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 coloring 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 from 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 omelet 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.

Add in a couple of strips of perfectly crisp, thick cut Oscar's Adirondack Smokehouse bacon, or some of their house-made breakfast sausage (they ship... and they're worth it) and I'm one seriously happy camper. And lest I forget, it's never really a true pancake breakfast, unless that fluffy stack of buttery golden goodness is dripping with sweet, warm, pure NY or Vermont maple syrup. (Oscar's sells this too, btw) I might live in NY state, but I was born in VT, so either one of these is A-O-K in my book. If you've never had the real deal, I'd probably suggest a medium amber syrup. That being said... if you're a pure maple syrup aficionado, by all means, go for your favorite grade and color.

So, since Father's Day is just a couple of days away, I got to thinking that these would make a perfect treat for Dad to enjoy before he hits the links, or the tennis court, or the hiking trail, or the La-Z-Boy, if that's more his thing. No matter what Dad does to celebrate his special day, these pancakes won't slow him down either. They're light and fluffy and they don't leave you feeling like some pancakes do. You know... the ones that feel like they've turned into a hunk of lead at the bottom of your stomach, by the time breakfast is over. Yeah, I think we've all had those. The ingredients are simple and usually on hand in most people's pantry and fridge.

Homemade Buttermilk Pancakes
makes approx. 4 moderate servings
can be doubled or tripled quite successfully
  • 1 and 1/2 Cups *Buttermilk
  • 4 Tbls (half stick) Butter, melted and slightly cooled
  • 1 Lg Egg
  • 1 and 1/2 Cups AP Flour
  • 2 Tbls Sugar
  • 1 Tsp Baking Powder
  • 3/4 Tsp Baking Soda
  • Pinch of Salt
  • Maple Syrup, warmed, to pass at the table
If you're a first time pancake maker, you might want to take a look at my "Pancakes 101" tips at the end of this post, before you begin. If you are a seasoned pancake chef, by all means, just follow the recipe and do the rest in your normal fashion. :~)

Preheat your griddle or pan on medium to medium-high. In a small bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, egg and cooled melted butter.

In a second larger bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt and give it a quick stir to mix the ingredients together.

Pour the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture and stir them together, just enough to incorporate the wet ingredients into the dry. The batter will be a little lumpy and that's OK. It's what you want. You can set this aside while your griddle or pan is heating up, but not much longer. If it's going to be a bit of time before making the pancakes, wait until you are closer to cooking time to combine the wet and dry ingredients.

Check your pan/griddle to see if it's hot enough. The best way to do this, is to drip a few drops of water on the surface. If it immediately pops or dances across the surface, you're ready to go. Do a test pancake to start and once you're satisfied with the results or have made any adjustments that are necessary, continue on with the first batch.

Using a 1/2 cup measuring cup, scoop out about 3/4 of a cup full of batter and pour it onto the griddle. Repeat with as many more scoops as will fit on the pan that you are using, allowing about 1/2 inch of space all around each one. They will (and should) spread out a bit, so eyeball it the best that you can. If your batter is too thick and is not spreading out at all, add a bit more buttermilk.

Some people prefer to mix the batter and pour it directly from a bowl that has a pouring spout. I like the scoop method because I feel like I can gauge the amount of batter that I'm using more clearly.

When the pancakes begin to form an even layer of bubbles across the top, carefully slide a thin, wide spatula underneath and flip them over. Keep in mind that this step takes practice, so don't feel bad if you have a few flips that flop. Usually, the first few pancakes are a bit messy, but you'll build up a rhythm as you go along.

If you are making several batches of pancakes, you can keep them warm by layering them in a large casserole dish with a cover or some foil and placing them in a warm oven. (about 200 degrees Fahrenheit) A sheet of parchment paper in between the layers will keep them from sticking together.

Serve with butter and warm pure maple syrup and Enjoy!

*This is not a recipe where I would recommend making a "buttermilk substitute". (done by adding vinegar or lemon juice to milk) The buttermilk is too much of an integral part of how the recipe works and tastes, to not use the real thing. So, make sure to go out and get you some the day before, m'kay?

"Test" pancake. (see Pancakes 101,  below)

Looks like a keeper!

Use a light oil (like extra light olive oil) to grease the griddle, because if you were to use butter, it will have already started burning by the time you're ready to begin the next batch. That would definitely not make a pleasant tasting pancake.

Remember... Wait for those bubbles!

How gorgeous and golden are these beauties?!

Gently warm the maple syrup before serving. You can do this by pouring it into a small pitcher or other serving vessel and putting it in the microwave for 15 to 20 second intervals, or by placing it in a pan of hot (not boiling) tap water for 5 to 10 minutes.

If you're not a fan of maple syrup, you can use your favorite pancake topping instead. Of course, as it is with all of my recipes, you can always omit any of the "extras" altogether. Butter, anyone?


Pancakes 101

First things first... In order to make perfect Father's Day pancakes, you'll need the following:

1) a good heavy bottomed non-stick griddle pan - if you have gas burners on your stove.
2) a non-stick electric griddle, if you have any other type of burners.

3) A thin, wide spatula, that will slide easily underneath and then support the pancakes while flipping them and removing them from the pan.

I should add that if you're making these for just yourself or maybe one other person, you can use a good heavy skillet. (cast iron works nicely) But in my humble opinion, it's not a bad idea for any cook who's just starting out, to purchase an electric griddle.

Now, I'm sure that some of you are probably asking, "Why would I want to go out and spend my hard earned money on a small appliance that I'm probably only going to use occasionally, for making pancakes?"

Reason #1, you can usually find a pretty decent brand for a pretty decent price at stores like Walmart or Bed Bath & Beyond and...

Reasons #2 through #100, they're actually an excellent tool to have in your kitchen arsenal. You can make a whole lot more than just pancakes on an electric griddle. Things like, french toast, eggs, bacon, hamburgers, toasted sandwiches, seared fish and seafood, quesadillas and a number of things that you might want to make in larger quantities, in a single batch.

You should always make a "test pancake" before doing an entire batch. This will give you an even better idea of the kind of temperature you're working with on your griddle or pan. Obviously, if your pancake starts smoking the second you pour out the batter, your cooking surface is too hot. lol  But, even if the pancake doesn't start sending up smoke signals right out of the gate, it can still cook too quickly. The first side down needs to cook slowly enough to turn that lovely golden brown, as the heat rises up through the batter toward the top.

It's pretty difficult to get a perfectly round pancake, so don't get hung up on that. Just try to get them relatively round and far enough apart to get your spatula up underneath each one when it's time to flip them.

That being said, if you're completely new to making your own pancakes, it's probably best to start out with only 2 or possibly 4 on the griddle at a time. This way, you can get the knack of flipping them. If they run together in spots, don't be tempted to separate them right away. You need to give them time to form a crust or skin on the bottom, that's strong enough to keep the edge of the pancake from tearing away or mushing together (technical term, there) when you slide the spatula under it.

Where pancake batters are concerned, a little bit lumpy is actually a good thing. Stirring the batter too much starts to develop the gluten in the flour and that makes for dense, heavy pancakes. Not good. Letting it sit too long is also a no-no. I was never much of a whiz when it came to chemistry, but there is a chemical reaction that occurs when something that is acidic (buttermilk) is combined with something that is alkaline. (baking powder and baking soda) The baking powder is mainly for leavening, which makes the pancakes light and fluffy and the baking soda neutralizes the acid, helps a bit more with the leavening and also adds tenderness.

I hope this helps any of the first time or relatively new cooks out there. If you have any questions at all, just leave them in a comment and I'll do my best to help in any way that I can.

Whether you make them for Father's Day, another special occasion or "just because", I hope you thoroughly enjoy these delicious pancakes!

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