Thursday, March 27, 2014

Alice Springs Chicken Ranch Salad

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced to 1/2" thickness
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
Seasoning salt
6 bacon slices, cooked
Ranch Dressing
1 can (4 oz.) mushrooms, drained
1 cup shredded cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Sprinkle chicken with seasoning salt.  In a large skillet heat oil.  Brown chicken on both sides.  Place in an 9 x 12 x 2" baking pan sprayed with non-stick spray.  Drizzle heavy with ranch dressing.   Break up bacon slices over chicken.  Add mushrooms evenly over bacon.  Cover with cheese.  Bake 20-25 minutes.  Serve over lettuce with Ranch Dressing.

Martha:  Sis, the 1st time I had this was when we did our book signing near your home in Florida.  Remember, we all went to Outback for dinner.  Your daughter Leslie suggested the Alice Springs Chicken which I loved.  Someone send me a copy of the recipe but I've never tried it.  Then, a friend and I went to Outback for lunch and I tried it again reminding myself how good it is.  Well, while eating I dipped a little in my Ranch Dressing instead of the Honey Mustard.  So good.  I actually went to bed that night trying to come up with an idea for changing it to the Ranch Dressing and finding a different way to serve.  Then it hit me... a salad.  Perfect and so good.

Lillian:  I love Ranch dressing and use it so often for more than on a salad.  I don't care for mustard much and I know that the original recipe calls for it.  However, I do like a bit of honey mustard in some things.  Chicken, in particular, lends itself well to honey mustard, as does pork.  This "twist" to the regular Alice Springs recipe will be a hit at any dinner table.  Good going, Martha!

Food Tester Carol:  I don't know if Alice Springs Chicken hails from Australia or whether it is just a figment of Outback's imaginative menu, but whatever the case, it is a delicious way to "dress" a chicken.  The sautéed chicken, still juicy and tender, is layered with mushrooms, crumbled bacon and grated cheese and heated just enough to melt the cheese.  It is usually accompanied by honey-Dijon dressing but in this version, it is also emphatically delicious with Ranch dressing!  Martha has used the Alice Springs Chicken recipe as a topper for a salad of crisp greens, tomato wedges and added the Ranch dressing to the salad.  My taste buds aren't accustomed to eating these flavors together and I found myself wanting more, more, more.

Martha:  I had some of the chicken with the cheese, bacon and mushroom topping left over.  I decided to see how this would be as a sandwich.  OH MY!  Heat and put it between 2 pieces of toast with just a little mayo and you have a great leftover sandwich.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Chicken Cheese Ravioli

4   ounces cream cheese, cut into cubes
1 1/2  cups milk
1  cup grated Parmesan cheese
2  cups cooked chicken, cut into bite size pieces
1  cup frozen broccoli, thawed & drained (chopped or florets)
1  box (7 oz.) Parmesan cheese filled Ravioli, cooked according to package directions

Heat the cream cheese and milk in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat to a boil, stirring constantly. Stir in 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese. Reduce the heat to low. Cook for 5 minutes.  Add the chicken, broccoli and ravioli to the skillet and toss to coat.  Heat through. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and serve immediately.
Martha:  I found a recipe for Chicken Parmesan that used canned chicken and egg noodles.  I use canned chicken only when I have to so since I had plenty of chicken in the freezer I cooked up a couple breast halves and used that instead.  I had egg noodles but when I spotted a box of ravioli with parmesan cheese I decided to make the change.  The original also called for English peas which I substituted with broccoli.  I didn't cook my broccoli because I like the crunch and taste.  You could use fresh broccoli with this and make it even better but at the time I only had frozen.  This dish turned out wonderful!  The combination of the different flavors was balanced perfectly.  You can, of course, make your own changes or go back to the original recipe using the noodles and peas.    
Food Tester Carol:  Whenever I have eaten Alfredo sauce dishes in the past, I feel discomfort from their richness and heaviness later.  Martha’s Alfredo recipe is lighter than usual.  It is made with milk and cream cheese instead of the traditional heavy cream.  The cheese ravioli rounds out the dish and provides a tangy counterpoint to the cream cheese in the Alfredo sauce.  The broccoli in this dish is not pre-cooked so it  maintains some crunch as it warms in the sauce.  Be prepared for the excitement of following the varying subtlety of flavor.  Eat this dish slowly so that you can appreciate its depth of flavor. 

Lillian:  Wonderful!  I love Alfredo Sauce but limit myself to once or twice a year of indulging because of the richness and high fat content.  This is marvelous and, since I only use the 1/3 fat cream cheese, it is even healthier.  Martha, you have created a real winner.!

Tips:  All olive oils are not the same.  This versatile oil, made form pressed olives, is sold by grade from “pure” (a blend of lower and higher-quality oils) to “extra virgin” (the richest in aroma and flavor).  Color also indicates a flavor difference.  Green to greenish gold olive oil tastes slightly sharp.  Golden olive oil has a more delicate flavor.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Hidden Valley Ranch Chicken

2 1/2 cups pineapple juice
2 pkg. Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing (Original)
4 chicken breast halves (about 1 lb.)
2 tsp. cornstarch
2 Tbsp. water

Whisk juice and dressing mix.  Marinate chicken in 1/2 of the juice mixture for 2 to 2 1/2 hrs. 
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Bake chicken 45-50 minutes or until done.
In a saucepan combine cornstarch and water with remaining juice.  Heat to thicken stirring constantly.  Brush chicken with sauce.

Lillian:  Pineapple is a wonderful juice in which to marinate chicken.  Ranch dressing is my favorite dressing and this combination is great!  This is another dish that is so easy to make and will garner appreciation from all who eat it.

Martha:  Sis, when I made this dish I knew I would love it.  I did do something different that gave me even more of the 2 flavors I love so much - pineapple and ranch dressing.  I decided to turn it into a salad.  I broke up my lettuce, cut up a piece of the chicken and placed it over the lettuce, added some pineapple chunks and drizzled it with just a small amount of ranch dressing.  It doesn't take much dressing because you get so much flavor from the actual chicken.  Which I have to say is delicious as it is.  It would be great served with a side salad and maybe some rice drizzled with a little of the drippings from the chicken.  

Tip:  When removing the skin from your chicken, hold the skin with a paper towel.  This gives a better grip allowing the skin to be removed with ease.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Twice Cooked Chicken

3-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup self rising flour
2/3 cup milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 Tbsp. butter, melted
salt, pepper & seasonings to taste
Oil for deep-frying

Cut chicken breasts into 1/2" thick strips.  Place chicken in a medium size pot.  Cover with water and boil about 10-15 minutes or until completely cooked.  Stir a few times to cook all pieces.  Drain.  Place on paper towels to cool and dry.  In a medium size bowl mix egg, milk and melted butter.  Stir in half of the flour.  Add more as needed until mixture the thickness of gravy.  Mix in salt, pepper & seasonings to taste.  Heat oil to 380 degrees.  Dip cooled, dry chicken into batter and drop into hot oil.  Don't allow pieces to touch.  Turn as the sides brown.  Each chicken breast will yield about 6 pieces depending upon their size.

Martha:  I found a version of this recipe in an old cookbook.  It called for a whole chicken cut up, boiling the chicken with parsley, celery and onion.  I made the change to use boneless, skinless chicken breasts which I sliced into strips.  I added my salt and pepper to the batter and also added some no salt seasoning mix that had garlic, onion, etc.  The frying time is quick which keeps the chicken from picking up that much of the oil.  The seasoning added to the batter flavored the chicken with each bite.  Now for a trick I came up with (I'm sure someone else has already done this).  I speared my chicken pieces with a skewer and used it to hold the chicken as I dipped it into the batter and then into the hot oil.  I used a fork to lightly push it off the skewer.  This also allowed me to hold the chicken in the hot oil for a few seconds so it could start browning and not stick to the bottom of the pan.  This with some honey mustard and you have good food!

Tips:  Many recipes call for chicken broth, beef broth, or vegetable broth.  If you’re fresh out of canned broth, you can use bouillon granules or cubes as an easy substitute.  Just remember that 1 can of canned broth is equivalent to 1 tsp. of granulated or 1 cube dissolved in 1 cup of water.  

Friday, March 14, 2014

Chicken Tetrazzini

5 Tbsp. butter or margarine
1 jar (8 oz.) mushrooms, drained
5 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup evaporated milk
salt & pepper to taste
2 cups diced or slivered cooked chicken
1 pkg. (8 oz.) thin spaghetti
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Melt butter in med. size saucepan.  Stir in flour.  Add chicken stock and stir till thick.  Add cream.  Add salt & pepper if needed.  Divide sauce in half.  Add chicken and mushrooms to one half of sauce.  Cook spaghetti according to package directions but don't overcook.  Drain spaghetti and stir in other half of cream sauce.  Pour spaghetti mixture into oiled 2 qt. casserole.  Pour chicken mixture over spaghetti.  Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.  Cover and bake 20 minutes.  Uncover and bake another 15-20 minutes or until bubbly.

Martha:  I love just about any pasta dish but have to admit that in all of my years I have NEVER eaten Chicken Tetrazzini!  Don’t know why, just never tried it.  That is in the past.  This dish is so simple and so delicious that I will be making it often.  I did leave out the English peas from the original recipe but that can be added if you like.  I think it was 1 small can drained.

Food Tester Carol:  This dish is named for an opera singer named Luisa Tetrazzini in the 1900s.  The dish became very popular with Italian-Americans and later, with the American public.  My family was transferred from town to town every few years and one place we lived, my best friend was named Elena Bella.  Her Nonna (grandmother) would make Chicken Tet (as they called it) every weekend and one way or other, I finagled an invitation to dinner for this dish.  When Elena and I would come into the kitchen to check on Nonna’s progress with the cooking, she would kiss the top of our little kid heads and say something in Italian that I always thought was a blessing of some kind.  Martha’s recipe takes me right back to Nonna’s kitchen and tasting it makes me feel a little kiss on the top of my head with its companion blessing.  The flavors of the chicken, mushroom, cheese, cream and spaghetti are silken and oh, so easy to eat, just like Nonna’s.

Tip:  The secret to fresh-tasting pasta salads is to avoid overcooking.  Pasta cooked to just the right stage is called al dente, which means “to the tooth” in Italian.  At this point, the pasta has a firm texture and is slightly chewy.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Doug's Country Fried Chicken

4 lbs. chicken legs
1 cup flour
1 tsp. McCormick Rotisserie Chicken seasoning
1 tsp. Caraway seed
1 tsp. Adobo
1 tsp. seasoned salt
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 gallon plastic bag

In a large, deep pot (cast iron if possible) add enough oil to fill pot about 1/2 way full.  Heat to 350 degrees or until a pinch of flour sizzles.  In plastic bag mix flour and seasonings (more salt and pepper can be added at this time if you desire).  Place 3-4 chicken legs at a time into the bag and shake coating completely with flour mixture.  Using tongs, gently place into the hot oil allowing each piece to sizzle before releasing.  Don't crowd the chicken pieces.  Make sure each has room to sizzle without laying against another.  When done, chicken legs will rise to the top of the pot, approximately 8 minutes depending upon the size of the legs.  Place on paper towels to drain.

Martha:  I personally can't cook fried chicken.  Never have been able to so I decided to ask my friend Doug to cook up some of his delicious fried chicken, let me take pictures and, of course, give me his recipe.  The seasonings he used can all be changed to your own taste by adding and eliminating any and all.  The main things to remember when cooking fried chicken is to make sure the oil is hot, the chicken is well floured and they don't touch while cooking.  I do have a cast iron frying pan but for those of you who don't you can use a deep pot to cook your chicken in but unless the pan is thick/heavy, watch your oil temperature.  In a thinner pan, the oil can get too hot, boil over if too high and actually burn itself as well as the chicken.  I feel a thick/heavy pan has better heat control.  If you decide to cook chicken breasts instead of legs, you may have to cook 2-3 at a time depending on their size and the size of your pan.  Same with thighs.  Plus, your cooking time will be increased due to their size and thickness.  Wings will go the opposite due to their size and thickness.  I may break down and give Doug's fried chicken a try but until I do, I'll continue to enjoy what he cooks.  Also, what do you do with all that grease?  As long as you don't allow it to burn, you can strain and put it back into a container for your next frying.  Or you can do like Doug does after a couple of chicken fries... use it for a Fish Fry.

Lillian:  I do have my grandmother's cast iron Dutch oven as well as her frying pan and I used to use these when frying chicken.  I haven't tried the seasonings that Doug uses, though, and they are an interesting combination.  Well worth the bit of work to have something this good!!  I agree, also, that the grease can be used a few times and then go ahead and fry up those fish that you have in the freezer.  

Tips:  To evenly distribute garlic flavor to stir-fry ingredients, season the oil by cooking the garlic first.  Cook the garlic in the hot oil, keeping it moving constantly so it doesn’t burn.  After about 15 seconds, begin adding the other stir-fry ingredients to the oil.