Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Crunchy Wife in the Kitchen: First Recipe Wednesday!

This week, I'm going to take a break from the "Getting Clean and Going Green" series and do something a little more fun.  I'm calling it "Crunchy Wife in the Kitchen".  If there's anything I love to do (even more than cleaning), it's cooking.  I pride myself on being a pretty good chef.  Though I'm not classically trained, I have taught myself a variety of useful techniques over the years.  I know it can seem daunting if you're just starting out, and I'm here to tell you that ANYONE can cook.  Even the Crunchy Husband can cook... even if he's forgotten how, after all the years I've done it for him :)

There's nothing like a Wednesday that really sets you up for the rest of the weekend.  It's the middle of the typical work week and by that time, you've probably already dealt with your usual onslaught of Monday syndrome and have tried to recover on Tuesday.  So I see Wednesday as a great time to relax a little, celebrate the crossing of the hump... and getting out of the cooking slump.

I'm going to try to make this a regular (weekly) thing, but if it happens to be biweekly or monthly, I apologize in advance.  Life is crazy!  So welcome to the Crunchy Kitchen.  Take a look, get some ideas, and let's get cooking!

Falling in line with my "Don't Have a Cow!" post, I'm going to gift you with one of my favorite vegetarian pasta recipes.  This could also qualify as a vegan recipe if you leave off the cheese.  For the meat eaters out there, I will share one of my favorite chicken recipes.  If we're in a meat mood, I make a double batch for my husband and I so we can eat it as leftovers (or on a pig-out-on-a-diet cheat day).

Mediterranean Pasta
by the Crunchy Wife WV
(4-6 servings)

2 cups penne, uncooked
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 small zucchini, halved and sliced
1 tsp dried oregano
1-14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
1- 6 to 12 oz jar marinated artichokes, liquid reserved
1- 2-4 oz can black olives (sliced or whole), drained
Fresh basil, minced, to taste
2 cups fresh spinach
Salt & Pepper, to taste
Crumbled Feta, to taste

1.  Cook pasta according to package directions, draining when to desired tenderness.  While pasta is cooking, heat olive oil in a large saute pan on medium high.
2.Add onion and garlic and saute for approximately 2 minutes before adding zucchini.  Saute until onion is translucent, stirring occasionally to prevent garlic from burning.
3. Add dry ingredients (oregano, salt & pepper) before adding tomatoes and liquid. DO NOT DRAIN.
4. Bring tomato mixture to a simmer, add artichokes and olives.
5.  Bring to boil again and reduce to a simmer.  For extra flavor, add artichoke marinade.  Depending on desired thickness, simmer until mixture reaches approximately the desired consistency.
6.  Fold basil and spinach into the mixture and simmer over medium heat.
7.  Fold in pasta.  When heated thoroughly, top with feta and serve immediately.

Recipe notes:  This recipe also works well with fresh plum tomatoes.  If using fresh tomatoes, you may wish to cook in vegetable broth prior to addition for extra liquid.
Crunchy Wife WV Oven Chicken (Double recipe for two)

4 bone-in chicken thighs with skin
Italian seasoning or thyme
Your choice of pepper seasoning (Jerk spice, garam masala, lemon pepper, curry, chili, taco, whatever!)
Salt to taste (if pepper seasoning is without)

1.  Preheat oven to 400F. Rinse chicken and pat dry.  Dry chicken is the first key to crunchy chicken!
2.  Toss in or dash on enough of all dry ingredients to coat to desired spice level (I recommend dashing on the salt pre-tossing).
3.  Heat a large nonstick frying pan on high heat.  Test temperature by adding a small sliver of chicken skin.  Pan is ready when skin immediately begins to fry and brown.  Reduce heat to medium high to prevent burning.
4. Carefully place seasoned chicken in hot frying pan.  Cook on each side until golden brown.  Browning is the second key to crunchy chicken!
5. Place chicken on a greased cookie cooling rack (the third key to crunchy chicken!) on top of a jelly roll pan (cookie sheet with sides) covered in foil.
6.  Bake until chicken reads 165F with a meat thermometer (approximately 30-60 minutes).  Juices should run clear.
7.  Turn off the oven and let chicken rest before serving.

Recipe notes:  Breading can also be used for this recipe if you want a true fried chicken layer.  Just dip your in some beaten egg before coating in a 50:50 mixture of seasoned flour and bread crumbs.  I like to use Italian bread crumbs and forego the Italian seasoning in the flour mixture.  Fry as directed after coating the nonstick pan in cooking spray, being careful not to burn the breading.  Then bake as directed.


Both of these recipes can certainly be tweaked to your tastes or increased for more than two people.  I have added a variety of different veggies to the Mediterranean Pasta.  I have sampled at least 5 different cheeses to top the pasta, and feta just happens to by my favorite... although they're all delicious and I would eat all 5 at the same time if Crunchy Husband wouldn't judge me.  I have also used almost every herb, pepper, and seasoning under the sun for the chicken.  Neither recipe is EVER the same twice! I basically use what I have on hand, keeping the onion, garlic, and the tomatoes constant and varying everything else. If your pasta dish still has too much liquid after simmering it down, you can add some tomato paste to thicken it up.  It all depends on how much liquid the vegetables you choose add to the mixture.

Both of these recipes make for excellent leftovers.  The pasta is actually better reheated because it gives the flavors time to meld.

You certainly do not have to use exact measurements with anything in either recipe.  If you're used to cooking, I'm sure you have found this is true with almost any recipe, except for possibly baked goods or candy.    Honestly, I hardly ever pull out a measuring cup or spoon except when making rice or baking breads and desserts.  If you really don't have a clue on how much of something to use, let me know in the comments section below, and I'll try to help you decide.  Some people like consistency, so if that's what suits you, go for measuring everything the same every time.  I just think variety is the spice of life :)

A "splatter screen" or "grease guard", as my mother sometimes calls it, goes a long way when browning your chicken.  It will prevent having to clean as much grease from your stove top, as well as save your clothes and skin from the inevitable popping of hot chicken fat.  Also, if your oven is anything like mine, the rendered fat from the chicken will eventually smoke in the oven towards the end of cooking.  This is escalated by the placement of the chicken on the cookie rack, but it's the third key of three keys to crunchy chicken and cannot be sacrificed! This chicken is worth a smoke alarm or two sounding off in protest.  Be prepared to fan out your kitchen, if necessary... especially if your neighbors aren't fond of that sort of thing.  Cooking at a lower temperature may prevent this, but will result in a longer cooking time and isn't as fun as alternating between running through the house to find a fan while your equivalent of Crunchy Husband opens doors and windows and standing in a kitchen wearing oven mitts and waving two cookie sheets wildly through the air.  Look at it this way, you are burning off some extra calories in preparation for being able to eat that delicious, crunchy skin on the chicken.  And if you don't like the skin (how dare you), you can view it as sacrificing a smoke-free home for the sake of the moist and surprisingly flavorful interior.

As for a way to green up your meat eating, try buying a whole chicken and section it into the portions you will use. A huge plus is that you'll be come rather handy with some kitchen sheers and a meat cleaver.  This will make your Crunchy Husband equivalent both respect and fear you.  It's good for any relationship.  Freeze what you're not going to use right away.  What you won't use for regular recipes (drumsticks, breasts, thighs, etc), use to make chicken stock for a delicious soup, or roast what's left, separate out the meat and make some chicken and dumplings.  There are endless possibilities.

If you're not game for hacking up your own fowl, try buying in bulk.  Wholesale clubs and supermarkets often offer bulk packages that are great for dividing up and freezing.   Although I haven't gotten up the guts to ask, word on the street is that small stores with butchers may be able to discount large orders.  I like to freeze my pieces of meats in fours, to leave the possibility of leftovers when feeding two and because any time we have anyone over for dinner, they almost always come in twos.  For ground meats, I usually freeze in half pounds because there's no way Crunchy Husband and I are going to eat a whole pound of meat in one sitting, and if I want to make enough for someone else and/or leftovers, I can always thaw another pack.

Questions, comments, suggestions, recipe reviews?  Put them in the comments section.  I look forward to hearing your feedback!  Green Appetit!

No comments:

Post a Comment