It shames me to say it but I’ve only just finally realized the full potential of my charcoal grill. Senor and I grill pretty regularly in the warmer months. Everything from whole chickens to steaks to corn on the cob. Usually we’re pretty good at multitasking. We’ll make a beer-can chicken and surround the grill with corn on the cob so everything for our meal cooks in one place. Smart, right? Sort of. Not as smart as say, grilling a week’s worth of something all at once and then storing it for super fast lunches, dinners and snacks.
I was reading a magazine and there was a letter from a reader that said her big time-saver for weekday meals was to grill whole family packs of whatever they were having for dinner. So simple, yet so genius. Instead of grilling one chicken, do three. Instead of four chicken breasts, do 16. Instead of two pieces of fish, do the whole bag of frozen filets. And since it doesn’t take any longer for eight chicken breasts to cook than it does for two, you’re not really doing any extra work. Huh. Chicken is the most popular meat in America and it’s shocking how truly terrible chicken can taste. Dry, flavorless, sawdust. The good news is, making really tasty chicken isn’t actually that difficult.
So on Monday we marinated eight boneless chicken breasts and two bone-in breasts. The bone-in were for dinner that night, the other eight for lunch salads, sandwiches and possibly pasta dishes later in the week. An additional upside is that the boneless chicken breasts we bought at Whole Foods offer a bulk discount if you buy at least three pounds of meat. That’s helpful.
The key to grilling chicken is to know how to do it right. Marinate the meat. Pound boneless breasts flat so they cook quickly and evenly and each bite has yummy marinade/charcoal flavors. Use intense heat to sear the outside and keep them juicy. The quicker you cook the chicken, the more moisture it will retain.
We paired the bone-in breasts with some teeny tiny little Yukon gold potatoes, roasted with salt and olive oil in the toaster oven and some sliced up heirloom tomatoes sprinkled with sea salt. Delish.
8 boneless chicken breasts
2 bone-in chicken breasts (optional)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Mrs. Dash’s garlic blend
coarse ground black pepper
crushed red pepper
Start by pounding your boneless chicken breasts with a meat tenderizer. Use the flat side and pound them so they’re an even thickness. You don’t want them to be too thin, just even throughout.
Make a marinade. This is really easy to do and you can use any combination of flavors you’d like. For a traditional flavor, put some garlic powder, sea salt, black pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, and Mrs. Dash’s Garlic Blend into a gallon-sized Ziploc bag. You don’t have to measure, just dump some of each into the bag. Once you have it mixed up you may want to add more of something. Squeeze a lemon or lime into the bag with the seasoning. Add a few tablespoons of olive oil. Add the chicken. Fill the bag with water until the chicken is just covered. Stick in the fridge and wait until you’re ready to grill to take it back out. You want it to marinate for at least two hours.
Get your charcoal ready. We used natural log/chunk charcoal and a chimney starter. This gives really intense heat which is perfect for charring and searing meats. The larger pieces stay hot for much longer than regular charcoal. Make sure to use enough charcoal to cover the entire grilling surface with heat.
Once the charcoal is ready, remove the chicken from the bags and place directly onto the grill. You want to cook them quickly and over high heat. If you’re grilling bone-in breasts, place those in the center and hottest part of the grill. They’ll need to cook longer than the boneless breasts. Leave the lid open, flipping them once they have nice brown grill lines. The boneless breasts will only need to cook for about four minutes on each side. Make a small cut in the middle of one to check that the meat isn’t pink. Remove the breasts from the grill and place in a covered pan.
Have you ever roasted a chicken? It’s like roasting a turkey but a lot faster and a lot less work because the thing doesn’t weigh 14 pounds. I like to roast chickens on Sunday afternoon. It makes me feel like I’m channeling June Cleaver. I even wear a retro pink apron to do it. You have to look the part. But then I make Senor do the dishes because I’m not actually June Cleaver and I hate doing dishes.
Senor loves roasted chicken. Senor loves a lot of things but he has a few top favorites. Roasted chicken. Beef bourguinon. Meatloaf. We don’t share all of our favorite meals but we both love roasted chicken. Honestly, you could make roasted chicken every weekend and make it a different way for a whole year. We have a few favorite recipes though and honestly, the easier recipes are usually our favorites. I’ve tried roasting chickens with a lot of complicated herbs and vegetables and things shoved inside the bird but usually the chicken tastes best when you let the flavor of the meat come through.
One of our favorite roasted chickens involves just five ingredients, including the bird, salt and pepper. This chicken is just slightly more complicated, but not by much. We’ll save the ‘easiest chicken in the world’ for another day. Whip this one up when you want to impress and look extremely fancy.
The key to an extremely fancy chicken (in my mind) is when you serve roasted vegetables that cooked with the chicken as part of the meal. You can’t stuff a chicken like a turkey, it’s too small. Well, you could. But you wouldn’t fit much in there.
For this chicken you’ll need two apples, one zucchini of decent size and a lime. Add some butter and dried herbs to the mix and you’re done. Roasted apples and zucchini are delicious and give the chicken a lot of sweetness. The chicken flavor will also penetrate the fruit and veggie, giving them a savory flavor. What could be better? The lime gets stabbed with a fork and placed into the cavity of the bird. When it gets hot the lime will release steam and juice, keeping the chicken flavorful and juicy from the inside out.
The best part about roasting a chicken, I think, is that it’s fast. You cook at a much higher temperature than if you’re slow roasting. But if you do it right, nothing gets dry. Amazeballs.
1 whole chicken 3-5 lbs
1 medium zucchini
2 medium/large apples
1 small lime
2 tablespoons melted butter
rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper
Turn the oven to 400º.
Prepare your chicken for roasting by removing the plastic wrap from the outside, and pulling out the package of giblets from the cavity. You can toss these if you don’t need them, or use them together with the bones later on to make a really delicious chicken stock. Giblets can also be used for making dressing or gravy. For chicken, I usually save them and make a chicken stock. I can always find some way to use chicken stock.
Instructions on how to ‘clean’ a chicken or turkey vary. I believe the official USDA instructions tell you not to rinse the bird but I have to admit, I always do. I like to rinse it inside and out to make sure anything that doesn’t belong in there is washed away. Just make sure to wash your sink before and after any chicken rinsing.
Pat the bird dry with paper towel and place it in your cooking pot. I used a braiser but have also often used a stock pot or French roaster. For this bird, you want a pot that has a lid.
Roll the lime on the counter top to break up the fibers inside and make it soft and pliable. Stab it several times with a fork and place it inside the chicken cavity.
Melt the butter and slowly pour it over the entire chicken, lightly rubbing it into the skin. This helps keep the skin from burning but helps it get crispy. Lighlty sprinkle salt, pepper, dried rosemary and dried thyme over the bird.
Finally, chop the zucchini and apple into pieces and place them around the bird in the pot.
Place the lid on the pot and place it in the oven.
When the bird reaches an internal temperature of 140º, remove the lid and let the chicken cook the rest of the way uncovered. If the vegetables look dry, add 1/2 cup of water to them to deglaze the pan.
Because cooking times with chickens can vary greatly, it’s necessary to use a thermometer to determine whether it’s done. A chicken is done when the temperature in the thickest part of the thigh reaches 180º. I like to use a digital thermometer to check the bird in several places. Digital thermometers cannot be kept in the bird while baking though, so a meat thermometer may be helpful as well.
To make absolutely sure a bird is done cooking, slice the skin away from the thigh joint. The juices there should run clear. If there’s any pink in the juice, place the bird back in the oven and check again in 10 minutes.
The 3lb chicken you see in the pictures was done in 1 hour and 20 minutes. It actually roasted for another 10 minutes after these pictures to crisp up the skin a bit more but it was too dark for pictures by then.
Let the bird stand, covered, for 10 minutes before carving.
Seemingly ‘fancy’ dinners do not have to take a long time to make. Sometimes they do, if you’re roasting whole birds or smoking a brisket or something of that nature. But truly, they don’t all have to take hours and hours.
The more recipes I create the more and more I recognize how the best recipes are seasonal and use produce that’s in abundance at that time. Food tastes better when it’s in season. This is easy enough to understand. But it goes further. It goes on to meals, side dishes, and whole recipe schemes. They are all better when you base them off food that is ripe for the picking. Although it’s always sad to say goodbye to delicious berries, peaches and plums, those fruits are officially over for the year. I tried both strawberries and nectarines last week. It was a wasted effort. Food that tasted amazing a few months ago is now mediocre at best.
Figs are one of those fruits that only last for so long. Just like berries and other tender-bodied fruits, they are easily bruised and much too easily turn to mush when their season is over. I keep seeing pictures of turkeys roasted and presented with figs. That’s great for magazines since they are doing the cooking and photographing for their Thanksgiving issues in August when figs are in season. Less helpful for the rest of us. The magazine I’m working on now won’t come out until December. The writers are working on stories for January. A Thanksgiving issue would come out in October to give plenty of face time. The holiday cookie guides are already out. It’s difficult to find seasonal ingredients for Christmas cookies when you’re putting the guide together in the summer. Unless of course, you do everything a year in advance.
Anyway! Figs. Use them now while you still can and don’t cling to the hope that they’ll still be around in a month. They won’t be. I’m sad just thinking about it.
2 boneless chicken breasts
6 ripe black figs
2 ounces cream cheese, cold
2 slices bacon
Slice the figs into quarters and set aside. Measure out the cream cheese and shape each ounce into a flattened bar shape. You may pop them in the freezer so they harden. This helps keep the cheese from oozing too much.
Place one chicken breast on a plastic cutting board. Cover lightly with a paper towel. You may use boneless skinless breasts, or breasts that have been cut off the bone.
Use the flat side of a meat tenderizer to flatten the chicken. You want to a large, thin breast. This will give you more area to stuff and will let you roll the figs and cream cheese more easily.
Place the cream cheese and figs in the center of the breast. Lay the cream cheese width-wise across the breast. Line the figs up two by two. Season with salt, pepper and garlic.
Starting with the narrow tip of the breast, (bottom) roll the breast tightly towards the rounded top, keeping the figs and cream cheese tucked in tightly. You are rolling the breast up from bottom to top, not from side to side.
Once rolled, keep the chicken in place with one hand. With the other, grab a piece of bacon. Start the bacon on the top of the breast and wind it around at least twice. As you wrap the bacon around spread it out so it covers more of the breast. This will help keep everything in place.
Secure the bacon and close the chicken breast with a toothpick. If your breast is not cooperating, use three toothpicks to truss the meat closed on the underside. Simply remove these after cooking.
Heat oil or butter in a skillet. Place the chicken in the pan and cover. Turn the chicken a quarter turn every five minutes. Use a thermometer to check the chicken. The filling and chicken at the thickest point should reach 180º. Be sure to rotate the bird evenly so the bacon becomes crispy all around.
Once the chicken is done, remove from the pan and cover with foil for 10 minutes.
For a second side dish, toss one cup of cooked chickpeas with two chopped tomatoes into the pan that you used to cook the chicken. Heat over medium, seasoning with salt, pepper, garlic and smoked paprika. Add sour cream, cream cheese or milk to the mixture to give it a slightly creamy sauce. Just a few tablespoons will do. Toss together until the entire mixture is coated in sauce and the tomatoes are soft.
Spätzle is one of those things that I have a very distinct and weird memory of. I remember my Foods teacher (because we had a class called ‘Foods’ in high school) making up a ball of dough, holding it in her hand and shredding it with a box grater and calling it spätzle. I’m not sure why that memory stuck with me but something about the recipe and technique seemed off. Possibly it was just that our teacher was completely crazy. Or maybe my Austrian grandmother had set a seed in my brain about what spätzle was and how one made it but I made a mental note to try it on my own sometime. 13 years later, I finally got around to it. My grandmother is no longer alive to consult about the proper recipe and method of spätzle. Some other bloggers had posted recipes but they still didn’t feel right. Spätzle only has a few ingredients and some had devised a way to get something other than flour, eggs, salt and water into the dough. I wanted no part in that. Sometimes simple is exactly what you need.
I wanted to make a dinner that was distinctly Germanic without it being straight up Jaeger Schnitzel. Which I adore, btw, but do not attempt to make myself. Instead I settled on serving the spätzle as the base for grilled chicken, Brussels sprouts and mushrooms tossed with a balsamic glaze. Instead of just boiling the sprouts in water, I added half a cup of the balsamic vinegar and a few tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce so they absorbed the delicious flavor. Sadly my tub of mushrooms was already starting to decay four days after I’d brought it home (thanks for the fresh produce Super Target!) so there were far fewer mushrooms than I’d planned on having. Luckily it didn’t really matter because we all know the doughy little strips of noodles were the stars of this show.
Recipe makes 4 servings
For the spätzle (recipe adapted from All Recipes)
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup water
Start a large pot of water boiling. Use the biggest pot you have. You’ll want to have a lot of water, but you’ll also want to have several inches of space between the boiling water and the top of the pot.
Mix together the flour, eggs and salt with a fork. Add the water and mix until you have a soft, sticky dough. The dough should be tacky. If it’s too dry, add water one teaspoon at a time until it’s nice and sticky.
Grab a clump of the sticky dough and slap it onto a small cutting board. Be sure to use one that’s light weight and easy to hold.
Rest your cutting board on the edge of your pot of boiling water. You’ll need to hold on to it with one hand, keeping it at a 45º angle above the boiling water.
Grab your favorite knife and dunk the blade in the boiling water.
Smooth down the edge of the dough so you have a dough ‘smear’ to work with.
Voila. You have made a spätzle.
Keep doing this until you have several in the pot. Fresh noodles only need about 60 seconds to finish cooking. Once they’re floating, scoop them out and set them in a strainer. You’ll probably want to scrape a small amount of dough at a time so you have small batches of cooked noodles every few minutes. This keeps your noodles from over cooking.
For the Chicken, Brussels Sprouts, Mushrooms and Balsamic Glaze
1 lb Brussels Sprouts, cleaned
2 chicken breasts, pounded to a uniform thickness
1 pint button mushrooms (or more!)
2 cups balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
Place the sprouts in a sauce pan and cover with water. Add 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar and 1/2 a cup of Worcestershire sauce.
On your fourth burner, place a small sauce pan with 2 cups of balsamic vinegar. Bring to a boil and let boil until reduced by half. About five minutes total. Yes. You might need to use all four burners. Although, you should really only need to have two on at a time. If my teensy tiny little stove can handle it, so can yours. Just for reference, I had my head up against the cupboards on the other side of the kitchen just to get this whole thing in view. And yes, that is the wall that my cast iron skillet is resting against. Tight quarters in Wee Kitchen.
I don’t know about you guys, but I am ready for summer. Like NOW. Last week was glorious here. As glorious as weather in Minnesota in March can be. Temperatures in the 50s. The 50s! The snow was literally gone in all but the shadiest places. The snow mountains in the parking lots were actually so short you could see over them! Amazing right? Well it snowed 6 inches on Tuesday and it hasn’t been above freezing since, so back into the winter boots we go. 😦
But last week, when it was warm and sunny and I was full of positive spring energy I decided to go spring-feverish and welcome spring with open arms. Our dinner had this:
and I got to use this for the first time!
Isn’t it beautiful? Let’s see it again.
Even my grill pan is summery!
And in action:
It seems like everything we eat in summer is so fresh and light and…tangy, you know? Well, except for steak which is not light but is delicious. I knew I wanted to use a lot of fresh flavors and I knew that the numero uno requirement of this dinner was going to be pineapple. I love pineapple. It’s by far my favorite fruit. I’ve been buying whole pineapples and thanks to the genius pineapple peeler/corer that I bought from Pampered Chef, cleaning pineapples is now one of the easiest things ever. Seriously, check this thing out. I use it on apples too.
Grill pan+chicken+pineapple=grilled chicken and grilled pineapple. It’s really just simple addition. Toss in some cilantro-lime rice and top it off with a balsamic reduction glaze and you have a party. Yes, literally, a party. On a plate. Or in your tummy.
Grilled pineapple and balsamic chicken over cilantro-lime rice Serves 2
1/2 cup dry basmati rice
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1 pineapple, cored and cut into slices
14oz chicken breast tenders (one package)
1/2 cup cooked and drained black beans
1 cup balsamic vinegar
Nonstick spray (I used olive oil but you may use Pam as well)
Rinse and drain your rice well. The best way to avoid rice that sticks and clumps is to rinse it before cooking really well. This removes the extra starch. We buy our rice in a 15lb bag from India and it lasts us for years, so it’s a good practice to rinse it. You never know what penetrates the burlap sack. Cook your rice until tender, and allow to cool.
While the rice is cooking, spray a grill pan (or a regular skillet) with olive oil. Add chicken tenders and cook over a medium flame. Turn halfway through so both sides get grill marks.
Using a small sauce pan on a back burner, measure out a cup of balsamic vinegar. Feel free to use more, the balsamic glaze is delicious and in my opinion, the more the better! Bring the vinegar to a boil and let simmer until it’s reduced by half. Remove from the heat and let stand for at least five minutes. The glaze will thicken a bit upon standing.
Once you have all three burners going, whip out your pineapple, lime and cilantro. Clean the pineapple into slices are either rings or half of a ring, about a half-inch thick. Slice the lime in half and juice it. Tear the cilantro leaves off the stems until you have as much cilantro as you can handle. Personally, I could handle a having an equal rice-to-cilantro ratio but Senor isn’t quite as insane about cilantro as I am. I may have issues.
Get your black beans ready by either cracking open a can and rinsing them, or if your like me, breaking a chunk of frozen, cooked beans out of the freezer. Pop them in the microwave for a minute until they’re toasty warm. Remove the cooked chicken from the pan and set on a small plate. Keep both the chicken and the beans in the microwave until you’re ready to use them. If you need to reheat, just give them a quick 15 seconds.
Sprinkle your rice with a pinch of kosher salt, then add your lime juice and fresh cilantro. Stir and set aside until ready to serve.
Finally, add your sliced pineapple to the grill pan. You can crank the heat up if you’d like and cook on each side until dark grill marks appear and your pineapple is warmed through.
Serve each plate with the rice, topped with the beans, topped with the chicken. Drizzle the balsamic glaze over all three, concentrating on the chicken. Top the chicken with the freshly grilled pineapple.
Eat and enjoy! And try to picture warm beaches, late night sunsets, and gentle summer breezes as you eat.
Disclaimer: after I took this picture, I added about five more pineapple slices to my plate. They’re SO GOOD.