Saturday, July 30, 2011

Tastes Like Chicken

I feel like boneless, skinless, grilled chicken breast gets a bad rap in life.  All too often it is labeled as "diet food," something you order at a restaurant when you are trying to watch your caloric intake.  Trust me, I know from experience.  But really, I love a nice grilled chicken breast.   It can make any small snack into a meal, it can be made in bulk and added to meals for a whole week, and usually it is pretty inexpensive.  

I'm here to show you that "Tastes like Chicken" doesn't always have to be a bad thing.  If you follow these 3 simple steps:

A: Marinate!
My family has go to marinade that my sister and I learned at a very young age.  When I was in high school, we'd get the call from my mom around 3:30 p.m. to "marinate the meat defrosting in the sink" and after a quick game of rock/paper/scissors to see which one of us would have to abandon General Hospital our homework, we'd hop into action, go straight to the spice cabinet and with a dash of this and a sprinkle of that, the chicken or beef we'd be having for dinner would be marinating and ready to be cooked.  We've altered it a little bit through out the years if there is a particular flavor we have a hankering for (my sister likes to add rosemary), but the base always remains the same.

You always start with some garlic.  Normally I'd use minced but I was all out so I just smashed up some whole cloves.  The flavor will still get where it needs to go, just make sure the chicken doesn't have any garlic pieces on it when it hits the grill, or the garlic will burn and leave a bitter taste.

(Please ignore the black/purple stain on my cutting board.  This was a lesson on 
why you shouldn't dye your royal icing on top of your bamboo cutting board.  
But we'll get to that soon, I promise)

Next you add soy sauce (I choose low sodium so that I can control the amount of salt) and some red wine vinegar.

The vinegar helps break down the meat quickly so this is a "quick marinade."  You don't want to sit this in the fridge over night, it'll start to cook the meat.  I usually go for a 2:1 ratio of soy sauce: red wine vinegar, but I just eye ball it and taste it as I go.*

Now it is time to add the dried herbs.  A few years ago, my mother found this delicious Tuscan Seasoning at TJ Maxx.  It is hubby's favorite mix so whenever I'm in a TJs or HomeGoods or Marshalls I always take a spin through the spice aisle to get another one.  We have quite the stock pile now.  But don't despair, I've also had great success with McCormick Montreal Chicken Grill Mates or really any poultry seasoning blend.  I also add in some additional garlic powder (you can never have too much garlic) and parsley.

Stir it all together and taste it*.  It should taste salty and tangy and earthy.  Helpful description right?  But I think the basic rule of thumb is if the marinade tastes yummy, the chicken will.  Add your chicken to the marinade and let it sit for 15 minutes to 4 hours.

*little note: I used to put the chicken in the bowl first and add all the ingredients straight onto the chicken.  Until one day I was trying to show my cousin Sara how to make the marinade and she asked how I knew when it was right.  I told her to just taste it, put my finger in and tasted it.  She almost had a stroke that I had just tasted a sauce that was surrounded by raw chicken.  Apparently you aren't supposed to do that.  Who knew?  So now, I make the marinade first and then add the chicken to the finished sauce.  So Sara can stop worrying about me getting salmonella.

2: Grilling.
While you've been making the marinade, your grill has been warming up right?  If  - since I buried that instruction in the middle of this post - it hasn't been, that is no big deal.  It'll just give the chicken a little longer to marinate.

You want to heat your grill on high.  My home owner's association doesn't allow us to use a barbecue with flames on our deck.  So I was lucky enough to inherit this outdoor foreman grill from my friend Jen when she was moving.  But regardless if you are using a gas grill, foreman grill or grill pan, you still want that bad boy to be screaming hot when you add the chicken to it.

Place the chicken on the grill smooth side down, at a 45 degree angle.  Make sure its not a 50 degree angle or the whole thing will be ruined.  Just kidding, it'll be fine.  But whatever you do, don't move the chicken once you put it down! No I'm serious about this one.  It'll tear the chicken and make it a big mess. So if your angle is a little off, let it be.

(See that smoke coming off the grill? That means it was good and hot when I 
added the chicken.  This is a very good thing.)

After about 5 minutes, check one of the breasts, it should lift up easily and have clear lines seared in.

At this point, rotate the breasts 90 degrees.  Again this is not a time to run out and buy a protractor, just estimate it.  You are making that pretty cross hatch that restaurants always have on their grilled food.  Remember, we eat first with our eyes.  If your chicken breast looks succulent and fancy, people won't be automatically bored.

At this point, you should add a little more of the marinade to the chicken.  This will help keep the chicken moist and keep adding in the flavor.

After another 5 minutes, you are going to flip the chicken onto its back or rough side.

(They look so pretty!)

(Hubby likes a lot of extra seasoning, so at this point I sprinkle on an additional 
coating on his chickens)

Now it is time to lower the heat to medium, cover it and walk away.  If you are working on a grill pan, you can cover it with some tin foil.  The steam helps to cook the chicken quickly and evenly and keeping it from drying out.  For medium size chicken breasts, you'll let them cook for about 15 minutes.  If they are a little smaller or bigger, adjust by about 5 minutes.

Supposedly, you are supposed to know when the chicken is done by touching it.  If it feels like the area between your thumb and forefinger when you make a fist, it is allegedly done.  I never trust this.  I always have to cut one breast to check.  I'd rather lose a little of the juice then have raw chicken.  I just pick the biggest breast and cut it at its fattest point.  If that part is done, chances are, the rest of the chicken is done.

D: Let the chicken rest.
This is my hubby's least favorite step.  He always tries to argue that the chicken is already dead, why do we have to let it rest?  Well I'll tell you why.  You want all those wonderful delicious juices to redistribute into the meat.  If you cut the chicken right now, you'll be left with a cutting board full of juice.  If you cover it and walk away for 15 (or if you can distract hubby long enough 30) minutes, you'll be left with super moist chicken that will be juicy even in left over form.

This is also a great time to make your side dishes.  Some rice, a nice pasta in alfredo sauce, a crisp salad or maybe some grilled asparagus.  The world is your oyster.

Finally, it is time! I cut my chicken breast on a slight bias into slices.  I find that it is the best way to store it in my house to be able to grab a few and add them to a salad for lunch, or to grab a slice or two for a midnight snack.

(hubby couldn't wait any longer for me to take a final picture, 
he had to reach in and steal a bite)


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Lets Start at the Very Begining (a very good place to start)

Hi! My name is Melissa. I kind of can't believe I'm actually doing this - but here goes nothing.  I've been gobbling up food blogs (pun very much intended) for the last four years or so.  I would spend days reading through their archives, looking at their beautiful photography of amazing looking food.  Knowing the whole time that I could never create the delicious treats they were showcasing. 

I'm not hopeless in the kitchen, I've been cooking since I was old enough to use the stove (and maybe even a little before that - its amazing what you can cook in a microwave).  I come from a home where we never ate frozen meals and take out was a special treat.  Dinner may have been served at 8:30pm but it was cooked fresh every night.  My mother is a terrific cook.  She's from Brazil and dominates flavors in her platters of pork and beef and beans and even her rice is delicious.  But like my mother before me, I've never been a baker.  We are horrible at following recipes and I never had the patience to weigh out my ingredients or buy special flour or add items in a certain order.  The thought of cutting butter and ice cold water into a pastry dough still gives me hives.  But that was fine, I was content to be able to make a delicious meat sauce with sausage and purchase a fancy dessert.  Until one fateful day.

The first thing I ever made off a food blog were these cupcake bites by the amazing Bakerella.  I was hosting my cousin's baby shower.  She is a huge Martha fan and I knew she'd really appreciate a personalized and cute little edible favor.  These little bites looked pretty easy and were really more semi-homemade then most desserts. 

(my very first cupcake bite.  The chocolate got a little weird but they
        were still impressive)

I will never forget that day, the look on her face and the reaction of all the party goers.  They soon became my signature treat to bring to a holiday party or pot-luck.  Co-workers raved about my baking skills.  I would always demure and correct them that I wasn't a baker, I was an assembler.  I could take boxed cake mix, canned frosting and candy melts and make a pretty cute little treat.  But I really couldn't bake. 

I moved on to the amazing Pioneer Woman.  After all, she was more my style.  Give me a list of ingredients, some tips on how to put them together and give me some wiggle room to omit an ingredient I didn't like (mushrooms, bell peppers) or add one I did (cheese, olives, cream).  The first recipe of hers that I made were these delectable short ribs.  I dreamt about this recipe and planned it for a week.  I can not describe the satisfaction of trying a technique I'd never even contemplated, following a recipe to the letter and getting results.  Next thing you know, I was standing in line at her book signing and planning dinner parties with friends around her cook book. 

(Me, Jen and Annette geeking out as Ree signs our books)

Fast forward six-months as my new hubby and I were unwrapping wedding presents and trying valiantly to find counter and cupboard space for all my new kitchen gadgets.  He boldly stated that I would NEVER use the KitchenAid Stand Mixer I was lovingly placing in a prominent spot on our limited counter space.  I turned to him and said "Challenge Accepted."  What followed was a 4 month hiatus from work (unplanned) where I filled my days with cookie baking - I had a craving for ginger bread cookies and didn't want to go out to buy some; pie making - still using store bought crust (see above: hives);  and of course, cake ball making.  It seemed as though every day he'd come home, take a deep inhale and groan "what are you baking now?" But really, I was still mostly just assembling.  Cookies are easy.  You don't have to worry about the right chemical reaction occurring to allow for a fluffy, yet stable cake.  If they don't rise, that is fine.  They may be a little flat but they still taste good. 

When I got my new job, the mixer went back into the corner and much like the Velveteen Rabbit, it started to feel a little neglected but still remained hopeful that one day I'd come back to play.  And eventually, it was right.  (Yes I did just give my inanimate, hard, metal mixer a personality.  Why do you ask?) One day in early March, my hubby came to me with a new challenge.  He wanted GREEN cupcakes for St. Patrick's Day.  Hmmm.  They don't sell green cake mixes.  And I couldn't add green food coloring to a boxed red-velvet cake (hubby's flavor of choice.) So I turned once again to my beloved food blogs.  Surely they'd know the answer.  And they did.  Bakerella to the rescue once again, she had posted these adorable cupcakes for St. Patrick's Day last year.  I scanned the recipe and deemed it simple enough.  Best of all, it didn't call for cake flour or unsalted butter.  I could use things I already had.  Win! People loved them.  They were shocked that I had baked something from scratch.

 (If/when I do these again, I'd use less green so they are a little more Kelly and
less Forest.  I've also learned to double line when I use a cute cupcake liner
and a dark batter)

And the rest, they say, is history.  I was officially bitten with the baking bug.  I couldn't get enough.  I started trying out new flavor combinations on cupcakes and the whir of the KitchenAid hasn't stopped since (much to my hubby's chagrin.)

I'd post pictures on facebook whenever I baked something new and friends would comment that I needed to do something with this.  So here we are.  If you've made it this far, you can see where the name of this blog comes from "Melissa you've said a mouthful!" I'm a talker, what can I say? Please join me as I experiment with more and more baking techniques and adventures.  I'll also share some sure fire family recipes and meal options along the way.