Category Archives: Chicken

On missing the obvious and Killer Chicken Cashew Chili

serving chili

Ask any of my family members and they will tell you that I am one of the most unobservant people around.  I am just not curious about other people and their business.  I never stop to gawk at car accidents, I am always the last person to know any of our street gossip and I never notice new haircuts or things like that. My siblings love to tell the following story as a stellar example of how notorious I am for missing the obvious.

In 1999, my dad was sick with kidney disease and heart problems.  He needed to have heart valve replacement surgery.  After the surgery, the doctor came out of the operating room and told us the surgery went well.  I stayed at the hospital a few more hours and then I flew back to Ottawa.  Several days later, my sister called me and told me I better come back to Toronto.  My dad was fighting an infection and was not doing well.  I caught the next flight and went straight to the hospital.

I went directly to his room.  I peeked inside and saw a nurse sitting with my dad.  He was sleeping.  None of my family members were anywhere to be seen.  The nurse smiled at me and left the room.  I gave my dad a kiss on the cheek and sat down and started talking to him, holding his hand as I sat.  It was a warm summer day and I thought it was so strange that his cheek and hands were so cold.  After a few minutes I went out into the hall, looking for my mom and my siblings.  They all came running down the hall, crying and hugging me.  It was at that moment that it dawned on me why my dad was so cold.  To this day, I still get teased about how unobservant I can be.

However, there is one place where I am observant – the supermarket. I love to play a little game while waiting in line at the grocery store. I check out the contents of the carts around me.  You can usually tell a lot about a person by their choice of groceries.  While doing my shopping in the first week of January I inevitably noticed carts full of Lean Cuisine and Weight Watcher’s frozen dinners, diet soda, cans of tuna and lots of fruit and vegetables.  This is the month that we typically resolve to eat light and healthy.

Chili is not traditionally known to be a healthy food.  Usually made with beef it is high in fat.  This chili is made with chicken and therefore much lower in fat and calorie content.  The first time I made this chili was at a Potluck dinner at a neighbor’s house.  We were standing at the buffet table spooning food onto our plates.  The woman standing next to me, had her plate heaped full of the chili I had brought.  She remarked how delicious it looked.  I smiled and said, “Thanks, I made it.”  She asked what kind of chili it was and I answered, “Cashew Chicken Chili.”  She almost dropped her plate.  It turned out she was fatally allergic to cashews.  Hence the name “Killer Chili.”

cashews and chiles 2

This chili relies on both dried whole chiles as well as chile powders. The combination of whole chiles and powder add a depth of flavour to the chili that you would not get if you just used chili powder. For the whole chiles,  I used both New Mexico and Guajillo chiles. Ancho chiles would also be an excellent choice. I buy my dried chiles on-line from chilly chiles.

new mexico chilesguajillo chiles

The dried whole chiles need to be toasted and then soaked in boiling water to rehydrate them for about 20 minutes. Once they are soaked, I removed the seeds. If , like my sister, you like your chili painfully spicy, feel free to add the seeds as well. The rehydrated chiles get blended with chicken stock and some cashews to create an incredibly flavourful sauce. The cashews add body to the sauce.

toasting chiles

soak chilesdeseeding

adding chicken stockadding cashews

Ground cumin, ancho chili powder, chipotle chile powder, salt, onions and garlic round out the additional spices. Canned tomatoes and the pureed chiles create a liquid base for one cut up chicken. Once the chile is done simmering, a touch of bittersweet chocolate is added. The chicken is removed from the sauce once it is done and the meat is removed from the bones and shredded. It goes back into the sauce with some canned white and black beans. Rich, sweet and mildly hot, this chile takes the edge off any roughness in your day!

seasonings

Pam’s Cornbread is the perfect accompaniment to this chile.

with cornbread 1

Click here to print recipe for Killer Chicken Chili (also known as Chicken Cashew Chili)

Chipotle Lime Chicken

In the three and a half years that I have been blogging, it just occurred to me that I have never blogged about what I eat for dinner at least once a week. Not that I’m holding back my secret recipe from you, or anything like that. I just make this on auto-pilot and I sort of forgot to tell you about it. But I have been remiss and I need to tell you about it now!  This chicken is moist and tender, because I always make it with boneless chicken thighs (never boneless skinless chicken breasts!) Thighs are very forgiving and are almost impossible to overcook. They have a slightly higher fat content than breasts so they don’t dry out as quickly.

This Chipotle Lime Chicken is my go-to recipe for a speedy delicious dinner. I actually get a craving for it. I end up with leftovers which are even more delicious cold the next day, chopped up into a salad with a hard-boiled egg for a protein packed lunch. I discovered this recipe in 2006 in Gourmet magazine (a moment of silence please!! I still miss it!) The marriage of flavours in this chicken recipe are perfect. Lime juice contributes a sour note, honey provides sweetness, Chipotle Tabasco adds a smoky heat, and olive oil brings all the flavours together to create a symphony of flavour in your mouth.

The chicken only needs to marinate for about 15 minutes, in a zip loc bag in the fridge. It  can be grilled outside on the BBQ, or inside in a grill pan. You can even bake it in the oven. Last night I had it with parsnip and carrot oven-baked “fries” and a bean salad with a mustard vinaigrette.

Click here to print the recipe for Chipotle Lime Grilled Chicken.

Chicken and Artichoke Pot Pie

I could wax poetic here and spin a lyrical little tale about how the nip in the air and the gorgeous scarlet and golden maple leaves have inspired me to make some homey dish that smacks of nostalgia. But, if I’m to be completely honest, the reason I baked these chicken artichoke pot pies was because I was cleaning up the basement storage room and I found this box of freaking adorable barnyard cooky cutters. (Why did they misspell cookie?).

I seem to recall buying them when the kids were little and had grandiose plans for baking sugar cookies with them and letting them decorate them with coloured royal icing suck icing from the piping bags, but sadly we never did it. It is possible they were used with play-doh at some point!

That little metal chicken was calling out to me and I instantly knew that I wanted to make chicken pot pies. As a child of the 70′s I was practically weaned on Swanson Chicken Pot Pies and TV Dinners. Carol Brady  was my second mother and I so badly wished that Alice was our housekeeper. Not that my mom was a bad cook, but she had 6 kids and was very busy cleaning all the time, so frozen meals were a big part of my childhood. Our favourite dessert was Sara Lee Banana Cake. One of my sisters always snuck into the freezer and picked the icing off the top of the cake. We never did discover who it was.

This chicken pot pie is inspired by a Chicken and Artichoke Casserole that I used to make all the time at one of my very first full-time kitchen jobs. I was working at Dinah’s Cupboard. It was run by a woman named Dinah Koo. The little shop, in the Yorkville neighbourhood was Toronto’s first Gourmet take-out food shop. Dinah was an amazing woman to work for. She demanded perfection and precision in everything we made. She taught me a great deal about discipline in the kitchen. Food quality always came first but following close on its heels was presentation. She knew how to make food look beautiful. It was also at Dinah’s Kitchen that I learned to love salt. Before any of the dishes left our kitchen to be sold in the food shop, Dinah or her brother Barry would taste them. Without fail, almost every time I got the response “more salt”!

I cringe when I hear people boast “Oh, I don’t use any salt when cooking.”, as if that’s a good thing. And then I hope I never get invited to eat at their house! Salt is an integral ingredient in cooking as well as baking. It fills out the flavour of foods. If it is absent, food just tastes flat. British restaurant critic Jay Raynor said it best, “Salt is the difference between eating in Technicolor and eating in black and white.” If loving salt is wrong, then I don’t want to be right. Sorry, I’ll get off my salt soap box now and stop lecturing you on the evils of cooking without salt.

I decided to make mini pot pies, because they are so adorable and because I knew we would have leftovers and I could stash them in the freezer and bake them another day.

I started with poaching chicken breasts. Buy chicken breasts on the bone and then cut the meat off the bone before you add them to the pot. That way, you can remove the breast meat after 20 minutes, when it is perfectly cooked and continue cooking the vegetables and bones to extract the maximum amount of flavour, so that you will have a really great stock.

Once the chicken is poached and you have your stock, make the pastry. I decided to add some poppy seeds to the dough, for a bit of crunch. This recipe for the dough comes from chatelaine.com. It is a bit unusual in that instead of cutting the cold butter or shortening into the flour and then adding liquid, they melt the butter with the water and then mix it into the dry ingredients. You can make the dough with all butter, half butter and half shortening or all shortening, the choice is yours. Just don’t forget to add the salt.

While the dough is chilling, prepare the chicken and artichoke filling. I like the addition of leeks, rather than onions as a flavour base. Leeks need to be cleaned very well in cold water. Slice lengthwise and then into 1/2 inch pieces. Place in a bowl of cold water and use your hands to swish the leeks around. Scoop out leeks that have floated to the top of the bowl.

Flour is added to the sautéed vegetables and then chicken stock and white wine are added.

Once the mixture simmers for a few minutes, I added the artichokes, diced chicken meat, frozen peas and some parsley. I also added the zest of one lemon and a few teaspoons of Siracha sauce for some zip.

The filling gets spooned into little casserole dishes.

Top with dough and bake.

Click here to print recipe for Chicken and Artichoke Pot Pie.

Crisp Roasted Chicken with Chickpeas, Lemons and Carrots

There has been quite a bit of buzz (well in the culinary world at least), about New York Times food columnist Melissa Clark’s new cookbook, Cook This Now. My kitchen shelves are bulging with cookbooks and I resolved not to buy anymore, but I did order one to give as a gift to my sister. When it arrived, of course I had to look through it. Melissa organizes the book by month, which ordinarily irritates me. My husband can provide anyone interested with the entire litany of little things that irritate me, but let’s  keep it pleasant and not go there today. As I was saying, ordinarily, I prefer when cookbooks are organized by traditional categories (ie: appetizers, breads, chicken etc…) However, Melissa had me hooked from the very first January recipe, “White Bean Stew with Rosemary, Garlic and Farro.” She had me at farro!

So of course, I kept the cookbook for myself and ordered another one for my sister, plus a bonus book (Momofuko’s Milk Bar) as my penalty for being late. Bo, if you’re reading this, now you know why your gift was late.

And rebel that am, I skipped right past the first 2 January recipes and boldly tackled the 3rd one first!  Full disclosure here, I’m really not that much of a rebel, I just happened to have a whole chicken defrosting in the fridge.

Melissa likes to play a game when she looks through food magazines. She doesn’t read the recipes. Instead, she looks at the photos and imagines what she thinks the recipe should be. She says that her track record is pretty good at guessing accurately, but sometimes she’s way off base. And that’s how the recipe for crisp Roasted Chicken with Chickpeas, Lemons and Carrots was born. Melissa explains:

“The photo was of a roasted chicken on a bed of chickpeas and what I thought were tiny cubes of carrot. I could taste the dish in my head. The chickpeas were crunchy and salty next to the melting, sweet carrots and everything was suffused with chicken fat from the roasting bird.

    In fact, the carrots turned out to be bits of orange bell pepper (definitely not in season in January in New York) and the chickpeas were added to the pan during the last few minutes of cooking so they would stay moist and soft, without the time to absorb much in the way of chicken essence. I’m sure it was a perfectly good dish. But I liked my own idea better.”

Her description was very persuasive. I set to work right away. Lemons are sliced into little wedges and then mixed with chickpeas and garam masala, an Indian spice blend. I happened to have rainbow carrots and some parsnips, so they got thrown into the pan as well.

More garam masala is rubbed all over the chicken and then the chicken is seasoned with salt and pepper and then stuffed with more lemon and some fresh thyme. Melissa suggests rubbing the chicken with softened butter, but I left this step out as I didn’t want the extra fat. The stuffed chicken is placed on a rack, above the carrots and parsnips and roasted in a 400° F oven for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, the chickpea-lemon mixture is added to the bottom of the pan and the chicken gets about another hour in the oven. While it was roasting I prepared the gremolata garnish.

This dish is pure roast chicken goodness! Moist and succulent and intensely flavourful.The carrots and parsnips turned dark brown and had a wonderful sweet caramelized flavour. The chickpeas turned all crispy from roasting in the chicken juices. The only part of the dish we didn’t love was the roasted lemons. Melissa says they are edible, but we found them to be too bitter. Next time, and there will be a next time very soon, I will add only the zest of the lemons to the chickpeas.

Click here to print the recipe for Crisp Roasted Chicken with Chickpeas, Lemons and Carrots.

Asian Chicken and Lettuce Wraps

Two weeks ago, I heard my bathing suit calling for me, well not actually calling, more like mocking me, from the bottom drawer of my closet. It was daring me to pull it up over the pasty white flesh of my legs and then over the lumpy bumpy flesh of my hips and belly. Aaaagh! Can there be anything more scary than putting a bathing suit back on after a winter of consuming comfort foods?

Last December, basking in the warmth and love of a family celebration (my mom’s 75th birthday), my 5 siblings (4 sisters and 1 brother) and I decided it would be a great idea to take mom away on a little trip to celebrate this milestone. There were lots of phone calls and e-mails back and forth as we tried to figure out where and when to go. We almost had a BBM (Blackberry Messenger) family group formed, which would have made communication so easy, but then my brother had to go and join the dark side… he bought an iPhone!  Just between you and me, I think he did it on purpose so we would stop BBMing him.

Choosing when to go was no easy feat. Two of my sisters are school teachers so taking time off during the school year is challenging. My brother is an accountant and January-April is a special period of hell for him, also known as tax season. To complicate matters, we decided that no children or spouses were to be included on this trip. Just mom and her kids. So child and pet care arrangements had to be made. Finally a long weekend in June was found to be was agreeable to all.

We decided on Bermuda as it was a short flight for all and the weather would be lovely in June. A little bit of sightseeing and some beach/pool time suited everyone. Thing seemed to be moving along quite well until it was time to decide who would room with whom. It has been at least 35 years since my older sister and I shared a room and I was not that keen on doing it again any time soon! Finally rooming arrangements were figured out, with just a few insults, snide remarks and residual hurt feelings flung about.

Then it was time to choose seats on the plane. There was quite a scurry and commotion about who would sit with mom on the plane. I will not disclose whether the direction of the scurry was towards or away from mom. Finally all the arrangements were made and just the waiting and packing remained. With less than a week to go, I mustered up the courage to try on bathing suits. That’s when the realization hit me. Time to start eating a little bit lighter, although I was doubtful that a week of light eating could undo the damage of a carb loaded winter.

I had seen a recipe in the June issue of  Bon Appetit that called for serving a chicken stir fry in a lettuce wrap. They looked perfect for a light weeknight dinner. I decided to bulk them up a bit with the addition of lots of vegetables. I settled on a mixture of mushrooms (shitake, white button and cremini), carrots, snow peas and yellow peppers. A little bit of garlic, ginger and cilantro would help to bring it all together.

Vegetables were done, now onto the chicken. Many years ago, when working at Dinah’s Cupboard, a food shop in Toronto, I learned a trick to create a tender and juicy chicken stir-fry. Dinah called it the “velvet glove” treatment. The chicken is given a protective coating before stir-frying. The best coating is a mixture of cornstarch, egg white and rice wine vinegar. I think of it as a sort of sun block for chickens!

Since my daughter is a vegetarian, I also prepared some tofu. I cooked the vegetables separately from the chicken and tofu. Begin with some ginger, garlic and green onion, then add the mushrooms. They will take about 5-7 minutes to give off their moisture and cook down and brown. The carrots, snow peas and peppers are added at the very end, so that they are heated through briefly but still retain their crunch.

Boston lettuce and hearts of romaine make a really nice wrapper. We finished the wraps off with some sweet chilli sauce for heat, some cilantro for its brightness and some cashews for added crunch.

To print the recipe for Asian Chicken and Lettuce Wraps, click here.