A Whole Chicken and Hard Choices: A Soliloquy on the value of social networks.

You’ve seen ’em sitting there, wrapped in that ubiquitous yellow and blue bag, in the meat section: A Whole Chicken. Is that a thing? I mean, I can buy the individual pieces parts and toss them in the skillet and be done with it, or whatever. You’re curious so you look at the price tag. Wait. Why is a pair of chicken breast cutlets twice the price of a whole chicken? I confused. Still, it’s intimidatingly large and you only ponder a whole bird for thanksgiving so….let’s move on…

As it turns out, cooking a whole chicken is something a one handed chimp can do. It’s not just a way to economize, if you don’t need to, but it’s a way to make something delicious in it’s simplicity and be a basis for making other really delicious food that is unparalleled in quality and flavor, because all the best flavor come from freshness. Allow me to free you from the overpriced precut meat, readers, unless you have a real need for fillets.

Boiling a whole chicken does take a fair amount of time, so first, let’s get that bad boy on the stove, and then I will tell you a story.

Get yourself a big pot. You know the one I am talking about. It comes with all basic cookware sets and most people just shove it in the back of the cupboard and store their lids in it. Yeah, go get that thing out. Next, take the whole chicken out of the bag and pull the neck out of the cavity. That’s the one nasty part. You’ll want to give the chicken a good rinsing off to clear out the collected juices. Rinse the cavity out, too. Put the chicken in the pot and then add enough water to completely cover the chicken.

Now, for the next bit, this is personal preference because you will be making stock as well. If you like the stock very plain or want to use it in a recipe that will be adding spices and such to a sauce, I recommend you just quarter a big, yellow onion and pop it in there along with a tablespoon of peppercorn. If you want a little more flavor you can add chopped celery, carrots, a sprig of Thyme. That’s a nice route if you want to use the stock for chicken soup. If you want to add garlic, just take a head, cut it in half, and place the half in the pot that is held together by the stem.

Ok, now you need to turn the flame on high and bring your water to a boil. Once you have it rolling, reduce the heat down low enough to maintain a gentle boil. Make sure you set the lid ajar so the steam can escape.

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Now for the story. When I was 18 I followed my boyfriend at the time to Minnesota. I have not had a very close relationship with my family, so the decision didn’t seem like a big deal. I do have wanderlust, so it felt like an adventure. The reality was something else entirely and it made me understand something I had to move 2000 miles away to appreciate: Social Network. We babble about this as a website or a way to ‘stay in touch.’ Friends, that is not what a social network is. A social network is having people close to you, who GIVE ENOUGH OF A SHIT ABOUT YOU to pick up the phone and drop what they are doing to come help you when you need them.

I locked my keys in my car one day, when I was working in Edan Prarie and it was over an hour away from Brooklyn Park, where I resided. I tried calling the boyfriend but he didn’t answer. I tried calling the ONE friend I had, Chris Marteness, but his mom didn’t know who I was and refused to help me get ahold of him at work and hung up on me. I tried to ask the one co-worker left in the office for help, but she thought I was a snooty Californian and found it funny that I was verily stranded. I managed to get the back window of the shell top open and climbed inside the back of the truck. It was raining out and I just sat there, shivering. I was hungry, and tired, and just, alone. Not alone in my head, like I often think I am, but truly realizing what that means.

After a spell, I crawled out of the truck bed and went back into the office. The last thing I could think of was, maybe the police? I finally got lucky. An officer came out and used a slim Jim to open my door. That’s not something a cop will do for you in Cali, that’s for sure. I was so grateful and relieved. When I got home I asked douche bag, uh, I mean the boyfriend, why he didn’t answer the phone when I called a million times? Turns out he just shut off the ringer because the noise was disturbing his slumber. No, hadn’t bothered to listen to my frantic messages on the answering machine either. Anyway, I was home now, so what’s the big deal? He was going back to sleep.

It’s a simple example, but I know that today I have about 20 people I could call on for help, any kind of help, and they would be there for me. My heart felt thanks to the warmth, and laughter, and shared misery of modern life to you all and it is my pleasure and honor to be there for you if you ever need me. As I watch my daughter grow and thrive in the sunlight of your affection, I can honestly say, I get it now. But also I am going to shop for a pocket slim Jim, just in case.

So, its been about 90 minutes. Let’s check on the chicken. Mmmm….that’s perfect. Falling off the bone.

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All you need to do now is remove the chicken from the pot and prep it. You can serve it whole on a plater and go at it cave man style, shred it for salads and soups, or slice it for sandwiches. The stock, depending on how you prepped it, can either be used as a base for chicken noodle soup, to boil veggies and noodles to serve with the chicken, or as a base for a sauce like Mole.

So there you have it. Chicken and a story. Not as good as dinner and a show, but not a kick in the nuts either.

~Nom On

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Chicken Mole, Demystified

Until a year ago mole was this dish I’d heard mentioned a few times, always with a certain amount of reverence from my Mexican friends and family. Considering my Latin Cuisine savvy didn’t get much further than some form of meat, beans, and salsa intersecting with tortillas, fried into some clever shape to get goods in my mouth, I wasn’t sure what the big deal was. When my daughter turned one my husband informs me with awe that the little princesa will have mole made from scratch for her party. I am a spicy food addict so when I tried it, I remember mostly being confused. I wasn’t sure what I was tasting exactly, it wasn’t sweet, it wasn’t savory, it wasn’t spicy. It was just … mole. Weird.

I forgot all about it until a few weeks ago when my salsa lady at the farmers market asks if I want to sample her mole. There’s that word again. Sure, I say, and imagine my surprise when she hands me a jar of … what I can only describe as goop. She proceeds to explain how to use it to make a sauce and off I go, more than a little freaked out. And now, after much research and experimentation I bring to you the simple, cheater-cheater-pumpkin-eater way to make both dark and green mole.

Green Chicken Mole

Green Chicken Mole

Ingredients (Serves 4)

  • 8 oz – 12 oz shredded, poached chicken breast
  • 2 – 3 heaping tbsp of green mole paste, depending on how thick you want the sauce
  • 1 pd tomatillos, husks removed
  • 2 cups chicken-tomatillo broth (you’ll have this after the first two steps)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Prep

  • Start by poaching your 8 oz of chicken breast for 20 minutes. This can be one huge one or two smaller ones. I am assuming you are using frozen chicken, but you can start with fresh as well. Here is the full process.
  • Remove the breasts from the broth and set aside. Add your husked tomatillos into the broth and boil for 20 minutes, until soft. Shred your chicken with a fork while the tomatillos are boiling.
  • Remove the tomatillos and add to a blender. Take about 2 cups of the broth which is now infused with chicken and tomatillos and add to blender. Add two heaping tablespoons of the green mole paste to the blender as well. Blend ingredients until you have a smooth sauce.
  • In a medium-sized pot, add the shredded chicken and the mole sauce. Simmer on low for about 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Everything is technically cooked but you want to boil the sauce down to a thick gravy and that is a slow process.
  • While the sauce is thickening and simmering, slice a red onion into thin rings. Cut the rings in half once. Put them in a bowl and squeeze one whole lemon and stir to coat. They can sit and marinate while you are heating tortillas.

When everything is ready, serve the mole with a side of Spanish rice, tortillas, the red onions, maybe cilantro, and marinated jalapeño pepper chips.

Dark Chicken Mole 

Ingredients (Serves 4)

  • 8 oz – 12 oz shredded, poached chicken breast
  • 2 – 3 heaping tbsp of dark mole paste, depending on how thick you want the sauce
  • 1/2 cup almond butter (recommended) or organic, low sugar peanut butter
  • 2  cups chicken broth reserved from poaching chicken
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 disks Mexican chocolate (optional)

Prep

  • Start by poaching your 8 oz of chicken breast for 20 minutes. This can be one huge one or two smaller ones. I am assuming you are using frozen chicken, but you can start with fresh as well. Here is the full process.
  • Remove the breasts from the broth and shred your chicken with a fork. Set aside.
  • Take about 2 cups of the broth from poaching the chicken and add to blender. Add the dark mole paste, almond butter, cayenne pepper, 1/4 tsp salt, and 1/8 tsp pepper to the blender as well. Break up the chocolate and add into the blender, if using. Blend ingredients until you have a smooth sauce.
  • In a medium-sized pot, add the shredded chicken and the mole sauce. Simmer on low for about 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Everything is technically cooked but you want to boil the sauce down to a thick gravy and that is a slow process.
  • While the sauce is thickening and simmering, slice a red onion into thin rings. Cut the rings in half once. Put them in a bowl and squeeze one whole lemon and stir to coat. They can sit and marinate while you are heating tortillas.

Just like with green mole, when everything is ready, serve the mole with a side of Spanish rice, tortillas, the red onions, maybe cilantro, and marinated jalapeño pepper chips. The left over mole chicken is excellent in tacos and burritos.

If you want to get a little creative, you can actually use the green or dark mole sauce to make enchiladas. Just make your casserole as usual but your mole sauce is substituted for ranchera sauce. For dark mole, I would use a smokier cheese like gouda and for the green mole I would use pepper jack.

So there you have it folks, mole demystified. The process of making the mole paste from scratch is insane and, from what I am told, is something that even the most accomplished Mexican home cooks don’t bother with more than a few times in their life. Know I know why it was a great honor that my mother-in-law made mole from scratch for her reina pequena.

~Nom On

BBQ Chicken Street Tacos

Ok, so I have posted a previous recipe for the mighty street taco with instructions on how to pack it up for work and save yourself from the daily sandwich miasma. Now that you have mastered that, why not go fusion by making your tacos with shredded chicken smothered in sweet heat BBQ sauce? I’m pretty sure I just made your tummy rumble.

BBQ Chicken Street Tacos

BBQ Chicken Street Tacos

Ingredients

Prep

  • In a small sauce pan, mix the shredded chicken and BBQ sauce together until the chicken is fully coated.
  • Heat the mixture over a very low flame, stirring often.
  • In the meantime, heat up a non stick or cast iron skillet and add the olive oil.
  • Heat up the tortillas until they are warm, soft, and have just a hint of crisp to the surface.

If you are taking this to work for lunch, transfer your tortillas to a plastic bag and seal. Transfer the warmed mixture to tupperware and put the chopped onion in cilantro into a small separate container as well. Whether you warm the mixture up again or not is your choice. If you want to reheat your tortillas just toss the bag in the microwave and heat for about 10 – 30 seconds. Don’t over do it or they will be rubbery.

When you are ready to eat, just assemble the tacos by layering two tortillas, spooning about 2 tbsp of the mixture and sprinkle onion and cilantro down the center.

~Nom on with yo fussy, fusion tacos!

Poached Chicken

Although I do love making me some crazy stuff, I also like to share the basic techniques that help us launch yummy dishes or just get something healthy and simple on the table so we can get back to that Queer Eye for the Straight Guy marathon on Bravo. Enter the poached chicken. It goes in any recipe you want cooked chicken for or you can steam some veggies, season with a little lemon, salt, and pepper and check ‘behaving yourself’ off your list. It’s a must have technique.

Poached Shredded Chicken

Poached Chicken

Ingredients

  • 1 6-8 oz frozen chicken breast
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 2-8 cups water
  • 1 large chicken boullion cube
  • Aromatics such as fresh basil, rosemary, thyme, garlic, sage, or dill can be added if desired.

Note: Aromatics is your chance to fold in some complex and delicate flavor that can either enhance the meat if you are eating with sides or you can pair the aromatics with flavors and spices you’ll be using in the dish the chicken is intended for. 

Prep

  • In a medium-sized pot, place the chicken breast inside and begin adding water, 2 cups at a time until the breast is covered. Add the 1/2 cup of wine. Add in aromatics if using.
  • Turn on the flame to a medium high and cover with a well fitted lid.
  • Bring to a boil. Remove the lid and crumble the bouillon cube into the boiling water. Replace the lid and continue boiling for one minute.
  • Turn off the flame and leave the lid on. Allow the chicken to poach for 20 minutes.

Note: You can use pre-made chicken broth or homemade stock if you have those on hand. Just swap them for the water and bouillon. 

Poached Chicken

Remove from the water and place on a cutting board. To check for doneness, I like to pull off a few large chunks with a fork. It should come apart easily if its tender. If you see any pink parts, you can return them to the water and let sit with the lid on for a few more minutes.

You now have moist, flavorful poached chicken that can be a base for TONS of recipes or served with veggies and a starch for a weeknight meal. You never need to buy an over priced can of shredded chicken or pick up a rotisserie chicken again. It’s low fat and hands off so you can be making other parts of your dish or even be poaching chicken to take to work in the morning while you get ready. And as a bonus, the toddler loves it.

~Nom On

Chicken Cordon Bleu Panini

Mmm….it’s Saturday again and we’re hungry. You know what that means…. Saturday afternoon lunch, ba-by! And on the board this time is a crispy, gooey, cordon bleu panini. Let’s do this.

Chicken Cordon Blue Panini

Chicken Cordon Bleu Panini

Ingredients (per sandwich)

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2  thin-cut chicken breast (at the deli, asked for a thin cut or find pre-packaged that is labeled thin cut)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 thick slices french bread per serving (from the bakery)
  • Butter or yogurt butter spread
  • 1 slice alpine lace swiss cheese (from the deli counter)
  • 1 slice black forest ham (from the deli counter)
  • 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard (optional)
  • 1 Tbsp Mayo (optional)

Prep

  • Slice your thin cut chicken breast into strips and then cut in half. Season with salt and pepper.
  • In a small pan, heat your olive oil over a medium flame and toss the chicken strips in there. Stir a few times to get a little sear and then cover the pan with a lid. Heat through about 3-4 minutes. Turn off the flame and transfer to a bowl. Set aside.
  • Butter bread slices and place one slice in a pan or on a cast-iron griddle, buttered-side down. Layer with swiss cheese, then ham, then chicken. Top with bread slice.
  • Heat the first side until you get nice grill marks, light brown or black, depending on how much crisp you want on your crust.
  • Flip over and heat the second slice until grilled and cheese is starting to melt.
  • Transfer to a plate or cutting board and remove the bread slice that doesn’t have cheese melted to it. Add either a tbsp of mayo, dijon mustard, or a tsp of each. Add back to your sandwich.

This is a dense and flavorful sandwich so you can just eat the hell out that on its own. Pair with pickles, salt and pepper dusted tomatoes, or even a little salad if eating a sandwich with no side freaks you out.

~Nom On

Buttermilk Baked Chicken

I’m a huge fan of fried chicken, but less excited about what the saturated grease does to my stomach. Enter this easy recipe that gives you utterly yummy, juicy chicken legs with 1/3 of the fat and none of the nasty. It does take about a day of advanced planning, but in general, it’s a very easy dish.

Buttermilk Baked Chicken

Buttermilk Baked Chicken

Ingredients

  • 9 or 10 chicken drumsticks
    Budget Note: If you buy a big batch of drumsticks on sale and freeze them, you can defrost half the batch at the same time you marinate them.
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • Pepper hot sauce – Tabasco, Franks, or Louisiana hot sauce all work
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 cup plain or Italian breadcrumbs

Prep

  • In a small bowl, combine the buttermilk, a few dashes of hot sauce, and the salt and pepper together and stir.
  • Pour the mixture into a large freezer-sized ziplock bag. Add the chicken drumsticks, frozen or fresh, into the bag with the mixture. Move the chicken and mxture around to make sure its all coated and place in the fridge to marinate. If the chicken is fresh, marinate for about 3 hours. If it’s frozen, marinate for 24 hours.
  • Once your chicken is done marinating, pour the bread crumbs into a bowl or onto a plate. Roll each drumstick around to fully coat and place on a baking sheet coated in olive oil.
  • Bake at 400 degrees for 35 minutes.

Now you got yo’self a plate of chicken. Serve with whatever you normally like – baked beans, corn on the cob, potato salad, or mashed taters and gravy. No KFC shiz-nits for you!

~Nom On

Herbed Cream Chicken Turnovers

In preparation for fall, my very favorite season, I dreamed up this little turnover recipe. It makes a nice, savory treat for dinner and of course, turnovers are so easy to take for lunch the next day. Enjoy!

Herbed Chicken Cheese Turnovers

Herbed Cream Chicken Turnovers

Ingredients

  • 1 package refrigerated pie crusts
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 4 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cooked chicken breast, diced
    Tip: I use frozen chicken breasts. You can pop one straight into the oven or toaster oven and bake for 30 minutes at 325 degrees. Take the chicken out at 155 or 160 degrees internal temperature and it’ll finish cooking as you prep the cream cheese filling.
  • Herbs – I used dill and chives but you can play around with different combinations. Just go with fresh herbs over dried for this recipe.
  • Salt and pepper

Prep

  • Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.
  • Soften cream cheese in a medium bowl by microwaving for about 15 seconds.
  • Dice your chicken breast. The finer the better.
  • Prep your herbs – depending on what you chose. I usually just rip a little of what I need off the bushel or use kitchen scissors to snip.
  • Add your herbs and 1/4 tsp of salt and 1/4 tsp of pepper to the cream cheese. Using a hand mixer, beat on medium until the mixture gets soft and smooth.
    Note: If you cheese is just piling up in your blades, you need to turn up the speed and beat against the side of the bowl. It will get the mixture out.
  • Fold in your diced chicken to the mixture and set aside.
  • Roll out your pie crusts and cut each crust in half.
  • Spoon your mixture in 4 equal portions on each crust in the center of one side.
  • Fold the top half of each crust over the mixture and crimp the edges together to seal. Cut 3 small slits in each turnover.
  • Beat the egg and using a pastry brush, brush the turnovers all over to coat. This is what gives it that nice, brown and savory crust.
  • Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

A word of advice…

Turnovers can be dry. The cream cheese in this one does help, but you can offer garnishes, too. Sour cream or apple sauce could work, even a little dijon mustard.  Serve with a side salad or tomato slices dusted with salt and pepper. I wouldn’t serve with a starch, but if you really want to carb out you could do mashed potatoes and gravy. The gravy can be used to cut the dryness of the turnover as well.

~Nom On