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labeled salad

I don’t know about you, but when it’s hot, I’m never very hungry. I’ll nibble here and there, but I never like big, heavy meals because there’s just too much food that usually ends up making me feel really blech. So, when it’s hot, I tend to eat light and that means salad.

While I have no problem eating salads that are full of fresh produce like heirloom tomatoes, lettuce and baby carrots, I love it when a salad has proteins in it, especially if they’re grilled. Absolutely nothing compares to a salad full of grilled chicken or steak to add a little salt and a delicious smokey flavor to a bowl full of leafy greens. So, when I found this Grilled Sausage Salad from Jamie Bissonnette, I knew I had to make it. It was simple, ready in no time and absolutely delicious.

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What makes this salad unlike others I’ve had, is that the vegetables are marinated in the dressing. See, Bissonnette grew up eating salads that were drowning in bottled Italian dressing. So, he decided it would be healthier to not only make his own dressing but marinate the produce in it before hand. By marinating the carrots and cucumbers ahead of time, you get that wonderful tang from the dressing throughout the whole dish without feeling like you’re drowning.

Just like Bissonnette, I also hate salads that are served with waaaay too much dressing, which is why, whenever I order a salad, I always ask for dressing on the side. It’s also why I never, ever dress a salad when I make my own because I know there are those who prefer lighter dressed salads. By serving the dressing on the side everyone gets the kind of salad they want. But by marinating the veggies ahead of time you get a salad that doesn’t even need dressing since the carrots and cucumbers already have the flavor seeping from every pore. Then when you toss the grilled sausage and lettuce in the mix, those marinated veggies get a smokey flavor while the sausage gets the tang from the marinade. It’s the perfect combination: filling, but light enough to be a great summer dinner option.

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Grilled Sausage Salad (adapted from Food & Wine Magazine)

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 carrots, thinly sliced
  • 2 Persian cucumbers, thinly sliced
  • 1 pound sweet Italian sausage
  • 1 small head of butter lettuce, chopped

Directions:

  1. Preheat the grill to 350°F.
  2. Whisk together the first six ingredients (through the salt and pepper) in a large bowl. Add the carrots and cucumbers and toss to coat. Set aside and let sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.
  3. While the veggies marinate, grill the sausages for 15 – 20 minutes or until charred and cooked all the way through. Transfer the sausages to a cutting board and slice into 1-inch slices.
  4. Transfer the carrots and cucumbers to another bowl. Add the sausage and lettuce and toss until combined. Season with a little more salt and pepper, drizzle with as much of the leftover dressing you like and serve.

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I hate being inside when the weather’s warm. All I want to do is hang by the pool or play on the beach or just lay in the backyard and read a book or magazine. The last thing I want to do is be stuck inside and cook over a hot stove, especially when my stove is a vintage gas range where the gas is always on. That means my kitchen is always hot. So, during the summer, I cook outside and use my grill.

My favorite things to grill are chicken, steak, vegetables as well as fruit. While they’re all good on their own, they’re even better when you mix and match. Every summer I make my Grilled Chicken and Corn Salad because it’s so easy and so good. I also like to grill up a few oranges and lemons and make Sangria. But this year I discovered a delicious chicken and orange recipe from Good Housekeeping that will definitely be on my summer menu from now on.

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What’s great about this recipe is that it doesn’t take very long to make (only about 35 minutes once the grill is hot), and the chicken comes out juicy and crispy thanks to the spice rub and orange juice. But what I really love about this recipe is how versatile it is. See, my children and I hate spicy food, but my husband loves it, as do a lot of other people I know. So, while the recipe calls for couple teaspoons of ground chipotle chiles, they can easily be left out of the savory spice rub and you won’t lose any of the delicious flavor. But that rub isn’t the only reason these thighs are so good.

See, I love savory spices on proteins. But when you add a sweet and tangy juice… well that just raises the bar to a whole other level. The juice in this recipe comes from oranges. I used Valencias because they’re so sweet, but any orange will do. I didn’t just squeeze the orange juice over the chicken, though. I grilled them first. Grilling the oranges add a nice smokey tang that’s unlike eating the oranges straight out of the peel. It’s that smokey tang combined with the savory spices that move this chicken dish to the top of my summer dinner menu and make it perfect for either a large backyard barbecue or a small family dinner.

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Grilled Orange Chicken

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground chipotle chile (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 4 pounds chicken thighs
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 Valencia oranges, cut into quarters
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced

Directions:

  1. Preheat the grill to about 350°F.
  2. Whisk together the sugar, chile (if using), cumin, garlic and onion powders, salt and pepper in a small bowl and set aside.
  3. Toss the chicken with the oil in a large bowl and then sprinkle with the spice mixture, rubbing it in to make sure the thighs are evenly coated.
  4. Place the chicken on the grill and cover and cook for 20 – 25 minutes, flipping once. Place the oranges on the grill for the last 5 minutes, or until there’s a nice char on them. Transfer the chicken to a serving platter. Then squeeze the juice from the oranges over the chicken, garnish with the scallions and serve.

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Every year for the 4th of July we always have a block party. Everyone on the block gets together and we play games, listen to music, drink cocktails and of course barbecue. There are the standard burgers and dogs, but there are also the not so standard chicken, ribs and whatever anyone else wants to grill up. While I love barbecued chicken or steak, I know full well most boys and girls under the age of 10 don’t. They prefer hotdogs and chicken fingers. But what if I told you you could make chicken fingers on the grill? Thanks to America’s Test Kitchen, now you can.

I know that chicken fingers are usually fried in oil or baked in an oven. But during the summer months I prefer to cook outside and that means grilling. Unfortunately my boys don’t really like most things I make on the grill, especially if it’s beef. So, when I found this recipe, I knew I’d struck gold. Not only would my boys eat them, other kids would probably lap them up as well. With that kind of pedigree, I knew they’d be perfect for our block party.

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Although this recipe only calls for 8 chicken thighs, I knew I could easily multiply it by the number of kids at our block party and they’d be gone before the sun set and the fireworks started. So, if they put smiles on all our kids faces, I’m sure they’ll put smiles on yours. But it won’t just be the kids grabbing these tenders by the handful, the adults will be enjoying them as well. See, the breading these thighs are covered in isn’t just bread crumbs and salt. There’s also olive oil, basil and garlic. Simply adding a few more herbs and spices turn a kid friendly meal into something adults will be scrambling for. Hubs and I went back for seconds (and thirds).

But the best thing about these chicken tenders is that while they’re delicious right off the grill, like most fried chicken, these tenders are delicious at room temperature as well. That means you can grill up several just as the party’s getting under way and set them out for kids and adults to nibble on for the duration. Sounds like a dream to me because if there’s one thing Hubs and I hate, it’s manning the grill for the whole event. We like to be social and mingle with everyone else which means these little tenders will be on our 4th of July menu for years to come.

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Grilled Garlic Chicken Tenders (adapted from America’s Test Kitchen)

Ingredients:

  • 5 slices of sourdough, torn into pieces
  • 1/4 cup basil, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

Directions:

  1. Preheat the grill to 300°F.
  2. Place the first six ingredients (through the pepper) in a food processor and process until finely ground. Transfer the bread crumb mixture to a shallow bowl. Then place the flour in another bowl and the egg in a third bowl.
  3. Season the thighs with salt and pepper, then dredge each thigh in the flour. Dip in the egg, letting the excess drip off. Finally dredge each thigh in the bread crumb mixture, pressing to make sure it adheres to the chicken.
  4. Grill the thighs until cooked through and the breaded coating is brown and crisp, about 6 minutes per side. Transfer the thighs to a platter and serve.

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It’s so funny the way summer works here in the South Bay. One day it’ll be cold and foggy and in the low 60’s, or what we call June Gloom. Then the next day, usually right around the official start of summer, it’ll be sunny and hot, like in the 90’s hot. When it gets that hot it’s time to cook outside, and that means grilling.

I love grilling all kinds of things from steak to vegetables to fruit to chicken. Everything is better on the grill. No matter what you’re cooking, you get a nice smokey flavor, a great char and if it’s fruit or vegetables, that fire brings out the produce’s natural sugars making them just a little sweeter. This recipe gives you all that and more thanks to a moist, smokey chicken breast and some seriously sweet strawberries.

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I know it’s common practice to serve proteins with vegetables but I love serving them with fruit because you get a savory meal with a burst of sweet flavor. Those sweet/salty flavor combos are some of my favorites. That combination is the reason I tend to add a little more salt to my desserts, why I cook pasta with peaches and tuna with plums. It’s precisely why when I saw this recipe in Fine Cooking, I jumped at the chance to make it.

But the flavors aren’t the only reason I love making this dish. It’s the fact that it takes under 30 minutes. That’s right, less than 30. As a matter of fact it’s waiting for the charcoal and the grill to heat up that takes the longest amount of time. After the grill’s ready to go, the chicken and strawberries take mere minutes.  Once they’re cooked, plate ’em up, drizzle with the syrup and serve. Oh, that syrup. I almost forgot about that syrup. It really ties the whole dish together by adding some seriously rich notes that highlight those sweet and salty flavors I mentioned earlier. Those flavors that remind you summer is here and it’s time to get grillin’!

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Grilled Chicken and Strawberries with Balsamic Syrup

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 20 strawberries
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Boil the balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan until reduced by half, about 2 minutes, and set aside.
  2. While the vinegar boils, preheat the grill to 400°F.
  3. Thread 5 strawberries onto 4 different skewers.
  4. Wrap each chicken breast in plastic wrap and pound until about an inch thick. Brush the breasts with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  5. Grill the chicken and strawberries until the chicken is cooked through, about 6 minutes, and the strawberries have slight grill marks, about 2 minutes. Drizzle with balsamic syrup and serve.

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I love Mexican food. Tacos, Spanish rice, tamales, quesadillas… you get the picture. While Tuesdays are usually saved for tacos, we tend to enjoy our Mexican food on Fridays. Actually, we don’t specify a night for Mexican. We have it whenever we want… except when it comes to Cinco de Mayo.  On Cinco de Mayo we always have Mexican, and there’s no easier Mexican than tacos.

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We usually have ground beef tacos because they’re super easy and the kids love them. But then, thanks to Melissa’s Produce, I met Pati Jinich. She’s a chef who’s been making Mexican food accessible to the masses for decades with PBS’s Pati’s Mexican Table, a culinary program that consists of live cooking demonstrations and tasting dinners. Since Table, Jinich has hosted several celebrity dinners, started a blog and written two cookbooks, including Mexican Today. It’s full of delicious Mexican recipes both classic and innovative, and has everything from salsas to soups to tacos.

These tacos are unlike any taco I’ve ever seen or heard of. Jinich has tacos made with bacon, with fish and even just plain cheese. But the most interesting tacos in this book are tacos made with plantains! I know… banana tacos! And they’re not a dessert! These are filling, savory tacos that are perfect for the original taco holiday.

If you’re worried about where you might find plantains, I’m here to help. Yes, you can get them at most Mexican or Hispanic markets. But since Mexican and Cuban food has become so popular I’ve started to notice plantains at regular supermarkets as well. They’re right there next to the mangos and other unusual fruits. But if you can’t find them there, Melissa’s always has them ready to order. So, while plantains are becoming easier to acquire, there are still some rules that apply to eating them, the main one of course is making sure they’re ripe.

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You might think, like a banana, the plantain is ripe when it’s yellow. But I’m sorry to say they’re still pretty hard and flavorless at that point. You actually have to wait until the plantains are at least brown if not black before they’re ready to be eaten. At that point you can peel them and eat them straight or better yet sauté them up and have them as dessert or in these delicious tacos.  Serve them up with some simmered shaved corn and a couple margaritas and you have a fiesta well worthy of Cinco de Mayo.

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Plantain Tacos (adapted from Mexican Today)

Ingredients:

  • 2 very ripe plantains
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 7 scallions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1-1/2 cups refried beans
  • 10 corn tortillas, warmed
  • 1/2 cup salsa verde

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F, line a baking sheet with tin foil and set aside.
  2. Roll the ripe, unpeeled plantains on the counter to soften. Place the plantains on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 30 – 40 minutes or until the plantains have broken through their skins, are lightly browned on the outside and caramelized.
  3. While the plantains bake, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the scallions and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 2 minutes. Add the salt and cook for another minute. Add the sunflower seeds and cook, without stirring, for about 30 seconds. Then stir the seeds into the onions and continue to cook for another minute or two. Remove from the heat.
  4. Heat the refried beans according to the directions, remove from the heat and set aside.
  5. Peel the plantains while they’re still hot and slice them on a slant.
  6. Spoon a couple of tablespoons of refried beans onto the center of each tortilla, add 3 or 4 slices of plantain and top with the sunflower seed mixture. Drizzle with salsa and serve.