Roast Chicken in a Bag

I hesitate to say that this is a no-fail recipe but I can say that it’s never failed me.  I first heard of roasting chicken in a paper bag many years ago when I didn’t have much money and I only had rudimentary cooking utensils, but that didn’t stop me from making an fantastic dinner.  This is a perfect recipe for the young bachelor who wants to impress but can’t afford a dozen long stemmed roses!

I roasted a whole, small hen in a paper grocery bag with dried herbs, potatoes and carrots.  The hen came out tender and juicy and perfectly cooked and the vegetables were full of flavor. 

It’s important to note that you will need a large paper bag.  Grocery store paper bags are perfectly suitable and they don’t add to the cost of the meal. Don’t forget to request paper bags when you go to the store to buy the chicken!

Use an ordinary grocery store bag

For this recipe, I used two boneless, skinless chicken breasts instead of a whole hen

Ingredients:

¼ cup Herbe de Provence (or an Italian herb mix)

½ tsp red chile flakes

½ tsp salt

1 tsp dried onion

½ tsp cracked black pepper

2 Tbs olive oil

2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 head of broccoli (about ½ lb)

1 lb small potatoes

2 large carrots

2 ears of fresh corn on the cob

A few small fresh chiles

4 oz fresh mushrooms

½ onion peeled but not chopped or sliced

3 Tbs butter, melted

¼ cup fresh basil

½ tsp sea salt, crushed

¼ tsp cracked black pepper

For the roasting bag:  One large paper grocery bag and a few tablespoons of cooking oil.

Directions:

Add olive oil, herbs, chile flakes, dried onion, salt and pepper to a mixing bowl.  Whisk to combine.  Add the chicken to the bowl and toss to coat.  Marinate the chicken in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

Prepare the bag for roasting.  Lay a large casserole dish on a work surface.  A glass or metal pan can be used, as long as it is deep enough to collect juices that might run out of the bag when it is comes out of the oven.

Stand the paper bag in the dish and smear the entire bag with cooking oil.  I like to pour a little oil onto a paper towel and scrub the bag with soaked paper towel.  This doesn’t require much oil…just enough to wet the bag a little.  Set aside.

Wash the vegetables and allow them to air dry for several minutes.  Cut the corn into 3 to 4 inch pieces.  Leave the rest of the vegetables whole. 

In a large mixing bowl, add 3 tablespoons melted butter, ¼ cup fresh, chopped basil, ½ tsp salt and ¼ tsp black pepper.  Mix together, briefly.  Add the potatoes, carrots and corn to the bowl and toss.

Add all of the vegetables to the paper bag, in no particular order.  Place the chicken breasts on top of the vegetables.  Clasp the top of the paper bag and roll together tightly to seal.

Place in a 350° oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on how tender you like your vegetables.

Remove the baking dish from the oven and allow to cool on a table for a few minutes.  Carefully cut a whole near the top of the bag to allow the steam to escape.  Cut the remaining top portion of the bag away. 

Remove the chicken and vegetables from the bag and move to a cutting board.  Cut the broccoli and carrots into bite sized portions.  Arrange the vegetables on a serving platter.  Slice the chicken into serving slices and nestle the chicken in the vegetables.

Enjoy the aroma and celebrate with good friends and loved ones!

King Cake French Toast

Mardi Gras is right around the corner and that means King Cakes are back in season.  My wife recently made her first attempt at making a King Cake and I must say, it was superb!  The texture of the cake was springy and light and the sweet glaze that topped the cake was sprinkled with yellow, green and purple confectioner sugar, in traditional New Orleans style.  We have been nibbling at the large cake for a few days and it occurred to me that it might be well suited for French toast.  So, that’s what I did this morning.

Ingredients:

Several 1” thick slices of King Cake

2 eggs

1 cup whole milk

¼ cup heavy cream

¼ lb butter (on stick)

Maple syrup

Directions:

Add eggs, milk and heavy cream to a shallow baking pan, or shallow plastic storage container.  Whisk the ingredients briskly. 

Lay the slices of King Cake in the mixture and allow the cake to soak for 15 minutes.  Turn the slices over and soak for another 15 minutes.

While the cake soaks, heat a large skillet, at low heat, and add the butter.

Once the butter begins to bubble, turn the heat up to medium heat.  Place slices of cake into the pan.  Do not overcrowd the pan. 

Cook for about 3 to 5 minutes and turn the slices over, after they have browned.  Cook for another 3 to 5 minutes and remove the slices to a serving dish. 

Serve with maple syrup, bacon and fresh fruit.

Jambalaya

Sometimes, all it takes is an exotic name of a dish to get me excited about cooking.  Jambalaya fits the bill perfectly.  “Jambalaya” rolls off the tongue lyrically and it speaks of the African influences in this Louisianan, Cajun dish.  French and Spanish cultures are also essential to Cajun cuisine, which has helped make Cajun food a wonderful mélange of cross-culturalism.  And, lest I forget, there is a particular sofrito that is the fundamental base of many Cajun creations.  The sofrito, which traditionally consists of diced onion, celery and bell pepper is so revered in Louisiana that they refer to it as the “holy trinity”. 

The last several months have been full of challenges, disappointments and despair but, I’m not telling you anything that you don’t already know.  We’ve all been suffering from anxiety, depression and hardship in our own ways.  I selfishly want this dangerous virus to be crushed so that I can happily return to my favorite restaurants, without feeling that I am putting myself or others at risk.

I am glad that I know how to cook.  Maybe I should rephrase that. 

I am thankful that I have the confidence and courage to cook and that I have the necessary tools to prepare a meal.  If there is anything good to be said about 2020 it might be that we have been given the opportunity to invest in our families and bolster each other with love and support.  Providing home-cooked meals for the family allows us to gather around the table and enjoy good food and have meaningful conversations.

Okay, that’s enough my maudlin rambling.  Let’s make a Jambalaya.  But, before we get to it, just imagine how James Earl Jones would say “jambalaya”.  Let that be your muse!

Ingredients:

1 ½ cup chicken broth

8 oz tomato sauce

1 Tbs Cajun seasoning

½ tsp dried oregano

½ tsp dried thyme

½ tsp dried parsley

½ cup chopped celery

1 medium onion

3 small, mild jalapeños ( I didn’t have bell peppers on hand)

2 cloves garlic

3 small tomatoes (the last of my fresh tomatoes!)

½ lb smoked sausage (andouille is traditional, but I used another tasty smoked pork sausage)

10 shrimp, peeled and deveined

½ cup rice (I used short grain, but long grain is perfectly fine)

Garlic bread (get a good loaf of French bread – it might become the star of the show!)

Butter and garlic salt, for the bread

Directions:

I like to prepare everything in advance and I like to have all of my ingredients ready and within arm’s length.  Mise en place, if you will.

I used whole, raw shrimp, but it is a wonderful convenience to use raw, frozen shrimp that has been peeled and deveined. 

Add chicken broth, tomato sauce, seasoning and herbs to a large skillet.  Set heat to low/medium and simmer for a few minutes.

Add the holy trinity (onion, celery and, in this case, jalapeño) to the pan.  Adding garlic to the holy trinity is referred to “adding the Pope”, so, add the Pope.  Add the chopped tomatoes.

Mix everything in the pan and simmer at low/medium heat for a few minutes. 

Add the uncooked rice.  Stir to combine. 

Cut the sausage into ½” disks.  Add to the pan.

Cover the pan with a lid and simmer at low/medium heat, until the rice becomes tender.  This took about 30 minutes, for me. 

While the rice cooks, prepare the garlic bread.

Slice the French bread into thick pieces (1 ½’ or 2” thick).  Brush melted butter on one side of each piece and dust liberally with garlic salt.  Reassemble the loaf and wrap in aluminum foil.  Bake at 350° for 20 minutes.  Remove the garlic bread from the oven and keep it sealed until you are ready to serve.

Once the rice is soft, add the shrimp .  Nestle the shrimp in the jambalaya and cover the pan again.  Simmer for another 5 to 7 minutes. 

Serve with laughter and merriment.  Eat well, stay healthy and find something to admire about everyone you meet!

Quesadillas Royale

You’d think that after working 10 or more hours per day, six days a week, I might just want to come home and crash without even thinking about making dinner but, you’d be wrong.  I came home today wanting to cook; needing to cook.  I didn’t know what I was about to make but I needed to clear my head, let off some steam and spend some time doing something that I enjoy.

Now, before you get the idea that I’m some sort of iron man, I’m not.  I’ve been working six days a week for the past several months and it’s wearing me down, physically and mentally.  My wife, who has also been putting in extra hours at work, has taken up the mantle.  She’s whipped up some spectacular dinners over the last several weeks and I’ve gobbled them up eagerly.  Her manicotti makes me melt like slabs of butter on warm bread!

On the occasions that we both come home exhausted, we order out.  We’ve been ordering out once or twice a week during the last several months.  Before the Covid-19 ordeal changed our lives, we only ordered out, or dined out, once or twice per month!  

Strange times, indeed.

So…what to do for dinner?  Comfort food is what I need, today.  This is the end of a stressful work week and I want something that I can enjoy making as well as something that I will enjoy eating.  I want to achieve a happy balance between the time it takes to make something special and making something that can be prepared quickly.

Quesadillas can be made in as little as two minutes.  Toss some grated cheese onto a flour tortilla and top it with another tortilla and bake it in a microwave oven for less than a minute, and voilà!, it’s quesadilla time!  But that’s a sad quesadilla.  I want a quesadilla that satisfies!

Quesadillas Royale!

This recipe makes 5 quesadillas, 3 with chicken and 2 with shrimp.  Slice each quesadillas into thirds to make 15 triangles.

I used vegetables from the garden and other items I had on hand but quesadillas can be made from anything you like.  A few tortillas and some cheese is just the beginning.  Make them to suit your taste.

Ingredients:

25 to 30 cherry tomatoes (about 1 ½ cups)

2 garlic cloves, mashed

2 green onions

1 bell pepper, seeded and chopped

1  jalapeño

1 chile ancho, pequeña (a small, green ancho chile)

1 small red chile

1 tsp ground cumin

½ tsp chili powder

½ tsp Mexican oregano

½ tsp salt

¼ cup fresh spinach

7  jumbo shrimp (I used precooked shrimp)

1 lb chicken breast (about 2 chicken breasts)

8 ounces Monterrey Jack cheese

4 ounces Colby Jack cheese

1 Tbs butter

2 Tbs vegetable oil

1 cup shredded lettuce

½ cup sour cream (crème fraîche)

¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves

14 6” flour tortillas

Directions:

Let’s make a zesty sauce!

Add the cherry tomatoes to a large skillet.  Set the heat low/medium.  Add about ¼ cup of water to the pan.  Top the tomatoes with one chopped green onion and garlic. 

Simmer for about 20 minutes, just until the tomatoes soften and break easily with a mixing spoon.

While the tomatoes cook, chop the bell pepper, jalapeño and other chiles.  Set these aside, for now.

Add the cumin, chile powder, oregano and salt to the cooked tomatoes.  Stir to combine.

Add the bell pepper, jalapeños and chiles.  Turn the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent the sauce from burning. 

Simmer until most of the moisture is gone from the sauce.  Set the sauce aside, clean the pan and get ready to cook some chicken.

Add a few tablespoons of oil to the pan and set the heat to medium.  Add the chicken breast and brown on both sides.  Once the chicken develops a crispy exterior, remove the chicken to a paper towel lined plate. 

Remove the tails from the precooked shrimp.

Slice the shrimp in half, lengthwise.  Set aside.

Dice the chicken and set aside.

At this point, you have readied all of the ingredients for the quesadillas.  Keep all of the ingredients close together to make assembly a quick process.

Clean the skillet again, unless you like using lots of pans, in that case, use a new pan. 

Add a tablespoon of oil and a tablespoon of butter to the pan.  Set heat to medium/low. 

Assemble the quesadillas. 

Lay a tortilla on a work surface and add scatter some cheese evenly across it. 

Add some of the shrimp.

Add small dollops of the sauce.

Add a few spinach leaves.

Add some chopped green onion.

Finally, scatter some more cheese on top.

Cover with another tortilla and gently add the quesadilla to the skillet.

Brown the quesadilla for 30 to 40 seconds and turn, to brown the other side. 

Press the quesadilla a spatula.  This will compress the ingredients and help melt the cheese quickly.

Remove the quesadilla to a cutting board and cut into thirds.

Repeat the process until all of the quesadillas are prepared.  I made two shrimp quesadillas and three with chicken.

Add chopped lettuce and sour cream to the center of a serving platter and arrange the sliced quesadillas around the rim.

Labor Day Grill-a-Thon

I’m pretty sure there’s a law that says we MUST grill something on Labor Day.  Not being one to intentionally break the law, I will abide.

I’m sticking with an unconventional theme for today’s grilling, after yesterday’s Chicken Satay Salad.  The law says we must grill but it doesn’t say what we must grill.  So, today’s adventure includes red snapper filets, Portobello mushrooms and mini-eggplants. 

As I ponder this seemingly odd grouping of food items I want to find taste sensations that will tie everything together.  I’m going with citrus fruit, garlic and olive oil – – maybe this can be considered “Mediterranean meets the Gulf of Mexico”, who knows?

It’s a small affair this year…no big blow-out party, thanks to the persistent virus!  This will serve three people.

The eggplant will take the longest to cook, followed by the mushrooms and red snapper.

Grilled Mini-Eggplants

Ingredients:

8 to 10 mini-eggplants

3 garlic cloves sliced very thin

3 Tbs olive oil

1 Tbs balsamic vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

1 orange, sliced into ½” thick rings and cut in half.

Directions:

Cut the eggplants in half from tip to stem but stop short of cutting completely.

Place several slices of garlic inside each eggplant.

Place the eggplants in a cast iron skillet, or make a reinforced tray out of heavy-duty aluminum foil.

Drizzle olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the eggplants.

Add a few pinches of salt and pepper.

Bake on a hot grill (400°) for 30 to 45 minutes.  The temperature of the coals will diminish during the grilling process but that’s ok.  Cover the eggplants, if necessary to steam and soften them but finish by uncovering them.

The eggplants are done when they are soft.

Serve hot, with orange slices on the side.

Grilled Portobello Mushrooms

Ingredients:

2 Tbs olive oil

½ tsp balsamic vinegar

2 tsp garlic powder

2 Portobello mushrooms, stems and gills removed

½ cup panko bread crumbs

1/3 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese

3 Tbs grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup chopped green onions

1 tsp oregano

½ tsp thyme

2 Tbs melted butter

Juice of ½ lemon

Directions:

Using a spoon, scrape the gills out of the mushrooms.  This will give you more room for the stuffing.

Mix the oil, balsamic vinegar and garlic powder together. 

Marinate the mushrooms for about 10 minutes. 

Mix panko bread crumbs, Mozzarella, Parmesan, green onions, oregano and thyme together.  Drizzle the butter over the mixture.

Pack the center of the mushrooms with the stuffing, leaving a little room on the edges.  Place the mushrooms on the hot grill and cook until the cheese melts and bubbles, (about 5 minutes).  Remove from the grill, squirt a little lemon juice on the mushrooms and serve warm.

Grilled Red Snapper Filets

Ingredients:

Salt and pepper to taste

Juice and zest of ½ lemon

Juice and zest of 1 lime

3 Tbs olive oil

Directions:

Apply salt and pepper to both sides of the filets.

Squirt lime and lemon juice onto both sides of the fish.

Form a rimmed tray from aluminum foil.

Place a tablespoon of olive oil in the tray and smear both sides of the fish in the oil.  Lay the fish on the foil, skin side down.

Grill for about 10 minutes over medium to high heat.  The fish is done when it becomes firm to the touch and you start to see the oils in the fish sizzling on the foil.

Sprinkle lime and lemon zest over the fish before serving.