Saturday, January 31, 2015

Oven Baked Seasoned Potato Wedges

When I make my Easy Crispy Chicken Fingers as a meal, I always like to serve something to go along with them. And what goes better with chicken fingers than fries? Well, this can be a bit of a problem, if you attempt to make a batch of traditional "fried" fries, because you have to do one of two things... you'll have to either use two large skillets that are half filled with hot oil on your stove top at one time, or if you have one of the stand alone deep fryers, you have to cook one thing first and keep it warm in the oven, while you cook the other.

My solution? I bake my fries in the oven! And trust me, you won't miss out on the contrasting textures of a crisp, yet tender potato, (which let's face it, are the best part about fried potatoes) by doing it my way. They still come out crispy, brown and delicious on the outside and have the same tender creamy, potato-y goodness on the inside. (If potato-y is even a word? lol)

I promise you... once you've made a big batch of my seasoned oven baked fries this way, I think you'll want to continue to make them this way, again and again.

Seasoned Oven Baked Potato Wedges
(serves 4)
  • 4 Large Russet Potatoes
  • 2 Tbls Vegetable of Light Olive Oil
  • 2 Tbls All Purpose Flour
  • 1 Tsp Onion Powder
  • 1 Tsp Garlic Powder or 1/2 Tsp Garlic Salt w/Parsley
  • 2 Tsp Kosher Salt, divided
  • 1 Tsp Fresh Ground Black Pepper

1. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Wash your potatoes well under cold water and pat them dry with some clean paper towels.

2. Using a sharp knife, slice the potatoes in half lengthwise and then slice each half into wedges. Depending on the size of the potatoes, you can usually get roughly 6 wedges out of each half. You certainly don't have to measure them, but you do want to keep them as close to the same size as you can, just to make sure that they cook at an even rate.

3. Place your potato wedges in a large pan or bowl and drizzle them with the oil. Toss them well with your hands, so that all of the wedges are coated with it. If there's any oil that has puddled or accumulated in the bottom of the dish, pour most of that off. You want the potatoes coated well, but not swimming in the oil.

4. Season the potatoes with your salt, pepper, onion powder and garlic powder and toss them well again to make sure the seasonings are well distributed. (If using the Garlic Salt with Parsley, use only 1/2 Tsp)

*Tip: Fresh ground black pepper is so much more flavorful than the pre-ground options that have been around all these years. Even small diners and mom & pop sandwich shops, are putting pepper grinders (often similar to the one above) on the tables these days. Many pre-ground peppers state clearly on the label that they contain fillers, but they don't ever list exactly what those fillers are. Foodie "insiders" have speculated for years, that one of the more popular fillers that manufacturers use is... sawdust. Now, I don't know how much validity there is to that, but if you do a side by side taste test, the pre-ground stuff has no flavor at all, when compared to the fresh, so...?

*Tip cont'd: You can use any combination of seasonings that you like. I just kept mine simple, because I didn't want the potatoes to compete with (or overshadow) the rest of the food. I wouldn't recommend using fresh herbs prior to cooking, though because they can burn and become bitter. But, if you want to add a little bright, fresh flourish to them, you can chop up and sprinkle on a bit of fresh parsley, chives, etc., shortly after the potatoes come out of the oven.

5. Sprinkle the flour over the potatoes and toss them again, making sure that each wedge has a thin coating of the oil, flour and seasonings on it.

6. I let the potatoes sit for 2 to 3 minutes and then give them another good toss. I do this maybe 2 more times, just to make sure that the oil, flour and seasonings thicken up a bit as it all sits together. It doesn't add much time to the overall process, but it ensures a more even coating on your potatoes.

7. Spread the potato wedges out, skin side down, onto a foil lined baking sheet. Try not to overlap any of them and if you have more pieces than will easily fit on a single sheet, just divide them up equally between 2 sheets.

8. Bake at 450 degrees for 15 to 30 minutes (this will depend on how many you're making and how hot your oven runs), taking them out and turning them once or twice during the cooking process. I find that it's best to use a thin spatula to do this so that you can get under any of the skin that might be starting to stick to the foil. You can also spray your foil with a little cooking oil spray, if you want a little added insurance against possible sticking.

9. Continue to bake, until the wedges are nicely browned and fork tender. Again, check them now & then because oven temps vary. I made these while we were at our daughter's house and her oven took about 5 minutes longer for them to reach the desired color and doneness, than it takes in my own oven here at home.

10. As soon as the potatoes come out of the oven, make sure to hit them with a bit more salt and/or any of the other seasonings you like. For a little kick you can add a little cayenne pepper, or to give them another layer of flavor and texture, a quick grating of a nice sharp Cheddar or a little Parmesan cheese. This will take these potatoes to a whole 'nother level! Be bold! Experiment! But, most of all....



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Easy Homemade Crispy Chicken Fingers

OK... I'll admit it. I'm not a football fan. I never have been. I have however, attended and thrown my fair share of Superbowl parties over the years. Hey! Let's not judge, OK?! I mean, not everyone loves watching sports, but who doesn't love going to parties where you get to hang out with good friends and chow down on all manner of awesome, guilty pleasure inducing munchies? Oh, and the funny or cute, or much loved, three Kleenex commercials that make you smile and cry at the same time. Oh, and there are those spectacular half-time shows that don't exactly stink. ;)

But... let's focus on the food, shall we? For me, there's one particular party food that draws my immediate attention and gets my mouth watering, whenever I see it on a buffet table and that my friends, is chicken. Yum-MEE! And I'm talking about pretty much any form of chicken you can think of. It can be a big pile of sticky, succulent wings, or cheesy, gooey Buffalo chicken dip, or my all time fave... a great big platter of tender, juicy, crunchy chicken fingers and the myriad of delicious dipping sauces that usually accompany them!

There are several ways that you can prepare these golden brown strips of tender boneless chicken and I've tried many of them over the years, but this method is the one that stuck and became my "go-to" recipe, way back when I still had a finicky teen at home who would have consumed nothing but boxed macaroni & cheese and fast food on a daily basis, if I'd let her.

You don't need a huge fry-o-lator like the one they use in restaurants. All you need is a large skillet and a light vegetable or peanut oil to prepare these crunchy golden brown goodies.

Easy Homemade Crispy Chicken Fingers
(Serves 4 - 6 as a main course)
  • 4 Large Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts
  • 2 Cups All Purpose Flour *see note
  • 4 Large Eggs
  • 2 Cups Plain Dried Bread Crumbs  *see note
  • Onion Powder
  • Garlic Powder
  • Ground Thyme
  • Kosher Salt
  • Fresh Ground Black Pepper
  • Hot Sauce (optional)
  • A Light Oil, for frying (Peanut oil works best, if you have it)
*Notes: It's hard to know the exact measurements you'll need because it depends on how much chicken you start out with, how much of the flour and bread crumbs is going to adhere to each piece, etc. You might need a little more or a little less, but 2 Cups is a good starting point.

Whenever you're frying food, the very first thing you need to do is to make room for your "breading station". You'll want to clear off a good sized area of your counter top as close to your stove top as your kitchen allows, so that you can line up your chicken, flour, eggs and breadcrumbs. Next, it's time to prepare each one of the things that you'll be using in that process.

1. Cut your chicken breasts into strips of equal (or as close as possible) size and place them into a mixing bowl or high sided dish of some kind. I didn't actually photograph this process, because I wasn't initially thinking about it as a possible blog post. I doubt that I need to show 99.9% of you how to do that, anyway. :)

2. Drizzle the chicken strips with a tablespoon or two of light olive or vegetable oil and then season it with 1 teaspoon each of salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder and thyme. Toss everything together well, so that all of the chicken strips are coated with both oil and seasonings.

*Tip: If things don't seem to be mixing evenly, you can add a little more oil. Just add it in small increments, until all of the chicken is coated nicely. As it is with so many things, you can always add that little extra, but you can't take the excess away quite as easily.

3. In another shallow bowl or baking dish, crack your eggs and beat them well with a fork, then season them with a pinch of salt and pepper. If you like your chicken with a little added kick, this would be the perfect place to add a few dashes of your favorite hot sauce.

*Tip: We're split down the middle in this house. Hubbs loves spicy, but I don't. Around here and throughout the many years I've been entertaining, I've found that the best way to please everyone's palate, is to put out a few bold and spicy condiments and dipping sauces and a few mild ones. That way, people can add as much or as little kick as they like, on their own plate. Just be sure to label the sauces, so that people know exactly what they're getting!

4. In a third shallow bowl, add your 1 & 1/2 to 2 cups of flour, breaking up any overly large lumps with your clean fingers or a fork.

5. Season the flour with about 1/2 teaspoon each of onion powder and garlic powder (or garlic salt, if that's all you have on hand) and give it a good stir. A fork will work just fine, but if you have a small whisk, that works a bit better. Just remember to whisk gently, so that you and your counter top don't end up wearing half of it! LOL

*Tip: You might need a bit more or less flour, depending on how many tenders you're making and how much clings to each piece of chicken as you go through the breading process. If you run out, just add a little more flour and seasoning to the bowl as needed.

6. Pour the breadcrumbs out onto a plate with slightly raised sides or into a shallow bowl.

*Tip: I don't use seasoned breadcrumbs and I don't add any of my own. The chicken itself is already well seasoned from step 1 and the eggs and flour have been seasoned as well, so it really isn't necessary You can add a little salt & pepper if you really want to, but I wouldn't recommend adding any herbs or any more granulated powders, etc., because they can burn and become bitter in the hot oil.

7. Now you can start heating your oil and setting up your breading station. As I mentioned at the start of this recipe, try to get the assorted plates and bowls as close to your stove top as you can and also in the order that you'll be using them.

*Tip: If you don't have a lot of counter space, you just have to use the space that you have. As you can see, my breading station was partially comprised of the side of the stove top that wasn't being used to cook something else. I made these while I was at my daughter's house and most of the counter top closest to the stove had been commandeered for a drying rack filled with freshly washed baby bottles for our new grandson! :)

8. Using tongs (or your very clean fingers) dip each piece of chicken into the flour, turning it several times to coat it evenly.

*Tip: If you do decide to do this by hand, which is perfectly acceptable, just make sure to keep one had "wet" and one hand "dry". As you can see in each of these photos, the breading ingredients have a tendency to build up on whatever tool you are using. With the tongs, I just wiped the ends clean with a clean piece of paper towel after every couple of pieces.

I've added a short video, showing how this is done at the bottom of the post.

9. Dip the chicken into the beaten egg mixture, again turning it to fully coat to with the egg.

10. Finally, roll the chicken in the bread crumbs, coating it fully.

*Tip: You can complete these steps with all of your chicken pieces first and lay them out on a clean baking sheet or platter until they're all done and ready to be fried. It's not a bad idea if you have the space, because it gives the coating longer time to fully adhere to the meat. The plus side to that is that helps to keep it from falling off in spots during the frying.

11. Pour enough of your oil into the skillet to come up about 1/2 inch and heat it for 3 or 5 minutes on medium to medium high heat. The oil should be hot, but not smoking. The optimal temperature for frying is about 350 degrees F. If you have a candy thermometer around you can test the oil to see if it's hot enough. Just make sure not to let the silver bulb at the bottom of the thermometer touch the bottom of the skillet, or you'll get a false reading.

12. Place several pieces of chicken into the skillet and let them be for about a minute before you begin turning them. Turn them 2 or 3 times until the chicken feels firm to the touch and the breading is golden brown and crispy.

You can place the cooked chicken fingers in a baking dish or on a large platter or cookie sheet and keep them warm in a 250 degree oven while you are finishing up the batches. If your oven has a "warm" setting,  just use that.

On this particular night, I served these chicken fingers as a meal along with my Oven Baked Seasoned Potato Wedges and a tossed green salad, but as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, they make an awesome finger food or appetizer on game days or for children's (or adult's) birthday parties.



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Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Salad Bar ~ Chicken Caesar Salad w/ Homemade Dressing

Howdy folks! I'm back! It's really good to be home after a month away, but I have to say that it was really hard to leave our beautiful new grandson. I miss my morning snuggle time and goodnight smooches like crazy, but it was time for the new parents to fly solo and for us to come home to our furry kids and for the Hubbs to return to work.

I've got several new recipes in the hopper, but this is one that I've had sitting partially edited in my drafts that I've been meaning to finish up and post for some time now. I'm also feeling the early stages of "Lupus payback mode" starting to kick in and I already had a good head start on editing this post, so let's get started shall we?

The real star of this post is the dressing recipe. It comes from Hubby's cousin, Jill. She started a blog of her own a while back, but with 2 teenagers who are both involved in sports and the arts, plus a full time job, she hasn't been doing much blogging these days. That being said, I do hope she comes back to it at some point, because she's an outstanding cook who can do things with crock pots and pressure cookers, that I never knew were possible! And if that wasn't enough, she's smart, has an awesome sense of humor and hands down, makes THE best Hummus I've ever eaten. When you're finished checking out her dressing recipe here in my post, please do yourself a huge favor and stop over and check out her blog. (The hummus recipe is linked above and her main blog URL is linked just below the recipe title) There aren't any new posts at the moment, but I assure you that every recipe you'll find there is a worth taking a look. You're welcome!

I made this dressing several times over the Summer and it's A W E S O M E! It's creamy, but not too thick. It has just the right amount of garlic-y, shallot-y flavor and it coats the lettuce perfectly. BUT... Before we get started, I suppose we do need to address the little furry, oily elephant in the room. The anchovies. Yeah, I know... they're hairy little fish that come packed swimming in a tin (or jar) of oil. Yup.

Normally, you couldn't get me to eat one of those little buggers on it's own. Not even if you promised me an all expenses paid trip to Fiji. But, whatever you do, please don't leave them out of this recipe. They completely disappear into the dressing and they give it a slightly salty depth of flavor that truly belongs there... not at all fishy tasting. Believe me. It wouldn't be the same without them.

Besides, I guarantee you that if you look at just about any of the bottles of Caesar dressing that you've used in the past, you'll find anchovies or anchovy paste in the ingredients. And no, you don't have to tell the kids that they're in there. All they'll know, is that they want more.

Oh, and you will too, so make a double batch. ;)

Caesar Dressing Recipe
courtesy of Jill Brock ~ "Can't Get Enough Of That"
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 large shallot, chopped
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbls balsamic Vinegar
  • 3 Tbls Dijon mustard (only use Dijon)
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 3 anchovy fillets
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • Kosher Salt & Fresh Black Pepper, to taste
1. Combine and blend the first 6 ingredients in a food processor.

2. Give it a few good pulses, until the ingredients are well incorporated.

3. Slowly add, with machine running: the cup of extra virgin olive oil and then the cup of vegetable oil.

*Tip: Most every processor or blender that I've ever seen has an opening of some kind in the lid, but if yours doesn't just keep the speed low and maybe hold your hand over the top and pour through your fingers so that you don't end up wearing the ingredients.

4. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (About 1 tsp of salt and 1/2 tsp of pepper)

This dressing will be rather thick. I'd say it's similar to a thinned out mayonnaise.

5. Pour the dressing into an airtight container and pop it in the fridge, if you're not planning to use it right away. (This is why I wash out and save the occasional old condiment jar that has a tight fitting lid, like the mayonnaise jar that I used, above) It should keep very nicely in there for up to a week. (if it lasts that long)

Now... Let's get on with the salad, itself.

As most people probably know, the "classic" Caesar salad generally consists of romaine lettuce, bacon, Parmesan cheese and some kind of bread crouton. Some chefs/cooks also throw in a few capers and/or some whole anchovies, but as you've probably surmised from my comments in the lead-in to this recipe, we're not gonna go there. I'd have probably added the capers if I'd had any, but if you're an anchovy lover (like my culinarily daring better half) then by all means, go for it! I didn't have any croutons this time either, but I really do love them in this dish and when I think back on it, I don't remember why I didn't just make up a batch of my own.

Classic Caesar Salad
  • 2 to 4 Heads Fresh Romaine Lettuce, washed and dried
  • 1/2 to 1 Lb Bacon, cut into bite sized chunks
  • A Wedge of Good Parmesan Cheese (or 1/2 plus Cup Prepared Shredded)
  • 1 Cup Plain or Seasoned Croutons of your choosing
  • 1 to 2 Tbls Capers, rinsed and drained (optional)
  • 6 to 8 Whole Anchovy Fillets (optional)
  • Homemade Caesar Dressing (recipe above)

1. Slice the bacon into good sized pieces and place it in a pre-heated dry non-stick pan, set at medium high heat. Fry, turning or stirring often until it's dark golden brown and crispy.

*Tip: When I'm cooking bacon for a recipe that calls for it to be "crumbled", I cut it into pieces and fry it. But if what we're talking about is more along the lines of a breakfast side and I'm looking for full strips, I save my stove top (and my delicate extremities) from all of the hot spattering grease, by laying it out on a rack placed in a cookie sheet and bake it in the oven at 400 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes, depending on how thick t is and how much I have on the rack.

**Tip cont'd: Oh, and as long as you haven't over-cooked it, the oven is the best way to re-heat leftover bacon, too. Just place it back on that rack and heat it for 4 or 5 minutes at 350 degrees.

2. Drain the cooked bacon on some paper towels, while you prepare and dress the salad.

3. Cut or tear the romaine into bite-sized pieces. Depending on the size of the heads and whether or not this is going to be a dinner salad or a side salad, you can use anywhere from two to four heads of lettuce.

I usually buy the packages of pre-washed, organic hearts of romaine at my grocery store, except during the Spring and Summer months when I have access to fresh lettuces at my local farmer's market.

4. Start with small amounts of dressing and toss with the lettuce to incorporate. If you feel the salad is too "dry" then you can add a bit more. You want the lettuce leaves to be thinly coated with the dressing, but not swimming in it.

5. Using a sharp vegetable peeler, shave off several thin, wide strips of fresh Parmesan cheese. We almost always have a wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano in the fridge and I do recommend it, if possible. But, if you happen to have a chunk of fresh Romano cheese, you can use that instead. Or, if all you have on hand is an "in-store" or a good brand name pre-shredded Parmesan, that will work as well.

6. Toss the lettuce, shaved Parmesan, (capers & anchovies, if using) and croutons lightly and scoop out portions onto each person's plate. Sprinkle the reserved cooked bacon pieces on top, add some more shaved Parmesan and drizzle just a tiny bit more dressing over everything.

*Tip: I also like to slice up some lemon to use as a garnish and to squeeze on top of the salad, to give it a bit of a fresh burst of lemon flavor.

On this particular night, I cooked and sliced up some chicken, because we were having the salad as a meal. I didn't take any photos of the chicken cooking, but my tried and true "recipe" for pan sauteed chicken breast is below.

For The Chicken:

I just season a couple of boneless, skinless chicken breasts with a little salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and a some fresh or dried thyme and saute it in a teaspoon or two of light olive oil, turning it occasionally, until it's a light golden brown on both sides and is cooked all the way through. Allow the chicken to rest for 5 minutes and then slice it on the diagonal. For a dinner serving I allow one chicken breast per person, but for a light lunch, 1/2 breast per person should be plenty.



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