Saturday, February 27, 2016

Oven Baked Chicken Breast - Always Moist and Flavorful

Can you make a moist, flavorful chicken breast in the oven without some heavy sauce? Yes you can! I get this question quite frequently especially from people who are trying to watch their diets. Just follow two basic principals and you'll be making this dish by request on a regular basis. 1) Simply do a quick brine and 2) bake them for a short time at a high temperature.

Julian's Oven Baked Chicken Breast Halves
If you follow this simple recipe, you'll never serve a dry, flavorless, rubbery chicken breast again. People only think of brining when it comes to turkey, but a brine (dry or wet) will improve everything from pork to chicken. So why do it only when you make a whole turkey? Granted not every cut of meat needs to be brined to be flavorful and juicy, but many cuts will benefit from a brine, particularly the low fat cuts of meat like chicken breast.

Below I do not specify how many breasts to prepare, but I usually do 2-6 breast halves at a time, one portion per person. You don't have to be very specific with the ingredients and I never measure them. Season to taste.

Brined, Seasoned and Ready for Baking

Boneless skinless chicken breasts halves
warm water
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly-cracked black pepper
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon paprika

Brine the chicken breast halves while you prepare other side dishes. Fill a large bowl with one quart of warm tap water (not hot) and two tablespoons of salt for every breast half. Stir until the salt dissolves. Add the chicken breasts and let them soak in the brine for 15-30 minutes.

Remove the chicken breasts and pat dry with a paper towel when ready to use. Pre-heat oven to 450F degrees.

Melt the butter, using more if needed for larger quantities. Spread some of the melted butter in the bottom of your baking dish. Place the chicken breasts in a single layer into the butter dish.  Brush the remaining butter on the breasts.

Mix together the seasonings in a small bowl. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the chicken.

Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and registers 160-170F degrees on an instant read thermometer inserted into the center of breast.  Remove the baking dish from the oven and loosely cover with aluminum foil.  Let the chicken rest for at least 10 minutes, then serve.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Guacamole Deviled Eggs

A nice little variation on deviled eggs, these little gems are particularly popular for those who prefer guacamole. It really combines the two recipes into one. I find that individuals who don't care for one or the other, often like the combination.

Julian's Guacamole Deviled Eggs
Perfect for game day, pretty on St. Patrick's Day (because of the color), and great on picnics, you can make these a day or more ahead. Covered in the refrigerator they hold well, and in fact should be left to chill and flavors meld for at least a couple hours if you can.

Select a ripe avocado (slightly soft when pressed), and if not, buy one at your market at least 3-4 days in advance to give it time to soften at home.

6 large eggs, hard boiled and peeled
1 avocado, very ripe
2-3 teaspoons fresh lime juice
2 green onions, finely chopped, reserve top stems
1 tablespoon finely minced jalapeno pepper
1-2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
1/2 fresh plum tomato, chopped
1 tablespoon mayonnaise (optional)
salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
pinch chile powder, Canjun seasoning, or paprika

Run a sharp knife around the avocado cutting through to the center stone. Gently twist the avocado to open the two halves and remove the stone. Using a spoon, scoop the tender flesh into a mixing bowl. Slice the eggs in half and carefully remove the yolks to the mixing bowl. Set the whites aside. Using a fork, mash the avocado and the egg yolks until they are nearly smooth and combined. Some chunks remaining are fine.

Add the lime juice, green onion (reserving the top stems for garnish) jalapeno pepper, fresh cilantro, and tomato. Mix together with the avocado and egg yolks. If too stiff, add the optional mayonnaise and combine. Stir in the salt, pepper and seasoning (to taste).

Fill the centers of the egg whites with the prepared mixture. Pile it on high covering most of the egg white. Top with a little more seasoning for color, and the chopped reserved stems of the green onion. Cover and refrigerate for 1-2 hours before serving, to help the flavors combine. Uncover and serve.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Standing Rib Roast of Pork

You won't believe how tender and juicy pork can be when prepared using this method.

Julian's Standing Rib Roast of Pork
To start with any meat that is on the bone has more flavor and is more moist than boneless. With a rack of pork (I'm using eight tips, which will make eight servings) you have plenty of bone and a nice outer layer of fat to keep the meat moist. But the real trick is the dry rub you give it 24 hours in advance of cooking. This not only adds flavor but more importantly dry brine's the meat.

With the Dry Rub - Ready for Wrapping.
This is the same cut of pork they use for a crown roast. But to bend a rack of pork into a crown, you really are talking about at least 12-16 portions which is more than I need for my dinner party.  I selected a vacuum packed cut from my local Costco, when they were available over the holidays. I froze that then defrosted in the refrigerator for two days prior to starting my preparations. 

This is an easy-to-prepare dish and can be removed from the oven to rest before you sit down to dinner for the first course or appetizer.

Rack of pork, bones frenched (8 points, makes 8 servings)
Olive oil
Dry rub (See below or store bought)
Plastic wrap

24 hours in advance:  If the pork doesn't have nicely cleaned bone 'handles' (called frenched) then, clean up the ends with a knife to ensure good presentation. Dry the meat with a paper towel and rub with olive oil. Sprinkle generously on all sides with the dry rub.  Completely encase the pork in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator on a tray for 24 hours.

2 1/2 hours before dinner:  Remove the pork from the refrigerator and let it set on the counter at room temperature for about an hour. Preheat oven.

Grill/Oven method:  If you have access to a outdoor grill, preheat it and also preheat your oven to 325F degrees. Remove the plastic wrap and on the grill, sear all sides of the pork to help seal in juices and brown the meat.

Oven only method:  Preheat over to 450F degrees. Remove the plastic wrap and place the rack of pork on a baking sheet with sides or a large roasting pan, fat side up. Roast for 15 minutes.

In the 325F degree oven, roast the pork for approximately 1.5 hours until the internal temperature reaches when taken in the center of the rack not touching the bone is 145F-150F degrees.  Do not overcook. The FDA says pork is safe at 145F degrees, and cooking it much more than this will make it dry out. Temperature will continue to rise some after removing from the oven. 

Remove the pork from the oven placing it on a cutting board with a drainage tray to collect the juices. If you do not have this place the cutting board on a baking sheet with a rim. Cover loosely with foil. Allow the pork to rest for 15-30 minutes before slicing the meat, which will remain hot.

Using a sharp knife, and holding the pork by the frenched rib bones, cut down between each bone. Plate and serve with a sauce of your preference, if you so desire. 

Julian's Rib Roast of Pork
Dry Chipotle Rub
Any dry rub will do, or if you are pressed just give it a rub with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and pepper. You can also use any of the good store-bought dry rubs.  If you want to make your own, I like this chipotle pepper version. 

A chipotle pepper is a smoked, dried jalapeno pepper. From this they make a ground chipotle chile pepper, which is the basis for the well-known chipotle seasoning. Simply mix all of the ingredients together, ensuring each is of approximately the same grind.

1 tablespoon ground chipotle chile pepper
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons paprika (smoked paprika if available)
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon oregano (Mexican Oregano if available)
1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Stuffed Acorn Squash with Pears, Walnuts, Bacon and Rice

This can be a nice side dish or a great main course, depending on how you make them and the size of your squash. I regularly prepare acorn squash, so I often have variations on a theme. As always, use what you have in the house as much as possible, instead of buying specialty items just to make a dish.

Julian's Main Dish Stuffed Acorn Squash
Since I have a large acorn squash on hand, and I have some left over bacon and previously cooked rice, I'm going to make a main dish out of these key ingredients for this meal. This means the dinner will be pretty simple to make, but you could of course make the rice fresh if you prefer. I rarely do this and think rice as a stuffing works best when it's leftover. If you have apples instead of pears, use those. If you are serving these as a side dish, omit the sausage for a combination vegetable and starch side. I also have some left over Brussels sprouts available, so I've sliced those roughly and will include instead of the celery.

Ingredients (2 portions)
1 acorn squash
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
pinch of salt and pepper for each half
1 teaspoon nutmeg

For the Stuffing
1/2 pound sage sausage
      (or substitute Italian sausage or bacon)
1 small onion, chopped
celery or another green vegetable
1/4 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup prepared rice
        (yellow or wild rice preferred)
2 teaspoons vinegar, apple cider or red wine
3 teaspoons maple syrup
1 pear, cored and diced

Preheat oven to 400F degrees. Remove the stem, slice the squash in half and remove the seeds. Make sure the squash will sit flat upright for serving. If not, then shave a bit of the shall to form a stable base.  Rub the squash interior flesh with the vegetable oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper and nutmeg. In a baking dish or foil lined cooked sheet with sides, add about 1/2 inch of water. Place the squash in the dish, face down so only the outer skin is showing. Roast for one hour.

In the baking dish with water ready for roasting.
While the squash is roasting prepare the stuffing. Saute the bacon/sausage in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat until nearly done. Add the onion and celery and stir together and cook for another 3-4 minutes until the vegetables softens. If using another cooked vegetable from a prior dinner or even a frozen cooked vegetable, add those near the end so as not to overcook them. Add the walnuts, a little bit of salt and pepper (depending on how spicy your sausage is), and the prepared rice. Stir to combine and add the vinegar and maple syrup. Cook stirring regularly for 3-5 minutes until all are warmed through and well combined. Remove from heat and stir in the pears, and then set aside until the squash is ready.

Ready for Stuffing into the Acorn Squash
Remove squash from the oven and drain the liquid from the roasting pan. Turn the squash upright. The flesh should be tender when tested with fork. Add the stuffing and return to the oven to roast an additional 15-20 minutes, until well heated. Serve hot.