Thursday, June 27, 2013

Homemade Grill Seasoning for Chicken ~ Summer Recipes!

It's that time of year again and boy... am I thankful for that! Time to bust out the charcoal (or propane, if you prefer rolling with the fast crowd) and grill up some burgers, veggies, steaks, ribs and of course... chicken.

As many of you know, I have two serious food addictions.... pasta and chicken. I love all kinds of food, but if you've done a little exploring around here, I'm sure you've already come to the conclusion that they have a special place in my stomach heart. The thing is, when you really enjoy a particular type of food, you want the  ingredients that are used with them, to enhance the natural flavor; not make them taste like something other than what they are. Chicken is an extremely versatile meat. It can be fried, broiled, baked, poached or roasted. It has a mild flavor that goes equally well with both savory and sweet accompaniments.

Like most folks, I want a lot of flavor from the food I eat, but I don't want the seasonings that I use to mask or cover up the essence of the food itself. Beef should taste like beef. Broccoli should taste like broccoli. Well, maybe not when you're seven. ;~)

In my experience, there's a fine line between using too much and not enough seasoning. Certain herbs and spices just seem to belong with the foods they're often paired with. Thyme and sage, for instance, just seem to naturally go with poultry and pork. And what good would a roast leg of lamb or a big juicy prime rib of beef be, without a little garlic and rosemary?

Back some years ago, I found myself pacing up and down the spice aisle at the grocery store, scratching my head as I was bombarded with this grill blend and that saute blend. Eventually, the little voice in my head said: "Why don't you just make your own, Mary?" I mean, we all have a little "mini me" that speaks to us at the grocery store, right? And in the shower... and in the dressing room at the bathing suit store. (I don't care for that particular mini me very much, btw)

If you've been cooking (and certainly eating) long enough, after a while you should have a pretty good idea what a particular herb or spice tastes like on it's own, as well as what it would add (or not) to a particular vegetable, fruit or meat, if they happened to be combined. You might not think you do, but trust me... it's there. So, I went home from the store that day and started rummaging through my spice cabinet, pulling out all of the bottles and jars and lining them up on the counter top.

I grabbed all of the "usual suspects" first. Kosher salt, black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder and thyme. These five seasonings are the "basics" that I've used when cooking chicken for as far back as I can remember, but I wanted to include a few more, to try and add some depth of flavor, but more importantly, to enhance the chicken without masking the subtle flavor of the meat itself. I also like to try and use flavors that will work well with the other dishes that I'm serving on the side.

After using this mixture for a few years now and tasting the chicken that's been seasoned with it, I'm quite happy with the resulting blend and I hope you will be, too!

Homemade Grill Seasoning for Chicken
Makes approx 1 Cup of seasoning

2 Tablespoon of each:
  • Dried Thyme
  • Onion Powder
  • Granulated Garlic (powder)
  • Adobo Seasoning
  • Kosher or Sea Salt
1 Tablespoon of each:
  • Dried Oregano
  • Dried Marjoram
  • Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1 Tablespoon of each:
  • Ground Cumin
  • Sweet Hungarian Paprika
2 Teaspoons of:
  • Dried Sage
Combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl and stir or whisk them together well. Store the mix in a small container with a tight fitting lid, in a cool dry place; preferably in a kitchen cabinet or spice drawer, or an enclosed pantry. I keep mine in an old pickle or condiment jar, that I ran through the dishwasher to remove any of the aromas or flavors that it picked up from it's original "occupant". It will keep this way for several months.

Remember to always measure out just the amount that you need, each time you use this (or any seasoning) and put it in a small bowl or ramekin. This is important to help avoid any possible cross contamination, from touching the chicken with your fingers and then dipping them back into the seasoning mix.

For 4 to 6 chicken breasts or a small whole chicken, 1-2 Tablespoons should be plenty.

I take the chicken out of it's package, trim it (if necessary), brush it with a little light olive or safflower oil and season it with the dry mix.

Then, I cover the plate with some cling wrap and place it back in the fridge for a couple of hours. You can also do this the night before, or in the morning before you head out for the day. There's basically nothing in this mix that will break down the meat, like a lot of the bottled liquid marinades will do.

Don't get me wrong. I'm definitely not knocking the bottled stuff. It has it's place. It's just that most store bought liquid marinades, contain some kind of acidic ingredient (like lemon juice, citric acid or vinegar) to help tenderize the meat and do it quickly, so they're great when you're really pressed for time.

I make my own liquid meat and vegetable marinades and other seasoning mixes too, but I'll save those recipes for some future posts. :~)

This seasoning mix isn't just for cooking on a grill, either. I use it when I'm roasting or pan sauteing  or pan frying, as well.

As you can see by my almost empty jar, it's time to make up a new batch!



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Monday, June 24, 2013

Mom's "Old Fashioned" 'Tater Salad ~ Perfect For Summer Barbecues!

OK... I know what you're thinkin'.

Who wants to make a potato salad that takes me two days to prepare?

Well, I truly believe that if you taste this one, you really won't care about the time it takes. And in all honesty, it isn't quite as bad as it sounds. The only reason it takes "two" days, is because it's made with baked and cooled potatoes.

If you really want to, you can get up very early and bake your potatoes, get them in the chill chest for about 3 or 4 hours and make it all in one day. In most cases, when I know that I'll be making this salad for the weekend, I'll cook my potatoes on Wednesday or Thursday night. They're fine in the fridge for a couple of days. They don't even need to be wrapped up, or in a container. Their skins will protect them.

So, why not just use freshly cooked potatoes? Don't some recipes instruct you to make the salad while the potatoes are still warm? Well, yes... that's true. But those recipes will never give you the flavor or texture of this potato salad. Uh-huh... now you're wondering if I could be exaggerating just a bit, right? Ya know... seeing as how it's my recipe?

Here's the thing... I don't take full credit for this salad because the idea, or maybe I should say... inspiration, comes from a family member's cherished and often requested version. (An Aunt on my father's side) I never did have the good fortune of being able to get the actual recipe from her or to see her prepare it, but after several years (no exaggeration) of experimenting, I finally came up with a version that I feel is right on the money. She might have done it differently. As a matter of fact, I'm pretty sure she boiled her potatoes, but I just couldn't get a boiled potato to cut that small without turning into mashed potatoes. I even tried chilling them first. No luck. Besides, the flavor that baking the potatoes adds to this salad, is incredible. So, let's get on with the recipe, shall we?

Mom's "Old Fashioned" 'Tater Salad
(This is the full recipe, which is perfect for feeding a crowd. 
As you can see in the photos, I just made 1/2 this time)
  • 6 Lg Russet Potatoes
  • 1 Medium Onion, minced very finely
  • 2 Medium Stalks Celery, minced very finely
  • 3 Cups Real Mayonnaise (no sugary "salad dressings", please)
  • 3 Tbls Prepared Yellow Mustard
  • 1 Heaping Teaspoon Onion Powder
  • 1 Heaping Teaspoon Celery Salt
  • 1 Teaspoon Kosher Salt
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

The day before (or at least 6 hours before) you're going to make your salad:

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Scrub the potatoes thoroughly, pat them dry with some paper towels and pierce them three or four times with the tip of a sharp paring knife or the tines of a fork. Bake them in your preheated oven for 40 to 50 minutes, or until a knife tip or a fork, goes into the center with just a little bit of resistance. (could be about 35 minutes if you're only cooking half the amount, so check)

Even though these are going to chill in the fridge overnight, like a steak or a piece of chicken, they will continue to cook for about 5 minutes after removing them from the oven. Letting them cook too long could easily result in a potato that gets a bit mealy on you and that would totally defeat the purpose of doing this step ahead of time.

Once the potatoes have cooled, place them (still unpeeled) in the refrigerator for a minimum of 4 hours or preferably overnight. Do not wrap them in foil or in cling wrap. Just place them in the fridge, as is. Don't know where I heard it, but there's some kind of bacterial issue that can occur if you wrap them first. See ya tomorrow!

Don't worry... I'm gonna finish this post now. I wouldn't make you wait for a part 2 of the recipe. (continued after the photo below)

OK. So, first you'll want to gather up all of your ingredients and utensils and grab your taters out of the fridge. Peel the potatoes with a small paring knife. There will be small gaps where the skins have pulled away from the meat of the potatoes and that's normal. It's just shrinkage from the chilling process.

Sorry about this one being kinda blurry. It's hard to take a photo and peel a potato at the same time. ;~)
The skins should come off pretty easily, but there will be a few little areas that might be a bit dry. Just slice those off.

Don't worry if you don't get all of the brownish color off of them. If it's really thick or tough, you can take that off, but a little color isn't going hurt at all. It's just a bit of caramelization from the baking process and it actually adds to the overall flavor of the salad.

How you cut the potato is one of the most important steps in this recipe. Well, I guess I should say that it's the most important part. As I mentioned above, the size of the potato cubes (and other ingredients too) is what makes such a difference in the flavor of this dish. In culinary school, future chefs have to take classes on basic and advanced knife skills. One of the cuts that they learn, is called a small dice. (for a short instructional video, scroll down to the bottom of this post.) Basically, this is the end result that I'm going for.

I start by cutting the potato in half and then take each half and place it on the cutting board with the cut side down. Next, cut each side in half again, vertically. Then make 2 slices in each half, from top to bottom. You'll have a total of 4 thin, vertical slices.

Lay 2 of the slices at a time on the board horizontally and make several slices, about a quarter of an inch apart. (this is called a batonnet cut ~ see photo above) Then, cut the strips into small cubes. It's really not as complicated as I just made it sound. LOL The video probably shows it better than I can explain it. ;~)

If you find that it's easier to change up the order of my steps, that's fine. The goal is to end up with a very small dice.

Mince your onion and celery very finely, as well. You can even go a bit more fine with the veggies, if you don't like big chunks of celery and onion in your salads.

The cubes don't have to be completely uniform. There can certainly be some pieces that are slightly bigger or smaller. Let's face it. This isn't culinary school and even with my level of OCD, I don't have the patience or the knife skills to get a perfect small dice. LOL

Mix the potatoes, onions and celery together in a large mixing bowl.

In a smaller bowl, combine the mayonnaise, mustard and seasonings. It might seem like a lot of dressing, but the potatoes will still absorb quite a bit, even though they're not warm. Remember: It's all about the dressing to potato ratio!

Whisk the dressing until it's completely smooth. Mixing it in a separate bowl before adding it to the potatoes is important. You don't want pockets of onion powder or mustard to throw off the balance. :~)

Add the dressing to the potatoes and stir well to incorporate. Remember... It might look like a lot of dressing, but don't be tempted to not use it all. It will absorb into the potatoes.

Pour the finished salad into a serving bowl, cover it tightly with a lid or some cling wrap and put it in the refrigerator for a minimum of 2 hours. 3 or 4 is better, if you have the time. The longer this sits, the better it tastes.

Et, voila! You have (what I consider to be) the perfect potato salad!  It really isn't as laborious as I probably made it sound. But it is delicious!

In this video, Chef Jacob Burton is using a raw potato and he squares it off to get a more perfect cut. As you can see by my photos, (above) I didn't take the time to make it all square and perfect, so don't worry about that, either. This just gives you an idea of the kind of cut I'm looking for. Plus, it's a great little tutorial on basic knife skills!

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Monday, June 17, 2013

An Important Reminder To My RSS Subscribers!

Howdy Everyone!

Just a quick note to remind those of you who subscribe to my blog via RSS and use Google Reader to read Go Ahead... Take A Bite! that there are only two weeks left before Google shuts GR down for good. So if you haven't done so already and would like to continue to follow me through RSS, (It would make my day if you did!) please make sure to choose a new reader and import your subscriptions to it!

Still not sure which RSS subscription reader you want to use? See my post about the choice that I made, which includes links to some reviews of other alternative readers, written by different folks around the web.

Thanks so much for continuing to be a true blue blog friend!!


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Friday, June 14, 2013

Buttermilk Pancakes (Great for Special Days!)

Aside from a well made omelette or maybe some perfectly poached eggs benedict, my favorite Sunday morning breakfast has to be the hubber's scratch buttermilk pancakes. They've been on almost every Christmas morning breakfast table, from the time our daughter was just a wee little one. Let's see... she's turning 29 (and is getting married!) this summer, so yeah, they've definitely been a long standing tradition in our home.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Italian Chicken Pasta Bake

Yup. More pasta... I generally try not to post two pasta dishes in a row, but to be honest I made this and photographed it back at the end of March or beginning of April and for some reason, I never posted it. Funny thing is, I actually included a photo of it in the blog "welcome video" I just made. It wasn't until I was watching the final edit of the video, that I realized there wasn't a recipe for it on the blog! Well... there ya go, folks. This is what happens when you combine menopause and Lupus. Senior moments on steroids. LOL (inside "lupie" joke there)

It's probably not the type of dish that you'd make as often during the warmer months, but it's still a great recipe for the cool, damp or rainy days that most every part of the world gets at some point during the Summer. (like it is right now here on the east coast. yuck!) Hmmm. Now that I've said that, it's perfect timing for my friends in Australia and New Zealand, where Winter is just beginning. Ah, well... wherever it is that you happen to be, I hope you enjoy it!

Italian Chicken Pasta Bake
  • 1 Lb Short Cut Pasta (like penne, fusilli or ziti)
  • 1 Rotisserie Chicken, shredded
  • 1/4 Lb Pancetta, chopped (regular bacon would work in a pinch)
  • 1 Small Onion, chopped
  • 2 and 1/2 Cups Half & Half, or 1 Pint of Heavy Cream plus 1/2 Cup Milk
  • 2 Cup Fontina Cheese, shredded
  • 1 Cup Mozzarella Cheese, shredded
  • 1/2 Cup Parmesan Cheese, grated
  • 1 Tsp each Dried Oregano and Dried Basil
  • 1 Tsp each Onion Powder and Garlic Powder
  • Kosher Salt and Fresh Ground Pepper

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Farenheit. Pick the meat off of your rotisserie chicken and cut or shred it into reasonably bite-sized pieces. Of course, if you have your own cooked chicken, use that. Set it aside.

Fry the pancetta (or bacon, if that's what you have) until it's just crisp. Remove it with a slotted spoon to a small paper towel lined plate or bowl and set it aside.

While you're doing the rest of your prep, cook your pasta according to the package directions, but remove it from the heat and drain it a few minutes before the package recommends. You want the pasta to be slightly undercooked, because it will continue to cook and absorb some of the sauce as it's baking in the oven.

In the same pan where you cooked the pancetta, saute the onions in the drippings, until they're soft and golden brown.

Add the pancetta and onions to the bowl of chicken and combine thoroughly. Set it aside to allow the mixture to cool slightly.

Shred the Fontina and Mozzarella and grate the Parmesan (**if you're using a solid wedge) and toss them loosely together.

**If you noticed that I had several types of cheese in various bags, etc. in the first photo of the ingredients, it's because I wasn't sure which (of the many that I always seem to have in the fridge) I wanted to use in the recipe. I finally decided on the three that I did, because I wanted to keep this pasta bake more "Italian". I also had a wedge of parm that I was going to use and then realized I had some pre-grated reggiano in the fridge that was already opened, so I used it instead.

When the pasta is cooked and drained, combine it in a large mixing bowl with the half and half, or the heavy cream and milk, if that's what you're using) and add the dried herbs, onion and garlic powders and salt and pepper. Mix well.

When all of the ingredients have cooled off a little, add the chicken mixture to the pasta mixture and stir it well to combine. This mixture will be a bit loose and that's how you want it to be.

Add all but one cup of your combined cheeses to the bowl and mix that in.

Pour the fully combined mixture into a large baking or casserole dish and add the remaining cheeses on top. I like to sprinkle a bit of the dried oregano, basil and other seasonings on top for a little extra color and flavor.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes in your preheated oven, until the top is golden brown and bubbly all over. Check on it at 30 minutes because 1) it can depend on how deep or shallow your baking dish is and 2) not all ovens are the same and yours might run a little hotter or cooler than mine.

Serve with a fresh green salad or your favorite vegetable and a nice crusty loaf of Italian or French bread and...



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