Quick Chick & Shrimp

Several days ago, as I was driving home after an arduous, long day of work, I wondered what I should do for dinner.  It was just going to be my wife and I for dinner.   I started to think about fish.  And then, I thought about shrimp, and then I realized that what I was wanting was something akin to the classic British, “fish and chips”.  Then I thought about mac and cheese, and how that mac and cheese goes so well with fried shrimp, or fried fish.  And then, I realized I didn’t have any fish.  Chicken.  Yes, chicken, instead of fish.  The synapses in my brain jump around in quirky ways like that most of the time.  I really enjoy my drives home, except when I find myself driving next to people texting on their cell phones!

I allowed myself an hour to prepare the meal.  Time at home is precious for me during this busy part of the year.  I typically have about 4 to 5 hours after I get home to prepare a meal, eat it and digest it before I trot off to bed.   

Mac and cheese…check.  Chicken and shrimp…a quick prep and fry…check.  Steamed broccoli…a few minutes in the microwave…check.

The most time consuming part of the meal was the mac and cheese.  The rest was a flurry of flour and cornmeal and chopping a few things.  Easy.

I made enough mac and cheese for six people and I made enough chicken and shrimp for two or three.

My son and his girlfriend joined us, just as we were cleaning up after dinner.  We had enough chicken and shrimp left to share and plenty of mac and cheese.  It was all gone in a matter of a few minutes.  Mac and cheese saved the day…Perfect!

Ingredients:

1 ½ cup fresh broccoli

½ cup cooking oil

2 medium sized chicken breasts, thinly sliced

10 raw jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 1/2 cup flour

1/3 cup cornmeal

2 eggs

1 tsp garlic powder

½ tsp cayenne pepper

Directions:

Cut the broccoli into large, bite-sized pieces.  Place in a microwave safe bowl.  Seal with plastic wrap and set aside.

Cut chicken into 3” to 4” pieces. 

Butterfly cut the shrimp.  I do a back butterfly, cutting into the backside, instead of the underside.  Set aside.

Heat the oil in a skillet at medium/high heat.

Pour the flour onto a plate.  Dredge the chicken in flour, egg and then flour again.  Drop chicken in pan and pan fry to golden brown, remove to a paper towel lined plate.  Keep warm.

Add the cornmeal to the remaining flour and mix with a fork.

Dredge the shrimp in flour and cornmeal mixture, egg and then flour and cornmeal mixture again.  Drop the shrimp into the hot oil and cook for about 1 minute, or until the shrimp begins to brown and feels firm to the touch.

Lay the shrimp on the paper towel lined plate, along with the chicken, and keep warm.

Put the covered broccoli in the microwave and cook for about 2 minutes, or until the broccoli has softened. Serve with mac and cheese and ketchup or spicy ketchup. 

Chicken on a Stick

I usually don’t start thinking about what to make for dinner until I’m in the car, on my way home.  On a good day, it’s a 20 minute trip.  When there’s heavy traffic it can take 40 minutes.  The good thing about the drive home is that I pass my favorite grocery store ALDI.  I will sometimes pop in to buy just a few items and then head on to the house. 

On this particular day, I didn’t want to make any stops.  I just wanted to get home.  I wasn’t coming up with any ideas for dinner and my mind started to wander.  By the time I pulled into the driveway, I knew what I was going to do. 

I wouldn’t call this a meal, because it’s just chicken on a stick but, it was something that I wanted to try and I knew that it wouldn’t take too long to make.

I decided on making this two different ways.  I wanted to see if I preferred the marinated version or the version that uses a dry rub for the chicken.  As it turns out, I liked both. 

Ingredients (for both versions):

1 lb. chicken breast meat, sliced in 1” long strips

1 lb bacon

3 Tbs brown sugar

1 Tbs chili powder

1 Tbs cayenne powder

12 wooden skewers

Version 1:

Ingredients for the marinade:

3 Tbs soy and 2 Tbs hot sauce

Version 2:

Ingredients for the dry rub:

2 Tbs chili powder, 1 Tbs garlic powder, 1 tsp cumin, ½ tsp paprika

Note: after tasting this, I will use ½ tsp cumin next time.  I like cumin but it overpowered the other flavors.

Directions:

Soak the wooden skewers in water for at least 15 minutes.

Cut the chicken in 1” thick strips.  Divide equally.

Mix the marinade ingredients and pour over one half of the chicken.  Marinate for 30 minutes.

Mix the ingredients for the rub.  Cover the other half of the chicken with the rub.  Set aside.

Mix the brown sugar, chili powder and cayenne powder together.  Lay the bacon on a clean surface.   Sprinkle both sides of the bacon with the sugar and chill powder mixture.

Set the oven to 350°.  Lay a metal rack on a backing sheet. 

Wrap a slice of bacon around a piece of chicken and run a skewer through one end of the chicken and then pierce the other end.  Lay the skewered chicken on the rack.  Continue wrapping and skewering the chicken.  Once the rack is full, put it in the oven.

Bake for to 20 to 25 minutes, or until the bacon begins to crisp and the chicken feels firm. 

Remove the chicken to a serving platter.  Serve with a dip of your choice.

Crazy Bread

First things first, this isn’t a copy-cat version of the Little Caesar’s classic. 

But, since I brought up Little Caesar’s Crazy Bread I feel the urge to share my thoughts on that ingenious invention.  Long, long ago, in a past career, I was once versed in food cost and clever marketing.  I remember when Little Caesar’s came out with Crazy Bread.  My first thought was, “Well… some marketing guru just earned a big bonus!”

The idea behind Little Caesar’s Crazy Bread is so simple that it needs no explanation, but really, it does.  Successful restaurants make money when they focus on selling mass produced low food cost items.  Conversely, they run the risk of going belly-up if they dabble too much in high food cost items…especially high food cost items that have a short storage life. 

Dough is cheap.  Little Caesar’s knows that.  That’s why they can sell a large pizza for $5. Throw on a little sauce, some cheap cheese and one topping and sell the pizza for five bucks.  They don’t make a ton of money off of the pizza but they sell a lot of them.  Overall food cost for the pizza is probably between 1 and 2 dollars.

About 20 years after Little Caesar’s came into being, they figured out how to increase their profit margin with a gimmick.  Crazy Bread is nothing more than bread dough with a dusting of dried parmesan cheese.  They’re very cheap to make.  They sell 8 bread sticks for just few dollars.  The ingenious part of their scheme is the sauce.  What’s a bread stick without marinara sauce?  Oh, sure you can eat a bread stick without sauce but wouldn’t it be much nicer to dip the soft bread stick in warm marinara sauce?  Mmmmm.   Is a 4 ounce cup of marina sauce worth 60 cents?  You bet!  And that’s where they make the money.  Here we are, nearly 40 years after Crazy Bread was introduced and it’s still going strong.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against Little Caesar’s or their Crazy Bread and I’m all for capitalism.  I just find this sort of stuff fascinating! 

OK, enough of that…let’s dig into some of my crazy bread.

As I have mentioned previously, I have been working long hours and I don’t have much time to make elaborate meals, or much time to document them for my blog!  I came home rather late one night, recently and knew I had to come up with something quick to prepare.  My first thought was to check the refrigerator for things that might spoil, if not used soon.  Raw meat always tops the list of things to check.  I saw a pound of sweet Italian sausage and knew that it had been in the refrigerator for about three days.  A pasta dish came to mind but I really didn’t want to make a big production.  And then my mind went to bread.  I didn’t stop to think.  I started to make a quick, simple bread dough.  While the dough rose I browned the sausage in a pan and shredded some extra sharp cheddar cheese.

Total time to prepare from start to finish:  1.25 hours.   It was worth the wait!

Ingredients:

3 cups flour

1 packet instant, fast rising  yeast

1 1/4 cup warm water

1 Tbs garlic powder

1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

2 tsp sugar

1 Tbs honey

1 lb sweet Italian bulk sausage

1 cup grated extra sharp cheddar cheese

Directions:

Mix 2 cups flour, yeast and garlic powder with a whisk.  Set aside.

Add the honey and sugar to a large mixing bowl.

Heat the water in a microwave or stove top to about 100°.  Add the water to the mixing bowl and whisk to blend with the sugar and honey.

Slowly add flour mixture and stir with a spatula. 

Add the crushed red pepper and garlic powder.  Mix to combine thoroughly.   Slowly add the rest of the flour and mix by spatula and then by hand.

Turn the dough out to a lightly floured surface.  Knead for a few minutes until the dough becomes a firm and forms a ball.

Return the dough to the mixing bowl, cover with foil and keep in a warm place.  Let the dough rise for at least 45 minutes.

While the dough rises, brown the sausage and shred the cheese.

Once dough has doubled in size, add the cooked sausage and grated cheese.

Mix the dough thoroughly and let it rise in a warm place for 5 or 10 minutes.

On a lightly greased baking sheet, form the dough into the shape of your preference.  Since this is crazy bread I decided a question mark shape would be appropriate.

Bake at 400° for about 30 minutes.  Remove and allow the bread to cool for a few minutes before serving.

Serve with a fresh salad.

This is the first time I have made bread this way and I was pleasantly surprised.  I imagine using breakfast sausage next time and serving with scrambled eggs and fresh fruit. 

Sheet Pan Roast

This is a great time-saving meal for a weeknight dinner…very convenient for working parents who want to make something nutritious, tasty and quickly.  The whole process takes about an hour, from start to finish.  Clean up is easy, especially if you line the sheet pan with parchment paper or foil.  I used frozen Italian sausage for this and it cooked completely and browned nicely.  The ham was cured and ready to eat, so I added it near the end of the cooking process, just to make it warm.

Ingredients:

3 large russet potatoes

2 very large carrots

8 to 10 oz broccoli

½ large onion

8 oz mushrooms

2 tsp salt

2 tsp fresh ground black pepper

3 Tbs olive oil

2 garlic cloves, smashed

2 Tbs Italian seasoning

2 mild Italian sausage links (about ½ lb)

½ lb cured ham, sliced ¼” thick.

1/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Directions:

Set oven to 350°.

Peel and rough chop vegetables.  Cut vegetables into 1” to 1 ½” pieces.

Add oil, garlic, salt, pepper and Italian seasoning to a large mixing bowl.

Toss vegetables in the oil mixture and turn everything out to a lined sheet pan.

Add the sausage on top of the vegetables.

Bake at 350° for 20 minutes.  Stir vegetables and turn the sausage over to brown evenly.  Bake for another 15 minutes.  Add the ham and stir.  Top with Parmesan cheese Bake for another 5 minutes.  Serve from the baking sheet, or a serving platter.