Diet Hack: Emergency Protein

Protein snacks and very quick meals are hard to come by.  Instead of constantly grabbing quick carbs,  I make an “emergency protein” that gets me through the week. Any veggies banging around the bin (today it’s small diced butternut, onion, garlic, jalapeno, red bell, some end-of-its-life kale), saute till soft, add ground meat of choice, tons of (Penzey’s or good quality) curry powder, dried basil, salt. I wrap it in lettuce leaves or pile on a bed of baby spinach. Great way to use up lingering produce as the curry works with almost everything and ties random flavors together nicely. Not elegant, but tasty, easy, economical, and healthy.

Spice-Roasted Chicken

Oh me, oh my.

It’s been almost two years since I posted a recipe. I feel like I’m shouting this post into an empty theater. Is anyone even going to read this? My baby is now a toddler, and at least today, right at this moment, I feel like posting again, so here goes!

I’ll forgo the apologies about not writing, that particularly self-absorbed guilt that bloggers like to indulge in, and just say this: Food and poop don’t mix. One may cause the other but it only works in one direction.

I KNOW, I just said “poop” in a food blog. But I also resisted a cheesy math joke. So we’re even?

Ok, ok, onto the chicken. This chicken that I made twice in two weeks. This chicken that came from a need to use a hen I had in the freezer and to make dinner using nothing but what I had in my pantry. This chicken that left my never-orders-chicken husband swooning over his dinner.

Why did I say “hen” and not “chicken”? Because I killed and plucked and cleaned this hen with my own hands and it just feels right to call it a hen, to give it a bit more identity than “chicken”. But that’s a story for another day. It was an excellent bird, raised by excellent people. Dang tasty. This dish was also, fortunately, quite good with a more typical organic chicken.

The key to this dish is to let it marinate overnight. I’ve tried marinating for only a few hours and the flavor and tenderness were noticeably different.

Use chicken pieces with skin and bone intact.  If you use a whole bird, cut-up, for the love of poultry, eat those crispy wings first when they come out of the oven! And maybe don’t tell anyone else they ever existed.

 

Spice-Roasted Chicken

These spices are so intensely aromatic and the chicken takes on a lovely fragrance as it cooks. No sauce is necessary, but if you want one, this Curried Yogurt Sauce is an excellent companion, especially for cold leftovers. 

Serves 4-6

1 whole chicken, cut into 6 or 8 pieces, with skin and bone
1/4 cup garlic cloves, peeled
2 tsp. brown mustard seed
2 tsp. cumin seed
2 tsp. coriander seed
1 tsp. fennel seed
1 tsp. ground red chile (**see note)
2 tsp. kosher salt
black pepper, to taste
3 lemons, zested and juiced
1/4 cup olive oil

parsley or cilantro, minced, for garnish

In a small food processor, grind together garlic and spices. Add to a large zipper freezer bag with lemon zest, lemon juice, and olive oil. Add chicken, toss to coat. Squeeze air out of bag and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 375F. Place chicken, skin side up, on a baking sheet lined with foil. Do not crowd onto pan; make sure there is space between the pieces. Bake for 30 minutes, using the broiler for the last 5 minutes if needed to further brown the skin.

Note: I used a red chile powder that I get from an Indian store. You can use any ground red chile (not a chili powder blend with cumin) but the spice level may vary, so adjust according to your taste. Cayenne is the most widely available chile powder.

Chili Roasted Chicken

Some say a roasted chicken, done plainly and simply, is hard to improve upon. I say there’s nothing that chilies can’t make better.

If you’re a chile freak, make this chicken now. Once dubbed “Scary Chicken” by a customer with a more timid palate, it requires cold beer and a love of the lip tingle. Is it for serving guests? No. Is it the equivalent of wearing a hair shirt? Maybe. Salvation through pain. More specifically, capsaicin, which I contend is addictive. The more you eat chilies, the more you want them.

 

I know I’m not alone in this chile fetish of mine; I sold a lot of this chicken over the years and plenty of other spicy food. There are people who never ordered from me again, but there were others, like Daphne, who literally did a dance in front of her coworkers when I delivered her Shrimp Sauce Piquant and told her I had made it extra spicy. That’s what a cook lives for.  I will never forget it.

This is a stupidly easy recipe. It’s hard to even call it a recipe.  You mince ginger, rub the chicken, and bake it. If you can barely nuke your Easy Mac you can still handle this.

 

With a mini food processor for mincing the ginger, this chicken takes about 10 minutes to get into the oven. Put on a pot of jasmine rice while it cooks and stir-fry some greens (bok choy, mustard greens, etc.) in sesame oil at the last minute. If you like mushrooms, toss some shiitakes into your greens.

And make sure you’ve got your beer chilled!

Chile-Roasted Chicken
A rub of chile-garlic paste caramelizes in the oven for deeply golden and crispy skin while fresh ginger adds its aromatic heat to the chicken. Not for the timid, this is seriously spicy. 

Serves 2

2 chicken leg quarters
2 thumb-sized pieces of ginger, peeled and minced
Huy Fong chile-garlic paste, see Note
kosher salt
disposable latex gloves (optional, but recommended)

Peel ginger by scraping with the side of a spoon. (See picture.) Mince in a food processor until pulverized.

Line a baking sheet with heavy duty foil. Place chicken on foil and pat dry with a paper towel.

Run a finger under the skin to loosen the skin from the meat. Do not detach the skin.

Wearing gloves to protect your hands from the chile paste, rub the meat (under the skin) with salt, ginger, and a generous amount of chile paste. Be sure to stuff some seasoning down the length of the drumstick.

Replace the skin and rub the exterior of the meat with more chile paste. Your chicken should be entirely coated with the paste, top and bottom.

Roast at 425F for 25-30 minutes or until done. If you have any doubts, an instant-read thermometer should read 165F when inserted into the thickest part of the thigh.

Note about chile paste:
Don’t confuse chili garlic paste with sriracha, the smoother “rooster sauce” that comes in a squeeze bottle. You want the chunkier version. You can also use sambal oelek, but add a couple cloves of fresh garlic to the ginger when you process it.

 

Cornmeal Crusted Fish with Mint Chimichurri

You know you’re pregnant when you seriously consider going to the grocery store in your underwear.

We’ve had 40+ days of 100+ temps here in Texas and with that heat, combined with my HOLY CRAP hot flashes, I have basically stopped getting dressed and stopped cooking. Usually I’d suck it up and turn on the oven anyway, driven by my incessant need to cook, but the thought of doing it in overpriced-yet-still-made-of-polyester maternity pants in an already hot house while standing on swollen feet has put the brakes on my usual inclinations. Hence the total lack of blog posts lately.

Which all leads me to this recipe — a summer dish if there ever was one. This dish needs no simmering, no reducing, no baking, and unlike many “summer” dishes, no standing over a hot grill outside wondering if you might actually live on the surface of the sun. Summer grilling is for folks up north. We do that stuff in the fall.

Chimichurri sauce is a common condiment in Argentina, usually made with parsley, vinegar, onion, oil, and some source of heat like cayenne. This one uses mint, green onion, serrano pepper, lime juice, honey, and no oil, so is it really a chimichurri? I’m not sure but it sounds good anyway so I’m sticking to it. There’s a (apocryphal?) story that the original is named after an Irishman in Argentina — a hurried mispronunciation of “Jimmy McCurry” turns into “chimichurri” — so I feel a bit of leeway is built into the culture of the thing.

You’ll get to use a whole mess of mint for this sauce, which will please anyone who grows mint in the garden and has been frustrated with the fact that it grows like a weed and yet its most prevalent use is as a single sprig of garnish here and there. On a side note, does anyone else imagine that the little bugs on the mint leaves must all have minty fresh breath?

Additionally, this is a perfect meal for bikini season as it’s quite low in calories. (I suppose if you’re a dude in a Speedo you’ll like that too, but dude, really, ditch the Speedo.) You need very little oil to cook the fish and the sauce is practically calorie-free.

Now, I must again consider…we definitely Keep Austin Weird around here, but can Austin handle a sweaty preggo buying milk in her giant undies? We’ve had a thong-wearing homeless transvestite run for mayor, so why not?

Cornmeal Crusted Fish with Mint Chimichurri
A chopped herb sauce of mint and green onion warmed with serrano pepper, brightened with lime juice, and sweetened with honey makes a light summer condiment for pan-fried fish fillets with a bit of cornmeal crunch. You can use any thin white fish fillets for this dish; I’ve chosen catfish this time around.

Adapted from: Cornmeal Crusted Scallops with Mint Chimichurri, Cooking Light magazine, May 2005

Serves 3

for chimichurri:
1 1/2 cups fresh mint leaves
3/4 cup green onion, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 1/2 Tbs. fresh lime juice (about 1 1/2 limes)
4 tsp. honey
2 tsp. serrano pepper, or to taste
1/4 tsp. salt
black pepper, to taste

for fish:
3 (6 to 8 oz) white fish fillets, such as catfish
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal, for dredging
1 Tbs. canola oil

For chimichurri: In a food processor, combine all of the chimichurri ingredients with 1 Tbs. water.  Process until finely minced, stopping to scrape the sides down with a spatula.  If the herbs aren’t making good contact with the blade (and stop getting more finely minced) add a little bit more water, a teaspoon at a time, to loosen the mixture so that the food processor more easily combines the ingredients. Don’t add too much water or you’ll have a watery chimichurri.

Adjust honey, lime, salt, and pepper. If your mint was bitter you might need more honey.

For fish: Pat fish dry. Season with salt and pepper. Place cornmeal in a shallow container with sides, like a pie plate.  Dredge fish in cornmeal, shaking off any excess.

Heat 1 Tbs. oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Place fish in skillet; if the pan is hot enough you should hear a gentle sizzle. Cook 3 minutes, flip, lower heat to medium, and cook an additional 2 minutes.  Times will vary by thickness of fillets; the fish is done when golden brown and the thickest part of the fillet flakes easily with a fork.

For best color, do not move fish while it’s browning and avoid overcrowding your pan.  If three fillets don’t easily fit (with room to spare) in one skillet, divide them into multiple batches. Use 1 Tbs. oil for each batch and wipe out the skillet with a paper towel between batches.

Approximate nutritional info: 305 calories, 10g fat, 31g protein, 24g carb, 5g fiber.

Do you have a recipe that uses a lot of fresh mint? If so, you should post it in the comments here.