean, you should taste it to make sure it’s ok, but use some self-restraint.

Mix it with the cooked pasta, stir again until all the pasta is well coated. Plop it into a casserole pan.

Bake it until bubbly and slightly toasted on top.

That’s it.

The original recipe comes from Ina Garten, who makes a ton of amazing food. I completely trust all of her recipes. This recipe has been halved and macaroni has been substituted with shells. I also skipped the tomato and bread crumb topping.

Mac and Cheese with Ham

Ingredients

  • kosher salt
  • 1/2 pound pasta shells
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 6 ounces Gruyere cheese shredded
  • 4 ounces cheddar cheese shredded
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 cups ham diced

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  • Add the pasta to boiling, salted water and cook according to the directions on the package, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain well.
  • Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don't boil it. Melt butter in a pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a minute or two more, until thickened and smooth. Off the heat, add the Gruyere, Cheddar, 1 tablespoon salt, pepper, nutmeg, and ham. Add the cooked pasta and stir well. Pour into a baking dish.
  • Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on the top.
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Chicken Noodle Soup

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The days are chilly and crisp, yet often bright. Everyone and everything just wants to be cozy. We’re in the midst of soup season. I’ve made this chicken noodle soup recipe a few times before (thank you Food Network!) and now I’m spoiled. No more canned chicken noodle soup for me. No more mushy noodles and veggies, if I can even find any goodies. A bit of carrot? A scrap of chicken?

This recipe calls for parsnips, which I rarely use and barely familiar with. I also get them mixed up with turnips. And how does the rutabaga fit in, other than it’s a funny word to say? Let’s educate ourselves, shall we?

The parsnip is a long, tuberous root vegetable, has cream-colored skin and flesh root, and is related to carrots and parsley.

Turnips look completely different. They are round and mostly white, with some purple, red, or green, depending on the variety. So what’s a rutabaga? Some say it’s the same as a turnip, but others disagree. The rutabaga is larger and sweeter, is a cross between a cabbage and turnip, and has a yellow flesh.

The secret soup ingredient is fresh dill. Don’t skip it. I’ve made this soup with and without, and there’s something about that sweet, slightly licorice flavor that enhances the chicken and veggies. It sounds weird, but it works.

My only issue with this recipes is that there’s way too little broth, but I ended up using that in my favor. If you are eating the soup in one sitting, use 1 1/2 to 2 times the amount of broth the recipe calls for, about 9-12 cups. For our family of three, I split the original recipe and used 4 cups of broth instead of 3. The original recipe makes 4 large portions, but these people must be giants. We were able to get 8 servings from the full recipe. On the first day, I will serve the soup with most of the broth. This prevents your noodles from soaking in the broth and becoming mushy for when you have it for leftovers. When you do heat it up again, add another 4 cups of broth so it’s more like soup instead of a plate of pasta.

I like to prep everything first. First chop your veggies.

Then dice your chicken. If you do it the other way around, you’ll need to use two cutting boards instead of one to avoid cross-contamination.

First add your carrots. Wait a minute or so. Then add your parsnips and wait another minute or two. The recipe assumes you are chopping as you go along so if you prep like me, don’t add the veggies all at once. Space it out. Add the onions next. Another couple minutes later, add your celery. Adding your veggies in this order ensures that the carrots are cooked the longest and the celery is not over cooked.

Season and add a couple bay leaves. Add your preferred amount of broth, boil, add chicken, and boil again. Turn it down to simmer, cook the chicken for a couple of minutes, and then add the noodles.

When the noodles are tender, your soup is about ready. You just need to add fresh parsley and dill (don’t use dried!), remove bay leaves, and serve. Yum. Now you are all cozy.

Chicken Noodle Soup

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium carrots peeled and chopped
  • 1 parsnip peeled and chopped
  • 1 medium onion chopped
  • 2 stalks celery chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper
  • 9-12 cups chicken broth
  • 1 pound chicken breasts diced
  • 1/2 pound egg noodles
  • handful fresh parsley chopped
  • handful fresh dill chopped

Instructions

  • Heat extra-virgin olive oil in a large pot over moderate heat. Prep the vegetables by chopping/or peeling them. Keep them in separate piles.
  • Add each vegetable to the pot in the order they are listed, waiting a couple minutes between each vegetable before adding the next.
  • Add bay leaves and season vegetables with salt and pepper, to taste. Depending on how thick you want your soup, add 9-12 cups of broth to the pot until it's the ratio you prefer. Bring it to a boil.
  • Add diced chicken, return soup to a boil, and reduce heat back to moderate. Cook the chicken for 2 minutes and then add the noodles. Cook the soup for 6 minutes or until noodles are tender. Remove soup from the heat.
  • Stir in parsley and dill, remove bay leaves, and serve.
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Chicken Quesadillas

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My son just finished a home ec class at his middle school. He learned how to make quesadillas and said they tasted good. I was surprised because when he was 5, he suddenly declared he disliked cheese quesadillas and would only eat grilled cheese. On raisin bread. Without the crust. Sigh.

When I asked him why the sudden acceptance towards quesadillas, he said it was because I left out the chicken. Seriously? All this time, it was missing chicken. I was determined to make the best damn chicken quesadilla for my picky kid.

Making chicken quesadillas barely requires a recipe. It’s just meat and melted cheese, sandwiched between a couple tortillas, right? How hard can it be? The most difficult part is flipping it over without losing half of the filling, but there’s a trick to prevent that. Regardless, I wanted to get some inspiration, which I found in The Pioneer Woman’s recipe. And then completed changed it up.

I recommend making the pico de gallo first. The longer it sits, the better it’ll taste so feel free to make this the day before.

To make the pico de gallo, cut up six Roma tomatoes with a serrated knife. I usually cut off the stem end, and then use the flat stem end side to slice the tomato down the middle. Face the flat side down on the cutting board and cut lengthwise into strips, and then dice across. Don’t worry if the pieces are not perfect. People will just be impressed that you made fresh pico. Of course, you could buy it pre-made and pour it in a bowl. I won’t judge.

I know this is incredibly time consuming so trust me when I say it goes much faster (and safer) if you use a serrated knife, which cuts through the tomato skin easily. This prevents the knife from slipping around so you don’t accidentally cut yourself.

Chop up some onions and cilantro. It looks like a lot of cilantro, but it wilts easily (sort of like spinach). Then, finely dice a jalapeño with the white membrane for more heat. Scrape out out the membrane first if you want less heat.

Squeeze a lime over it all and mix. Now you have pico de gallo. Yes, it’s that easy. This recipe makes a lot so you’ll have plenty for leftovers on chips or even a salad.

After that’s done, chop up your chicken and then in a bowl, season it with salt, pepper, and taco seasonings. Sauté it in a large skillet until it’s cooked through, but not overdone. Don’t forget you’ll be cooking it some more later. Remove the chicken.

Slice up some veggies and throw them in the same pan that you cooked the chicken in. I like using colored peppers and red onion, but you can use any veggie you you like. Sauté them in the pan until the peppers are slightly tender. They might have a few char marks, which is fine.

Confession time. This is when I should have taken another picture to show you what to look for, but I was busy nibbling on the chicken. Sorry. My bad.

Turn down the heat (or your tortillas will burn) and melt some butter on the skillet. You could use a separate griddle to make more at a time, but I like having only one pan to clean.

Lay down a tortilla and add a ton of cheese. Adding the cheese first acts like a glue and helps the chicken and veggies stay inside. Place the chicken and veggies on top and pile on more cheese. Cover with another tortilla. This makes a very large quesadilla so if you want to make a smaller one, feel free to place the cheese, chicken, and veggies on one half of the tortilla and fold it over like an omelet. I have to admit that this makes it easier to flip too.

After a couple minutes, take a peek underneath to see if the tortilla is golden. When it is, using the biggest spatula you own, hold your hand over the center of the quesadilla and expertly flip that sucker in one single motion. Do not be hesitant or tentative. You want to be quick about it or you might lose some chicken, which isn’t the end of the world, but it’s nice when every stays in its proper place.

Cook for another couple of minutes until the other side is golden and the cheese is completely melted (it’s ok to lift the top to check). Slide the quesadilla onto a plate and scoop a pile of pico on the side.

Yummy and fairly quick. It tastes better than it looks. Now off I go to work on my photography skills.

Chicken Quesadillas

Servings: 3

Ingredients

  • 6 large flour tortillas
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 package taco seasoning mix
  • 1/2 large red onion cut in half and then sliced
  • 1-2 bell peppers any color, seeded and sliced into strips
  • 2 1/2 cups grated Monterey jack cheese
  • butter for frying

Pico de Gallo

  • 6 Roma tomatoes diced
  • 1 1/2 red onions diced
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro leaves chopped
  • 1 jalapeño finely diced
  • juice of 1 lime
  • salt to taste

Instructions

  • Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Chop or dice the chicken into bite-sized pieces. Sprinkle the chicken with salt, pepper, and taco seasoning. Add the chicken to the skillet and sauté until browned. Because the pieces are small, the chicken will be cooked through. Set aside.
  • Add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil to the skillet over medium-high heat. Slice onions and peppers, and add them to the skillet. Cook until the peppers are tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove and set aside.
  • Turn down the heat slightly to medium-low and melt 1/2 tablespoon of the butter in the skillet or griddle. Lay a flour tortilla in the skillet. Add grated cheese on the bottom tortilla, and then add the chicken and cooked peppers/onion mixture. Top with more grated cheese and cover with another tortilla.
  • When the tortilla is golden on the first side, carefully flip the quesadilla to the other side, adding another 1/2 tablespoon butter to the skillet at the same time. Continue cooking until the second side is golden. Repeat to make additional quesadillas.
  • Cut each quesadilla into wedges and serve with pico de gallo.

Pico de Gallo:

  • Dice tomatoes (using a serrated knife) and onions. Chop the cilantro.
  • Cut a jalapeño in half. With a spoon, scrape out the insides. For more spice, leave some of the white membranes. Dice the jalapenos very finely. Add all four ingredients to a large bowl.
  • Slice a lime in half and squeeze the juice into the bowl. Sprinkle with salt, and stir together until combined. Taste the pico de gallo and add more salt if needed.
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Instant Pot Honey Garlic Chicken

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Yes, another Instant Pot recipe. I can’t help it. It makes cooking so much easier. You really need to run out and buy one if you haven’t. Amazon has them for under $100. You don’t need to get the fancy WiFi version either. Just break down and get one already. You’ll use it more than you think. But I digress…I’ve promised myself that from now on, I’ll try to share more traditional recipes that don’t require fancy gadgets. Next time.

I’ve been on vacation for a couple of weeks and have been super lazy. After all the Christmas cooking, I needed a rest. We’ve all been living off leftovers like turkey and dressing. While this is all fine and good, it was starting to get a little old, even with the tri tip (and more leftovers) we made for New Year’s Eve.

To break the cycle, I decided to ease back into cooking by making this delicious pressure cooker dish from Delish. For those of you who are trying to stick to your New Year resolution of healthier eating, this recipe is very accommodating. If you are watching carbs, serve it with a salad instead of rice. If you’re watching your sugar, skip the glaze.

Season your chicken with salt and pepper. In general, you always want to season your meat, even if the recipe doesn’t call for it. It’ll make the meat taste better by adding the first layer of flavor. I’m usually generous with the ground pepper too.

I used boneless, skinless chicken because I like it better. I find it easier to work with, has a shorter cook time, and is just as tasty. I’m simply not a big fan of skin so when I remove the skin before eating the chicken, all those yummy seasonings disappear with it. Sadness. Granted bone-in, skin-on chicken might be juicer, it doesn’t matter for this recipe because the pressure cooker infuses so much liquid into the chicken.

Sauté the chicken in olive oil. In the meantime, make the marinade: olive oil, soy sauce, honey, sesame oil (don’t skip this ingredient!), garlic, lime juice, green onions, and red pepper flakes (don’t skip this either!). Be sure to whisk it completely so the honey is fully incorporated. The sesame oil provides that nuttiness reminiscent of Asian flavors that this dish needs while the red pepper enhances the dish. I’m always cautious with anything spicy because of the rest of my family (not big fans of red pepper), but trust me when I say you won’t be able to taste it. In fact, I usually add a pinch to spaghetti sauce because it takes the sauce over the top good in a subtle not-sure-what-that-secret-ingredient-is way. It’s the same here.

When the chicken is browned, add the marinade.

Lock it up and pressure cook on high for 10 minutes. Go make a salad or some rice.

When it’s done, make the glaze. Take out the chicken. Then, remove 1/4 cup of the sauce and whisk in some cornstarch. Add that back to the pot and simmer until thickened. Serve over the chicken and rice, garnished with green onions.

To be completely honest, everyone thought this glaze was completely unnecessary. Maybe we’re just not fancy people, but it’s just there to add a sauce to the rice. I ate the chicken without the glaze along with a salad, and found the chicken to be very flavorful and fall apart tender. My son wanted nothing to do with the glaze (and god forbid the chicken touched the rice, but that’s a different story for another day). My husband tried it with the glaze and said it wasn’t anything special. No glaze it is! Also, I found the glaze to be a bit oily. The sauce called for 1/4 cup of olive oil, which at the time I was blown away at the amount, but then again, it’s for a marinade so that’s a perfectly respectable amount. When converted over to a glaze, it’d hard to disguise. Regardless, this recipe got three thumbs up by all of us. Definitely a make again recipe.

Instant Pot Honey Garlic Chicken

Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • kosher salt
  • ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil plus 2 tablespoons for browning the chicken
  • 1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 lime juiced
  • 2 green onions thinly sliced, plus more for garnish
  • pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • cooked rice

Instructions

  • Season chicken with salt and pepper on both sides. Set Instant Pot to Sauté function and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add chicken and cook until golden, about 3 minutes. Then flip and cook for another 3 minutes more. Work in batches as necessary. Turn Instant Pot off of Sauté function.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together remaining 1/4 cup olive oil, soy sauce, honey, sesame oil, garlic, lime juice, green onions, and pinch of red pepper flakes. Place chicken in Instant Pot and pour sauce over. Lock lid and set to Pressure Cook on High for 10 minutes.
  • Quick release, making sure to wait until cycle is completely before, unlocking and removing lid. Using tongs, remove chicken from Instant Pot and set on plate to keep warm.
  • Ladle out about 1/4 cup of sauce from Instant Pot and whisk in cornstarch. Pour liquid back into Instant Pot and set to Sauté function. Let sauce simmer until thickened slightly, about 5 minutes.
  • Pour sauce over chicken, and garnish with green onions, and serve over rice.
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Christmas Dinner: The Sides

In my opinion, the sides make the Christmas dinner. I don’t dislike turkey, but I’m not its biggest fan (except this Expertly Spiced and Glazed Roast Turkey might have changed my mind) so I like to focus on the side dishes. There are too many delicious sides I like so the problem turns out to be which ones to make. The list starts out long, is cut, grows again when I ask the family if I’m missing anything (why do I ask them?!), and then finally reduced to something manageable and not too gluttonous.

I make all the sides the day before and heat them up on Christmas. I used to make them the day off, but that’s just insane. Nothing was ready on time and I would end up running around like a crazy woman with my family telling me to sit down. Sit down? This food doesn’t make itself! Do you want dinner or not?! See the tension I’m talking about? Ahhhh! No, thank you.

This year I trimmed the list down to cranberry sauce, dressing, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, and a salad. There’s only five of us this year so this was plenty. We also had gravy (from a jar doctored with turkey drippings), brioche rolls (from the store), and my MIL’s famous Frozen Cranberry Salad. Five days later, we’re still eating leftovers.

I’ve made these recipes a few years in a row because I’ve found they are the best of the best. I really don’t need to go any further and they are not complicated to make.

Let’s start out with the cranberry sauce. It sounds fancy, but it’s the easiest thing to make. You just need fresh cranberries, juice, and honey. It’s also so much better than store bought cranberry sauce. You won’t go back.

Simmer it down. Cranberry sauce.

Told you it was easy.

Get the recipe: Alton Brown’s Cranberry Sauce. BTW, I’ve never found a recipe of his that I didn’t like. He’s goofy, but smart, backing up his mad methods with science.

Speaking of Alton and his mad methods, he taught me how to make the best mashed potatoes. I used to cringe when people said that mashed potatoes are so easy. If they’re so simple, why do mine come out so gluey? Science. I was using the wrong potato and the wrong mashing method. Yes, you can use russet potatoes, especially if you like fluffy mashed potatoes, but if you like creamy mashed potatoes like I do, go with Yukon gold potatoes. It has to do with the amount of starch in the potatoes. Russets have more starch than Yukon gold potatoes. Using Yukons makes for a creamier, less fluffy mashed potatoes. Like I said, science.

A potato masher works, but you know what works better? My new best friend, the potato ricer.

With these two tools in my back pocket, my mashed potatoes are now amazing. Creamy, buttery, with a hint of pepper…everything mashed potatoes should be.

Get the recipe: Alton Brown’s Creamy Mashed Potatoes.

While I do love mashed potatoes, I love love LOVE mac and cheese. I rarely eat pasta (carbs) so this is a decadent treat for me that is worth every calorie. This recipe requires a little extra work, but it’s well worth it. It has both Gruyere and cheddar cheeses. This turns out to be the perfect marriage of cheeses. Cheddar is gooey and buttery, but needs another cheese to melt properly. Meet Gruyere, which is mild, nutty, tangy, AND melts easily. Mmmmm…cheese.

The recipe calls for 12 ounces of Gruyere to 8 ounces of cheddar, but you can use any amounts of each that you happen to have as long as it adds up to 20 ounces of cheese. I discovered this when this year, I might have accidentally nibbled on too much Gruyere and noticed I bought a little less than I should have. Doh. So there was more cheddar than Gruyere this year. It’s all good.

This recipe also makes a lot of mac and cheese so I split the recipe and we still have leftovers. Feel free to make the whole recipe if you have a ton of guests. All this cheesy goodness will disappear quickly.

Get the recipe here: Macaroni and Cheese. It’s another good recipe from Ina Garten. I prefer it without the tomato breadcrumb topping, but I encourage you to try it either ways. I think the Gruyere is the secret, but give credit to the nutmeg that brings it all together. This is not your Kraft mac and cheese.

Now speaking of Ina Garten, she makes the best turkey dressing. I’m super picky about my dressing. I’ve tried a million different ones: store bought (ugh), cornbread (too crumbly), sage (not exciting enough), whole wheat (too healthy), cauliflower (not authentic)…you get the idea. Although I adore her (who doesn’t?) and think her recipes are spot on, I had been disappointed so many times that I had low expectations when I tried her recipe. Wrong. This dressing is amazing and gets rave reviews by everyone at home. It doesn’t have any unusual ingredients. I just think it’s the right mixture of everything you’d expect, but using toasted sourdough bread cubes and dried cranberries puts it over the top.

Along with your standard ingredients of celery and onion, use apples, which adds sweetness and prevents a dry dressing.

Using a VERY generous amount of butter (let’s not talk about how many sticks of butter today), saute the veggies and apples in a pan.

Ten minutes later, every will be soft and yummy. I could probably eat this straight out of the pan, but I used some self-control, unlike the Gruyere cheese incident.

In a very large bowl with the bread cubes, add this mixture along with browned crumbled sausage, broth (homemade if you want to show off), and dried cranberries. The cranberries add another dimension of sweetness against the onions and a chewy texture that complements the toasted bread. Plus cranberries scream turkey so you gotta have them.

Mix well and plop it into a baking dish.

Because I bake it the next day, I add additional broth right before it goes into the oven to ensure it won’t dry out.

Get the recipe: Sausage and Herb Stuffing. As Ina would say, “How easy is that?”

With all these heavy side dishes, I wanted to make a salad to balance it off. Well, this salad wasn’t exactly as light as I originally planned, but it turned out to be clever. You see, I love cute food. My crazy smooshed looking Spooky Peppers is evidence of my insanity. I came across the cutest idea for a caprese salad so I decided to make my own Caprese Christmas Wreath Salad.

Caprese Christmas Wreath Salad

Ingredients

  • fresh basil
  • cherry tomatoes
  • small mozzarella balls marniated in herbs and olive oil

Instructions

  • Remove the basil leaves from the steams. Use the larger leaves to create a ring around the plate.
  • Using a toothpick, skewer a tomato, a basil leaf, and a mozzarella ball.
  • Arrange in a circle on the basil leaves. Continue until you've created enough circles to fill the wreath. Add small basil leaves to fill in the wreath as needed.

Merry Christmas! I hope I made your dinner a little easier with these dependable side dish recipes.

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Christmas Dinner: The Turkey

On Thanksgiving, I made a turkey for dinner. Now, this is a daring feat for me. Turkey is my nemesis. It’s never done according to plan. I’ve followed recipes. Doesn’t matter. The white meat cooks faster than the dark meat. In fact, the thighs are usually raw while the breast meat is perfectly done. I’ve tried tenting the breast and continue roasting, but I just end up with dry meat. One year was so bad that I ended up hacking up the turkey after the breasts were done and finished off the legs and thighs separately. Ugliest. Turkey. Ever.

I’m a faithful reader of Bon Appétit. When they published this year’s turkey recipe, Expertly Spiced and Glazed Roast Turkey, not only did I trust them, I saw the brilliance in their method. It was similar to my hacked up turkey, but done in a much smarter, less critical way. You ask the butcher to cut it up for you into five pieces that not only solves when the turkey is done problem, but also the carving issue (which I haven’t even delved into). Each piece cooks at the same rate because the meat is properly distributed. Wow. Why didn’t I think of that?

So when I made it for Thanksgiving, everyone agreed that this non-traditional turkey was amazing and should be repeated on Christmas. I was a bit worried that my Thanksgiving success was a fluke, but I put on my big girl pants and decided to try it again. I was so brave that I didn’t even buy a backup ham. Fortunately, I didn’t need it.

It uses a dry brine instead of the messy wet brine that requires you to soak your turkey in a bucket for a couple of days (what a mess that was…never again).

Let me interject that you need to have a meat thermometer, preferably an instant read one. If you are roasting a turkey without one, you are very confident. Me…not so much.

This recipe suggests that you preorder your turkey and nicely ask your butcher to cut it up into five pieces plus remove the backbone. You can purchase a frozen turkey, thaw it, and cut it up at home. Alas, I’m not that patient or talented. Therefore, I used the humorous script Bon Appétit prepared for me, “Hello, talented and smart and underappreciated butcher [pause for uncomfortable laughter], I’d like to purchase a 10-to-12-pound turkey, cut into five pieces: the legs, wings, keep the breast whole, backbone removed. Yes, I’m doing that ridiculous Bon Appétit recipe. Yes, it better not suck.” I love Bon Appétit. My butcher thought I was a little weird.

Back safely at home, away from the deadpan eyes of my quizzical butcher, I made the rub for the brine: pepper, kosher salt, garlic powder, onion powder, smoked paprika, and brown sugar. I don’t have a spice mill or mortar/pestle so I used ground pepper, and it turned out fine. I used a 10-12 pound turkey and had plenty of rub, but I used it all. Can one have too much rub? Don’t answer that.

Sit your turkey on a cookie rack on a baking sheet. This helps circulate the air to the bottom of your turkey and later, you’ll use the same set-up to roast it. Rub the seasonings on the turkey. I know. This can be unpleasant, but (and I mean this in the best way possible) get over it. It’s better than if it was a whole turkey where you have to dig around for those mysterious parts you won’t be using. Ick. Did I mention turkeys are my nemesis?

Now the fun part. Shove everything to the corners of your fridge to make way for this bird to habitat your fridge for the next two days. Don’t cover it either. I was less than thrilled of the smell it left behind, but it will go away. After two days, the rub will be absorbed and the skin will be dry. This is a good thing because dry skin will make the skin crispy and beautifully brown.

Pull it out of the fridge. Let it sit for 2-3 hours. Don’t worry. Bacteria will not grow and give your guests food poisoning. The turkey should not go from a cold refrigerator to a hot oven. It’ll freak out and not cook evenly. You need to bring the bird up to room temperature first. I recommend putting your dog outside if you have one.

The turkey will roast in two phases, first at a high heat to brown it and then at a lower heat for longer to cook it through. During the first phase, make the glaze, which you’ll baste on the turkey every 20 minutes during the second phase. I have to admit that got distracted while eating the Brie appetizer and only basted once. It turned out delicious anyway.

The glaze is essential and gives it that sweet, Christmas-spiced taste, which is pretty amazing considering there are no spices in the glaze. I attribute this to the brown sugar and garlic, with some help of the sage.

Combine all the glaze ingredients and simmer for 10-15 minutes until it’s slightly thickened. After I removed it from the heat, I found that it continued to thicken so take this into account when you are determining if it’s thick enough. I made a double batch because I didn’t want to run out, which I did the first time. Then again, the first time I remembered to baste it every 20 minutes. Doh!

The recipe also calls for adding water to the baking pan. This helps it cook and keep it moist. Sorry. I had to use that word. There’s no other way to describe it. Let’s move on.

Using an instant-read thermometer (but any meat thermometer will do…just have one…trust me on this one), start checking on the turkey at the 50 minute mark. Make sure that the thickest part of the breast is 150F and the thigh is 170F. If it’s not, glaze it again, and check every 5-10 minutes.

When it’s done, tent (aka cover) it with foil to keep it warm and let it sit for 30-60 minutes. I like to take this time to heat up the sides I made the day before. When everything is ready, slice up the white meat and separate the leg from the thigh. The easiest way to cut the leg and thigh is to find the joint by bending it a couple times and cut there.

The turkey was so good that I nearly forgot to take a picture of the final product. Everyone was already digging in.

Get the recipe: Expertly Spiced and Glazed Roast Turkey. You won’t be disappointed.

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Sheet Pan Lemon Parmesan Chicken and Veggies

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I’ve been sharing a lot of recipes that use my favorite kitchen toys. I know not everyone has a slow cooker, pressure cooker, and air fryer so it’s time for something more conventional. Sit down for this one. The oven. I know. Scandalous.

I really like sheet pan recipes when they work, like those Sheet Pan Chicken Fajitas I posted. Here’s another one that you need to try. It’s a super easy week night meal with everything you need: chicken, potatoes, and green beans. It’s perfect. Its lemony, cheesy, garlicky goodness is sure to please everyone. Did I mention it’s easy to make?

If you don’t like potatoes or green beans, skip the one you don’t like. You can also try using other veggies, such as carrots, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, etc. Just be aware that the cooking times might vary.

In a bowl, mix an egg, lemon juice, garlic, parsley, and seasonings. This will be your marinade and the liquid to help your dredge stick to your chicken. Marinade the chicken for 30-60 minutes. Try not to skip this part, but don’t marinade longer than this (like overnight) or your chicken might end up tough.

By the way, I know I wasn’t going to talk about kitchen toys, but I really like this lemon squeezer so here’s a picture of it. It doesn’t take up a lot of space and it keeps the seeds out of your food. You should buy one. No pressure.

While you wait, it’s time for the veggies.

Let’s pause to express my opinion about dealing with green beans. Hate it. It takes soooooo long to string, trim, and cut them into thirds. But I love green beans. What’s a girl to do? You can reduce the prep time by buying bagged trimmed green beans. This is a good short-cut. Alas, I never find the beans to be as good as the fresh ones, but I will resort to trimmed green beans if the fresh ones are stringy. There’s no shame in this. This time I decided to use fresh beans and do all the work myself. Yes, sometimes I’m a show-off.

Toss your potatoes in half of the butter/garlic mixture and the green beans in the other half.

When your chicken is done marinading, combine breadcrumbs and Parmesan, and then dredge the chicken in the mixture.

Don’t be like me and forget to spray your foil-lined baking sheet with cooking spray. Generously spray the sheet. Then place your chicken on the sheet and surround them with potatoes. Bake!

After 15 minutes, flip your chicken and add your green beans. Be sure to embrace the amazing aroma of lemon and garlic wafting through your house. Also enjoy the fact that your entire dinner is in the oven and you don’t have to lift a finger to make a side dish.

Cook for another 10-15 minutes on broil until the chicken is golden and the veggies are cooked through.

Sit back and watch as your family is impressed with your ninja like cooking skills.

Sheet Pan Lemon Parmesan Chicken and Veggies

Servings: 4

Ingredients

For the chicken

  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 lemons juiced
  • 3 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1/2 tablespoon fresh parsley chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 4 skinless, boneless chicken thighs

For the veggies

  • 1/2 pound potatoes quartered
  • 1/3 cup butter melted
  • 3 teaspoons minced garlic
  • salt to taste
  • 3/4 pound green beans trimmed and cut into thirds

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 400F. Grease a baking sheet with cooking spray and set aside.
  • In a bowl, whisk together an egg, lemon juice, garlic, and salt. Place the chicken in the egg mixture and marinade in the refrigerator for 30-60 minutes. You can skip this step, if necessary.
  • Wash and quarter the potatoes. Wash, trim, and cut fresh green beans into thirds. Pour half of the butter mixture over the potatoes and the other half over the green beans. Toss to coat.
  • In a bowl, mix breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese. Dredge the marinaded chicken in the breadcrumb mixture, making sure the crumbs stick to the chicken, pressing if needed.
  • Place chicken and potatoes on a cooking sheet, arranging the potatoes around the chicken in a single layer.
  • Bake in the oven for 15 minutes.
  • Remove the baking sheet from the oven and flip chicken. Move the potatoes to one side and place the green beans around the chicken.
  • Turn the oven to broil. Return the baking sheet to the oven and broil for 10-15 minutes. The chicken should be cooked to 165F, golden, and crispy. The potatoes and green beans should be cooked though.
  • Sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley and serve.
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Air Fryer Fried Chicken

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Welcome to the world of air frying! It seems to be very popular suddenly, which is good because I finally broke down and bought the small Ninja air fryer. It’s my latest fun toy and I love it. So far, I’ve made french fries and this fried chicken, which was pretty amazing. I plan to try out fried pickles, donuts, and plenty of other goodies in the near future.

What I like about this recipe: No greasy mess. Healthier than fried chicken. Crispy on the inside, juicy on the inside. Better than oven-baked fried chicken. Period. I don’t see why to make fried chicken any other way.

Kudos to the Kitchn for this recipe! You can really use any of your favorite seasonings, but because this was my first attempt, I decided to follow a recipe…mostly. I did stray a little. Sorry people, but I’m not buying a whole chicken and cutting it up into 10 pieces. I took a knife skills class and learned how to do it, but frankly, I suck at it. My hacked up chicken looked pretty pitiful and my revolted stomach wanted nothing to do with it. I’m sure I’d get better with practice (and kudos to you if you rock the whole carving thing), but it’s not for me. Furthermore, I only wanted to use thighs and legs. Sort of wasteful to use a whole chicken.

First, you want to marinate your chicken in buttermilk for an hour or more. Don’t skip this part. Marinating in buttermilk makes the chicken super tender. I’m not sure about you, but I don’t like buying buttermilk because I never use it all so if you’re like me, make your own buttermilk with milk and vinegar. It’s a no brainer.

While the chicken is soaking up all that buttermilk, measure out a zillion seasonings and flour. This is the hardest part. 🙂

Mix it all up and when your chicken is ready, dredge it using a pair of tongs to avoid a sticky floury mess on your fingers.

Be sure to shake off any excess flour. Like I mentioned earlier, the recipe calls for a 3-4 pound whole chicken, but I used about 2 pounds of thighs and legs. I have PLENTY of flour leftover. Feel free to use more chicken if you want.

(Air) fry it up! I sprayed the racks with cooking spray, but I also sprayed the chicken so the coating would cook through. Twenty minutes later, you have fried chicken!

Air Fryer Fried Chicken

Servings: 6

Ingredients

  • 3-4 pounds chicken cut-up into pieces
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper divided
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground mustard
  • cooking spray

Instructions

  • Place chicken in a large bowl and season with 1 teaspoon of kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper. Add 2 cups buttermilk and marinate for at least 1 hour in the refrigerator. Overnight is better.
  • Meanwhile, whisk 1 tablespoon kosher salt, remaining 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, all-purpose flour, garlic powder, paprika, cayenne pepper, onion powder, and ground mustard together in a large bowl.
  • Preheat an air fryer to 390F. Coat the air fryer racks with cooking spray.
  • Remove the chicken from the buttermilk, allowing any excess to drip off. Dredge in the flour mixture, shaking any excess off. Place a single layer of chicken in the basket, with space in between the pieces.
  • Air fry, flipping the chicken hallway through, until crispy and an instant-read thermometer registers 165F in the thickest piece, 15 to 20 minutes total. Repeat with the remaining chicken.
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