Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Crispy Chicken

I can't believe that I haven't posted this before! It's so easy and so obvious and yet totally delicious and versatile. The best thing about it is that it is very kid friendly. We call it "crispy chicken" and for kids addicted to chicken tenders, it's a segue to home cooked ones. It's simply boneless, skinless chicken thighs coated in a mixture of whole wheat bread crumbs and wheat germ. OK - not good for the gluten free, but for others, a quick and simple weeknight meal. I like to serve this with a couple of colorful vegetables to brighten up the plate. Here, I've roasted chunks of butternut squash lightly coated with olive oil and mixed with a pinch of salt, a couple of grinds of pepper and a pinch or two of brown sugar. Spread out onto cookie sheet or sheet pan and sprinkle a little hot pepper over top - I use Aleppo pepper. This goes in the same oven at the same heat as the chicken - you just need to stir the pieces up a couple of times - for about 30 - 40 minutes. Serve an easy green vegetable such as broccoli or green beans alongside. This photo of my plate also includes a dollop of a prune, olive and orange tapenade I had made earlier in the week and which I ate by the spoonful all week.

I like to use chicken from local farms - usually Springfield or Ayrshire, depending on season. Many farms are now offering cut pieces and not just whole chickens. In my area, Mom (My Organic Market) sells Ayrshire Farms meats all year round (Thursday delivery to the Rockville store - I know, they should pay me for publicity!)) so if a farm stand is not available or convenient, I can always count on Mom. While I will sometimes buy a whole chicken expressly to cut up, and it is cost effective to learn how to dismember a whole chicken, for thighs I much prefer to buy a package as it would take several chickens to have enough thighs for a meal.

I also choose thighs over the somewhat healthier breasts as they are pretty hard to overcook. Boneless, skinless breasts can quickly go from well-intentioned to inedible in a matter of minutes. If you are a very careful person and don't cook in large sweeping gestures like I do, then go ahead and use the breasts. Also, the thighs tend to be nice and thin rather than the plump breasts which you'd need to cut and pound to really be tender. Another option is turkey scallopine, which is just thinly sliced turkey tenders. I find these stay nice and moist as well.

Now if you're interested in spicing things up, feel free to add some za'atar or other spices to the crumbs. With this recipe, though, I usually keep it simple and add the spice to the accompanying dishes. The wheat germ adds a nutty flavor that is different than the parmesan/garlic flavor often added to bread crumbs for tenders like these. It's also a lot easier to convince some kids to eat these without the additional seasoning.

Crispy Chicken

(serves 4 - 6)

package of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, about 1.25 pounds - I like to allow two thighs per person

1 egg, lightly beaten, with two tablespoons water added

1/2 cup whole wheat bread crumbs (you can make these in your food processor with some slightly stale whole wheat bread or use pre-made. I like Whole Foods brand which has no sodium)

1/4 cup toasted wheat germ

light coating olive oil or vegetable cooking spray for greasing the pan

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2. Place beaten egg and water mixture into a dish or pan with a side high enough to contain the egg.

3. Alongside the plate with the egg, set out another plate or some waxed paper and gently mix the bread crumbs and wheat germ on that.

4. Have a baking pan handy (I like to line mine with foil) and lightly coat with oil. Place pan next to the plate with the crumb mixture.

5. One by one, dip each thigh first into the egg and then dredge into the crumbs (both sides) and then place on the pan.

6. When all thighs have been coated, place in pre-heated oven for about 30 - 40 minutes, depending on size. I like them to get nice and crispy but not shrink up too much. Check them at 30 minutes and see if the crumbs have browned yet. If not, leave them in the oven a little longer.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

I Interrupt This Post...

This week, I was going to post my recipe for Crispy Chicken, which is as simple and kid friendly as they come. However, a two day trip to the local hospital for my mother (hopefully she is stable again - her blood counts took a bit of a dip which required a transfusion and some platelets) means that post will come next week.

So this was a great time for me to get good news, all the more pleasing because it was so unexpected. I will admit there have been weeks when I've been glued to food52 for more hours than is good for a person who thinks she has a multi-faceted life. This was not one of them. Due to aforementioned medical issues, I was very quiet on and inattentive to food52 for the past few days. When I logged on late this afternoon, after helping to deliver my mother back home, I saw that my recipe for Moroccan Style Lamb is a FINALIST (!!!!!) in this week's contest for "Your Best Recipe with Citrus and Olives." It actually took me a few seconds to realize it was mine because their professional photo was so stunning I didn't recognize my own dish!

So, a little yin/yang this week. Win or lose, I am ecstatic to be a finalist for the first time. The recipe I'm up against sounds really great, too, and I'll probably try it soon. But, I am hoping that any healthier kitchen fans who are also food52 participants will log in to food52.com and vote!

Monday, February 7, 2011

A Thought on the New Dietary Guidelines

Who knew there is such a thing as the Salt Institute? If you really stop to think about it, I guess it makes sense that there is an industry trade group for salt as there is for virtually everything, but who thinks about it? I certainly never did and I actually spend time thinking about these sorts of odd food things.

Why do I now know there is a Salt Institute? Because they are complaining that the new Government dietary guidelines with regard to salt are "drastic, simplistic, unrealistic."

The USDA's recently released, newly revised dietary guidelines continue to recommend that we consume fewer than 2300 mg. of sodium per day. They also advise certain groups to go even further and stay under 1500 mg. per day: those over 51 (!!), all African Americans, and everyone with diabetes, hypertension, and kidney disease. I've read that these subgroups constitute 50% of Americans.

As I've written here several times, I'm not against salt. I use it to flavor my cooking, in moderation, all the time. However, I do object to the whopping amounts added to certain packaged products and meals at certain restaurants. My approach is to avoid as much packaged food and chain restaurant eating as possible. But, even staying under 2300 mg. per day of sodium requires some label reading as a serving of bread can have over 300 mg. and a sandwich uses two slices.

While the guidelines could be considered drastic, perhaps they should be. Are they simplistic? Only if you're a food producer in the business of overusing salt. As to unrealistic, they are not if you cook at home, but might be until more food producers join in cutting back the sodium added to their food products. If you've ever read "Eat This, Not That" you know that individual meals sold at certain restaurants can contain more that the recommended daily allowance of 2300 mg. of sodium in just one dish.