Monday, July 30, 2012

Copy-Cat Chick-fil-A Strips

These should really be called "Blair Can Eat These Every Day Chicken Strips." A few weekends ago, Andy, Blair and I were in Athens picking up wiring supplies to finish up work on our little cabin at the river. Blair was hungry and so was I. She knew there was a Chik-fil-A just down the road, so there we went. She recommended we order some strips and the crosscut fries and dip them in that delicious Chik-fil-A sauce. After much discussion and aggravation about how Blair would eat there every meal but on Sunday if we had one in Pulaski, I hopped on the internet and found a zillion copy-cat recipes.

The one thing I noticed about all of them was they contained pickle juice. We now have a standing order to not throw the pickle juice away! It really makes a difference in the taste.


Right then and there I decided that's what would be on the menu when Momma came over to eat with us on Wednesday. It was recommended the strips marinade at least 2-4 hours. I work and time is a luxury. My chicken tenders swam in the bowl for 30 minutes. While they were being breaded and cooked; I popped a pack of boneless, skinless chicken thighs in the marinade for Andy and myself. They got at least 30 minutes of time too.


I haven't found the magic mix for the Chik-fil-A sauce, but I'm working on it. We mixed up 1 cup of Ken's Honey Mustard Dressing with 2 teaspoons of Smoky BBQ sauce to dip these in. If Blair could just make it home with an extra pack, I would eventually figure out the real thing.

I'm not really a chicken strip/finger/nugget eater, but these were the best I've ever fixed. Momma and Blair kept going on about how good they were. Andy didn't say anything. He was too busy wolfing his food down to be able to.

INGREDIENTS:
  • 2 chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces or 2 packs of tenders 
Marinade:
  • 3/4 cup milk 
  • 1/4 cup pickle juice (I use Mt. Olive dill pickle sandwich stacker juice)
  • 1 egg, beaten
Breading:
  • 1-1/4 cups flour 
  • 2 Tablespoons confectioners sugar 
  • 2 teaspoons salt 
  • 1 teaspoon pepper 
  • 1/2 cup canola oil

Season chicken with salt and pepper.

In a large Ziplock bag, mix flour, confectioners sugar, salt and pepper.

With tongs, drop the chicken pieces a couple at time into the bag. Shake and roll so that the chicken is covered well.

Cover the bottom of a large skillet with oil and heat on medium-high heat (7 out of 10 on my oven.) To check for readiness. Sprinkle a little flour in the oil. If it sizzles, it's good to go. If it starts hissing and popping, drop the temperature down and let it cool a little.

Carefully place the strips into the skillet. Don't overload the skillet. Give the strips a little breathing room. (If they start cooking too fast, drop the temperature down to 5 or 6)

Let the chicken cook for for 3-4 minutes, or until golden brown on one side.You'll notice the color start to ease up the sides from the bottom. Don't flip them until you see this!
Turn the chicken and let it cook for another 3-4 more minutes. Place them on a paper-towel lined plate to drain grease.

When I fried the chicken thighs, because of the thickness, it look 8-10 minutes each side for those pieces. I had my range set between 4-5. I also put a lid over them after I turned them.



Sunday, July 29, 2012

Emergency Kitchen Substitutions and Tips

The secret to stress-free cooking is to be organized. I make every attempt to be, but sometimes it just isn't happening. The first rule: keep your pantry stocked. Click here for a pretty inclusive list of what you should keep on hand at all times. I'm not saying go out and buy every single thing on the list at one time...just add to it as you can and you'll get there. Rule two: Attach a small note pad to your refrigerator or any other convenient place to write down what you just used as you were cooking. When you take something out of the pantry, write it down right then or you may forget it. Replace it on your next trip to the grocery.  Rule three: Plan your meals on Saturday/Sunday for the next week and what night you'll eat leftovers (if any).

How do I know this works? Well, for example: The other night we were grilling hamburgers. Someone didn't write down pickles on the list when they pulled the jar from the pantry. Yes, there were a couple pickle stackers in the jar in the fridge, but that was it. 

The past few weeks we've not been writing down our menu for the week. We still are fixing a good meal every night, but it's been very stressful figuring it out at the last minute. It's also caused extra trips to the grocery store.

So, there are times yours truly will run out of something. Over the years I've made a list of tips from my Grandmother Gaudette and others along with substitutions for the things I might run out of from time to time.

One of my favorite substitution reminders is how to replace fresh grated garlic or ginger versus ground. A funny example of this was when we were fixing a dish that required 1 tbsp. grated ginger. I neglected to tell my "kitchen assistant" she needed to dial down the amount of ground ginger she was substituting that with. Needless to say, that ginger came shining through!

Click here to download a pdf to your computer or to print from.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Kitchen Measurement Chart

It always amazed when I was learning to cook from someone with a lifetime of experience; by how they never measured anything. That trait drove me nuts. I wanted exact. "Exactly how much buttermilk did you add to the flour?  The response I usually received was: "Till it looks right." Then I would notice little things like a special coffee mug or an odd sized bowl or a "special spoon" that would never equal any measuring instrument you could buy anywhere; but was somehow always "just right."

Many decades later, I find myself with that same skill set. Hmmm, Is the ability to fix almost any recipe without a measuring cup or spoon a skill one could add to their resume? Probably not, but it could explain my extreme ability to pay attention to detail and notice when something is off as little as a 1/16th of an inch. (Just don't ask me how many feet or yards it is to my mailbox, I'd flunk that!)


When I first started compiling recipes for my kids when they moved off for college, I didn't have anything measured. This project made me slow down and take the time to get it right for them. Now, having said all that; there are times when every cook will need to break out a measuring tool. When it comes to baking; accurate is a must. I have several cheat sheets that I keep on my fridge and inside my spice cabinet that help me when I find myself needing to know equivalents. I've recreated a chart containing what I consider to be the most helpful out of all of them.


Click here to download a pdf you can save to your computer or print from.

For you beginners out there: there is a difference between liquid and dry measurements. So yes, you will need both measuring cups! A dry measuring cup is meant to be completely filled and leveled off with a knife. If you fill a dry measuring cup to the very top with a liquid; you will be making one big mess.




Friday, July 27, 2012

Cherry Tomato, Cucumber and Onion Salad

You won't hear me saying, "rain, rain, go away" anytime soon. After the long dry spell we experienced the biggest part of the summer; I was glad to see rain in any form or fashion over the past few weeks. Drizzling or down pours, we'll take it! The rain had perked our garden up and Sunday evening I was able to pick enough Roma tomatoes to can nine more pints and a butter bowl full of cherry tomatoes
.
Monday afternoon, Andy started the Classic Greek Chicken when he got home from work. All afternoon, I knew I'd be serving yellow rice as one of the sides but I could not figure out what side two would be. That changed when I saw all those cherry tomatoes! A nice, cold salad with a good bite was what I came up with.

I fell back into my old ways of throwing a dish together and mixing until it tastes good, so I'm giving approximate measurements. 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 cups of cherry tomatoes, cored and cut in half
  • 1 small cucumber, peeled, cut into quarters and sliced into paper thin slices
  • 1 small sweet onion, sliced thinly and then cut into 1/2 rings and broken apart
  • 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1 medium can sliced black olives, drained

Mix vegetables together in a medium bowl. Add the following dressing to the vegetables.

DRESSING:

  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Mix well and chill for at least one hour before eating.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Classic Greek Chicken


We were watching Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives Sunday afternoon and one of the restaurants was serving up Classic Greek Chicken. It looked so good we just had to give it a try. The original recipe called for squeezing the juice of two lemons and placing the lemons in the dish while it baked. We just substituted with what we had on hand...Real Lemon juice. The flavor was incredible. They split their whole chickens in half, which we will try the next time; but since we had leg quarters in the freezer, that's what we went with. If you are looking for an easy dish to fix, this is it. Andy got it all started when he got home from work. When I came home, I fixed a cherry tomato, cucumber and onion salad. Along with that, we had yellow rice and garlic cheese biscuits. Like Guy says, "we were on the train to flavor town!"
  • 6 leg quarters
  • Juice of two lemons
  • 1   tbsp. dry oregano
  • 1   tsp. minced onion
  • 1   tsp. Lawry's garlic salt with parsley flakes
  • 5   tbsp. olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Arrange leg quarters skin side up in an aluminum lined casserole dish. Pour lemon juice and drizzle olive oil over chicken. Top with spices. Place in 350 degree oven, uncovered, for one and a half to two hours, or until skin is a nice golden brown. Check that it is done by inserting a meat thermometer into the thickest meat portion for a reading of 165 degrees.

Monday, July 23, 2012

How To Keep The Birds From Messing On Your Outdoor Furniture

Nothing is more aggravating than cleaning up your yard furniture and coming out a few hours later to discover the birds have dive bombed and messed them up again. I had just washed all of our metal furniture and Andy resprayed all of it and in no time birds were back pooping all over it again. DISGUSTING!

We made a trip to Wal-Mart for some realistic looking rubber snakes and it has virtually stopped that problem. The secret to making it successful is you have to move them around periodically. You can't throw them out and forget them. 

I can't tell you how many times I've walked out there and have a mental picture of where they should be. In the mean time, Andy or Blair has moved them to a new location. It's hilarious (eventually) when the new location catches you off guard and makes you jump or yell out!



Friday, July 20, 2012

Canning Roma Tomatoes

 There's nothing better than pulling a jar or two of canned Roma tomatoes from the pantry to add to a pot of chili, spaghetti sauce, chicken stew or vegetable soup. It may be less trouble and possibly cheaper to buy them at the store; but the taste of homemade is more than worth it. I know what I've got in my jars; and I have no idea what's lurking in that can.

I picked two small buckets of tomatoes and sorted through and picked the ripest ones. The remainder I laid out on a table for a few more days of ripening. I guessed that I would have enough to fix 9 jars. It ended up being 10, but one of my jars must have had a hair-line crack I didn't notice. As I was lifting it from the rack, the bottom literally fell out.
 
 Pop the stems off and wash tomatoes. Check for tomatoes with spots and bruises and set them aside.

Fill a large pot with water. Bring it to a boil. While the pot is heating up, fill your CLEAN sink with cold water. Carefully add several tomatoes to the pot. Let them boil for approximately 1 minute. Transfer them to a bowl with a slotted spoon and put them in the cold water. Repeat this until all the tomatoes have been through this process.
 
 The skins will come off easily after a hot water soak. Cut the ends/core and remove skins.
  
Add the tomatoes to STERILIZED, hot jars. I typically pack these in pint jars. I run my jars, rings and lids through the dishwasher to clean and heat everything up. With a wooden spoon or silicone spatula, carefully pack the tomatoes. 
For pint jars add 1/2 tablespoon of lemon juice and 1/4 tsp. salt. (Double for quart jars)
Carefully wipe the rim of the jar, place a lid on and hand-tighten the ring. Do not overtighten!
 Place jars in a rack.
 
Place rack in canning pot, completely cover jars with an additional inch or two of water. 
Bring to a boil. Boil for 45 minutes.
 
 Using canning tongs, carefully remove the jars to a towel on your counter for cooling and absorbing the excess water. You should hear the jars pinging fairly quickly. This sound lets you know they sealed properly. If they don't seal, put in refrigerator and use.
  
The juice is still boiling away when the jars are removed.

 A casualty. :-(



Thursday, July 19, 2012

Brats Cooked in Butter, Beer and Onions

Brats on the left, Italian sausage on the right. When it comes to fixing a "guy meal" Beer Brats would have to rank high on the list. They take a little more time and effort than slapping a pack of hot dogs on the grill; but your taste buds will think it was time well spent. 

The other night Andy fired up both a pack of brats and Italian sausage. The sausage went down uncooked and required extra time on the grill to cook thoroughly. We like to fix oven baked fries or eat them with a good salad to round it out.

I like to load mine up with mustard, onions (raw or cooked), and red sweet pepper relish on a brat bun. Andy substitutes plain yellow mustard with Beer and Brat Horseradish Mustard we find in the refrigerated section at Publix. It's definitely a manly condiment as that stuff will knock the breath out of you! He loves it though.
Bring 1 12 oz. can of beer, a stick of butter and 1 medium onion to a boil in a medium saucepan.

Drop in 1 pack (5) brats.
Cook for about 10 minutes.
Place on a hot grill.

Turn on all sides until cooked through. The Italian sausage needs to cook an additional10-15 minutes as it was placed on the grill in the raw. The extra prep steps are worth it in our opinion. The brats get a good start on cooking; the outside develops a nice color without having to overcook them to ensure they're done.


*Dont' forget to "Like" Man, That Stuff Is Good on Facebook to be entered in a SPECIAL PROMOTION for a FREE MTSIG Cookbook to be given away when we reach 250 likes!


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

New Potatoes and Green Beans

July 4th we dug our potatoes up and that night, we got to enjoy new potatoes with green beans frozen from last year's garden. Every year, I set the tiny little potatoes we find to the side just for this dish.When I say tiny, I mean anything that is the size of a grape or larger.

I have fixed these with seasoned store bought green beans and from fresh. When there are leftovers from fixing a huge pot of fresh picked beans; I vacuum seal and freeze and use them when the "new potatoes" come in.

Growing up, I had only heard of Idaho and Russet potatoes. When my Dad would raise a garden, we always went out and picked up the brown potatoes he dug up. To my knowledge, red potatoes didn't exist until I had moved to the country. I'm sure I saw them in the grocery store, but I had never bought them. There was a sweet, elderly gentleman, Mr. Moore, who stopped by the house one Saturday and asked me if I wanted any "harsh potatoes." Harsh potatoes didn't sound very good to me and I said no. I later found out this old timer called red potatoes Irish potatoes. He had raised a big crop and was looking to sell them and this city girl was quite clueless.

To prepare potatoes:
Wash and scrub skins with a vegetable brush.
Do not remove skins.
If they are over one inch in diameter, slice them in half.

Based on using either of the two sets of directions for cooking green beans linked above, if you use beans out of a can, put the potatoes in when you start cooking. If you are making these from fresh beans, add them after the beans have started to get tender, about an hour. At that point, you will be slow-cooking the beans for another hour and a half or so and the potatoes won't have time to turn to mush. They will have time to absorb whatever seasonings are in the pot.




Monday, July 16, 2012

SPECIAL PROMOTION!

Help me reach others who may want quick, easy and delicious food recipes with a little fun thrown in now and then. "Like" my Facebook page (see sidebar on right) or click here and you'll automatically be entered to win a hard-cover "Man, That Stuff Is Good!" cookbook. As soon as I reach 250 likes, I will be sending it out to one lucky winner. It will be a random drawing of ALL the MTSIG followers. The cookbook features 50 recipes I compiled when my kiddos went off to college. Thanks for helping me spread the word!

Whole Chicken Cooked on Bubba Keg



When it comes to fixing chicken on the Bubba Keg, Andy has got it down pat. We've been eating so many veggies and salads from the garden, it was time to factor some grilled meat back in. Blair was happy we were serving something other than thighs and legs. I'll have to admit, when he smokes chicken like this or fixes a drunk chicken on the grill; the white meat is quite moist and tender.

Split a whole 3lb. chicken down the center. Wash and pat dry.

Rub down with Durkee Grill Creations St. Louis Style Chicken and Rib Rub. Be sure to cover both sides.

Bring your Bubba Keg up to 350 degrees and place the chicken meaty side up on the grill. Close and lock the lid. Andy started with 1-1/2 on the top vent and 1 on the bottom vent. The heat started to slowly climb to 375 degrees. At that point, he backed the top vent to 0 and 1 on the bottom. It got back down to 350 degrees.

After one hour of cooking time, he checked the internal temp and it read a little over 170 degrees. We moved the chicken to a platter; covered it with aluminum foil and let it sit untouched for 30 minutes. It was DELICIOUS, MOIST AND JUICY!!



Saturday, July 14, 2012

Stuffed Spaghetti Squash

Guilt-free eating! That's how I feel when I fix stuffed spaghetti squash. There is nothing but veggie goodness and melted mozzarella cheese. You could stir in some cooked Italian sausage slices if you just have to have meat. However, this dish is so hearty and with the different vegetable textures, you won't even miss it. Serve this with garlic bread and you have a whole meal.

My BFF Claudia first introduced me to spaghetti squash years ago. At one point she worked from a home office and every so often, she would whip up an awesome lunch and invite me over to share. The meal was incredible and getting out of the office for a break and catching up on girl talk made it even more enjoyable. She plans to share her recipe with you in a guest post in the very near future.

I recommend cutting all the veggies before you start cooking the squash so it comes together time-wise. Quantities listed are for fixing 2 squash (4 servings)

VEGETABLE FILLING:
  • 1/2 red onion chopped 
  • 1/2 of a 10 oz. bag matchstick carrots 
  • red bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 small yellow squash, diced
  • 6 oz. broccoli florets
  • 1 bunch of asparagus, cut into 1" slices
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic


Place in a LARGE skillet with a small amount of olive oil Cook this while the squash is cooking. Lightly season with a little salt and pepper. The spaghetti sauce will add more flavor.


Using a large, sharp knife, cut squash in half. BE CAREFUL! It can be a little tough to cut.

Place in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and let it cook 10-15 minutes.

With a sturdy, large spoon, scoop out the seeds from the center.

Using a fork, shred and remove spaghetti squash. Place shells on a large baking sheet.

Add the squash from two halves* to the cooked veggies.
Amazing how much it looks like a pile of angel hair pasta!
Stir in one jar of Paul Newman's Marinara Sauce. Heat through.

*The squash from the other two can be reserved and served with butter, salt and pepper or topped with pasta sauce for another meal. 

Divide vegetables between the four shells.
Top with 3 slices mozzarella cheese.
Bake in 350 degree oven until cheese is bubbly and lightly browned.


Thursday, July 12, 2012

In Honor of National Pecan Pie Day



In honor of National Pecan Day...here are two pecan recipes from Grandma Gaudette's recipe file.

Pecan Pie (1977)

  • 1 cup Karo syrup
  • 3 eggs slightly beaten
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp. butter or oleo melted
  • 1 cup pecans
  • 1 unbaked pie crust
Mix all ingredients for filling together. Add pecans first (to crust) and pour the mixture over pecans. Bake at 400 degree hot oven, for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 and bake 30-35 minutes longer.
When pecan pie is done, outer edges of filling should be set; center slightly soft.

Grandma (at the young age of 100) was guarding her pecan pie from
Missy, the neighbor's dog!
Chocolate Pecan Pie
1 package (4 ounces) Bakers Sweet Chocolate or 4 squares Baker's Semi-Sweet chocolate broken into pieces
2 tablespoons margarine or butter
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup Karo light or dark corn syrup
3 eggs, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-1/4 cups pecan halves
1 unbaked pastry shell (9 inch)
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Microwave chocolate and margarine on High 1 to 2 minutes or until margarine is melted, stirring halfway through heating time. Stir until chocolate is completely melted.
Stir in sugar, corn syrup, eggs and vanilla until well blended. Stir in pecans. Pour into pastry shell.
Bake 50 minutes or until filling is firm 2 inches from edge. Cool on wire rack.



Dehydrated Tomatoes

The summer of 2012 has been the driest one I can remember in a long time. Lack of rain has not prevented us from having SOME tomatoes; but it did prevent them from producing like they have in the past. (I can Roma tomatoes because they're much more meatier and less watery.) There is nothing better than using tomatoes you've personally canned in soups, stews and sauces!. Thus far, I've not been able to harvest enough tomatoes at one time to make more than a few jars. Hopefully the rain we got this week will turn that situation around.

Last year, my BFF Claudia, told me she dehydrated tomatoes and froze them. Hmmm....we have a dehydrator sitting unused until Andy gets ready to make deer jerky in the fall. Perfect! This was my first attempt, and I've since gone on and fixed two additional batches. Easy and DELICIOUS! Andy "tested" one of them as I was bagging them up and he called it "GARDEN CANDY!"

Tomorrow's batch needs a little more time in the sun! 

Wash your tomatoes and slice into 1/4" slices. Remove core.
Spray your trays with a light coating of cooking spray.

Lay the tomatoes out to fill up the tray. I was told they needed to be placed so they don't touch. After the first batch, I realized that didn't affect them at all. If they're properly dehydrated, you can literally scoop them up when they're done.

I sprinkled Lawry's Garlic Salt with Parsley Flakes on them. DELICIOUS! The room smelled like a pizzeria after a few hours!
We have a Nesco dehydrator and I set it to 135 degrees. The first time I had 4 minimally covered trays and 8 hours was sufficient. The second go-around I had six trays loaded up with slices. I had the timer (don't let me forget to tell you about that!) set for 8 hours. They weren't done quite enough after eight hours, so I set it for an additional 3 and they turned out perfect! I've fixed two batches this way and this seems to be the perfect combination. I highly recommend checking the time the first time until you know what timing will work with your equipment. If your slices aren't consistent, you may need to pull the thinner ones off a little early.
The timer. Since I have a pretty full day at my job, plus garden, blog and cook everyday, I'm always open to new ways to save time. Andy and I picked tomatoes and I already knew I wasn't setting my alarm clock for the middle of the night to turn these off. He came up with the brilliant idea to use one of the timers we use at Christmas for decorations. Perfect! Set it and forget it! I just bag the dehydrated tomatoes up before I go to work.
I plan on keeping some of these in ziplock freezer bags so I can pull what I need. After they're frozen, I plan to portion them out and vacuum seal for extended keeping.

I can't wait to fix my first tomato, spinach, onion and feta cheese pizza!! Yum-yum!