Thursday, December 29, 2011

Crispy Chicken Tenders


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When I started to cook gourmet recipes and entertaining people, I found that kids were not as receptive to the food as the adults. The kids where hesitant to eat a new concoction and preferred simple flavors that they were familiar with.

I learned this through cooking – most people learn it through parenting. I believe it takes being out on your own and cooking for yourself to truly appreciate fine cooking. Most kids just want to fill-up and go.

For this recipe, I keep things simple and make one of my all-time favorites – the very kid-friendly chicken tenders. I bread the tenders with panko bread crumbs which hail from Japan. They are small, crystal-like shards of bread that have tiny points that stick out in all directions. They provide an extra crunchy texture that is surprisingly lite. Most major grocery chains stock panko crumbs in the specialty food isle and I highly recommend them. They turn this child-friendly bite into a scrumptious feast for kids and adults alike.

BEHIND THIS BITE
I made these chicken tenders for a snack while I watched the Sunday slate of NFL games, I documented them, but I hadn't intended on using this recipe for the print version of my column. I soon changed my mind because I thought it would be a nice recipe for people running out of ideas to feed the kids while they were home on Holiday break. I decided to go with it. After I made the tenders originally, I stored the leftovers so that I could make a couple more recipes using the crispy chicken.

I made both the wrap and salad on the same afternoon. As usual, I took them to Mom and Dad for a taste test. They were going to go out to eat later, so I expected them to take a nibble just to try it. What I didn't expect was for Dad to eat the entire wrap and dinner salad before they went out to eat! I'm glad he enjoyed it but I was surprised that he devoured the entire spread! He's a big eater. I never thought of the crispy chicken wrap AND salad as an appetizer. They are, for most people, a sufficient Lunch or dinner - Separately.

BBQ Crispy Chicken Wrap


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What I love about this wrap is the barbecue sauce paired with the crispy chicken. Most of the time when I eat chicken and barbecue sauce combined, the chicken is grilled. The texture of the crunchy chicken is a nice change from the norm. The size and shape of the chicken tenders also made it natural to put these in a wrap rather than a sandwich.

I love the concept of the wrap.

It's like the American version of a burrito. I consider it a culinary present – you have to tear it open to find out what's inside. This can be equally fun and scary at the same time - especial when it is something your about to consume.

Crispy Chicken Salad


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My former girlfriend, Nicole, who I have mentioned here on my blog many times, thought it would be a good challenge for me to create a salad for one of my columns. I thought it would be a good challenge also, I just didn't have the right stuff to work with - Until now!

I love croutons on salad, the crispy chicken gives a similar crunch here and allows me a chance to use fried tortilla strips as well. I have always thought that tortilla strips and croutons together is almost a conflict of interest on a salad.

I'm glad I finally got to include an actual salad on this blog, it would have been nice to share with Nicole, but we have mutually (and peacefully) parted ways and live in different cities now. I do have to give her credit for the inspiration to this dish, one of the many things that she inspired in me. I dedicate this one to her!

Eat well, cook often ...

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Buckeyes


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Since I can remember, every Christmas my Mom has made buckeyes. She makes a number of sweet delicious treats during the holidays but these yummy peanut butter and chocolate delights are hands down my favorite. There have been a number of occasions in the past where I have single-handedly wiped out entire trays of buckeyes.

Mom got this recipe more than 30 years ago from a woman she used to bowl with and it has remained a holiday tradition in our house ever since.

For this version, I add my own twist. Traditional buckeye recipes call for the top portion of peanut butter to be exposed to make the treat look like a buckeye nut. This will cause the peanut butter to dry out after a couple days. To avoid the dry peanut butter my mom coated the entire surface with chocolate. I have taken this smart idea a step further and coated the top portion of the buckeye with a peanut butter topping. It might not look like a buckeye, but it does taste like a delicious holiday treat!

BEHIND THIS BITE
This is the treat I look forward to most at Christmas, and I'm happy that I was able to include it here in my collection of recipes. When I started this, my full intention was to make traditional buckeyes – with the top part of peanut butter exposed. My Mom had always covered the entire treat, and I asked her why. She said she did that so the peanut butter wouldn't dry out. I thought that was a good idea, but I had already made a batch. That's when I thought that I would put another coat on to cover the peanut butter, but instead of using chocolate I used melted peanut butter chips to retain the look. After covering the top I realized that they no longer looked like buckeyes, but I was ok with that. I think that the peanut butter covering dripping down the side gave it a winter like hat - perfect for a Christmas treat.

While writing the 200-word introduction for the newspaper version, I wrote a line that I eventually had to leave out. It was another of my pig-out statements – one of a thousand that I have come up with since starting the column. That's the beauty of the web – no space constraints!

Here is the line about me scarfing on buckeyes in the past that didn't make the print version:

"I must have looked like a relapsing sugar junky who had broken into a Reese’s Candy Factory."

Eat well, cook often ...

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Cheesy Chili Dog Dip


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Looking at this dip will add calories. It's the Medusa of all party dips. Weight Watchers wants me arrested for creating this culinary monster that registers a colossal 13 points per serving. I would recommend eating this guilty pleasure no more than twice a year – unless your immune to all the bad stuff contained in unhealthy food or you just flat out don’t watch what you eat.

Why would I create such a culinary beast? It’s ridiculously tasty. Consider it a special dish for a special time. Make it for the most cherished occasions – weddings, child births or an NFL football game.

For this recipe, I take everything that is wonderful about chili dogs and transform it into a dip. It can be served on a bun, but here it’s delivered on a tortilla chip. This dish will satisfy even the strongest cravings for chili dogs - which I am prone to for some mystical reason. After eating a large helping of this creation, I suggest spending the next three days on a raw vegetable diet or training for a triathlon just to compensate.


BEHIND THIS BITE
I love chili dogs. I wish they weren't so bad for you. In the past I have craved them after a late night of drinking. It's almost as if my body says "well after what you did to me last night, you might as well fill me up with the most unhealthy thing you can find." I like to top my chili dogs with shredded cheddar cheese and raw onion, which I incorporate here. The cheese and chili bring this dip together, much more is needed of the two in this dip than what is needed when eating a traditional chili dog. Usually the chili, cheese and onion are a compliment to the dog. For this dip, it is the opposite. The chili and cheese are what binds everything together to form a dip that will be easy to grab with a chip.

I made this dip to take to my cousin's birthday party. I decided to share it with my Mom and Dad before I went to the party. Mom got a taste and so did I. I then left a huge portion out in the kitchen that I thought I would put back into the pot I had made for the party. When I went to retrieve it before I left Mom and Dad's for the party, I noticed Dad had destroyed the entire bowl. Next time I decide to let Dad test out a guilty pleasure like this, I will be sure to leave just a small portion so there isn't as much to tempt him to over-indulge.

Eat well, cook often ...



Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The New York Club Pizza

A typical New York slice of pizza has a thin layer of sauce and a simple blend of Italian cheeses as toppings. The crust is thin, making it easy to fold into a taco shape for eating efficiency. It’s the opposite of Chicago-style deep dish pizza which is more likely to be consumed with a knife and fork.

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There were many times when I lived in the Big Apple that I needed a meal quick, and a warm slice was much easier to eat while walking to my destination than a burger and fries from a fast food joint – just fold it and go. When it is eaten like a taco you never have to put it down, but it has to be held carefully, otherwise, you’ll have stuff running down your forearm. It was and still is one of my favorites bites.

For this recipe, I make a simple New York style pizza, but I top it with another favorite – a BLT. The bacon goes on before it is baked and the lettuce, tomato and mayo sauce go on the after it comes out of the oven. The cool and fresh toppings create a sandwich-like experience on a slice of pizza.

BEHIND THIS BITE
The closest restaurant to get food at my first apartment in New York was a place called Twins pizza. It was owned by an Italian family that had twin sons. The father was always working in back making pizzas while the twins worked the counter. I always suspected the place was a front for organized crime (which is always a first assumption in New York) because every time I went to get a slice of pizza the only people in the place where the families of the Twins. Plus, both the twins had sports cars that they often parked out front. The walls of the place were adorned with pictures of the twins standing next to New York sports celebrities from the Mets and Rangers. (I'm sure the place was legitimate, the foot traffic that passed by was probably enough to keep a couple of families well fed.)

I soon discovered that the pizza at Twins was almost identical to nearly every other mom and pop pizza shop in New York City. The best deal was a regular slice for a $1.50 - which was a large slice of thin crusted cheese pizza. You could get other toppings on the slice for a little extra, garlic knots and other pizza parlor staples. That is the basic menu of every pizza joint in New York. I always got a chuckle out of people who claimed one pizza place was better than another, because to me they were all virtually identical. Much like the brothers who worked the counter at Twins.

If you are ever in New York, I highly recommend getting a basic slice from two or three different pizza parlors. There are slight differences in the lightness of the crust and the amount of sauce and cheese on a slice, but they will all taste nearly the same - and will always hit the spot. The New York slice is a home run every time no matter what local pizza joint you choose.

Eat well, cook often ...

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Beef Stew to Warm the Soul

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There is a lot of stuff about the cold weather that I really don’t like – blizzards, frost bite and having to change my wardrobe to pants instead of cargo shorts. One thing I do like about cold weather is comfort food. To me, slow cooked cuts of meat are as delicious as a tender ribeye off the grill in the summer.

One of my all-time favorite comfort dishes is beef stew. I consider the potatoes and fork tender beef as just the icing on the cake in this dish. Like a great drummer in a rock band, the real star of a good beef stew is the gravy like liquid that brings everything together.

Some stew recipes call for the liquid to be thickened at the end of cooking. I like to thicken it near the beginning - with root vegetables mixed in to imparted their flavors into the beef as it is cooked tender. Also, I add carrot and potato chunks near the end of the process so they aren’t over cooked.

For this recipe, I broke out the cargo shorts and spent a couple hours in my cozy kitchen creating a dish that will warm the soul.

BEHIND THIS BITE
I documented this dish the day before Thanksgiving – six days before it would go to press – and the weather in Fort Wayne was unseasonal to say the least. We have been enjoying a rather warm fall so far. I worried that this recipe would run in the paper and it would still be warm out. The forcast called for a cool down - But you never can tell with the weather.

I grilled a Turkey breast on charcoal for Thanksgiving thanks to the warm weather. The day after, the high temperature was in the lower 60s and I was wearing my cargo shorts while raking leaves and covering stuff up outside – basically using the warm weather to get things ready for winter. Our mild fall allowed this work to occur after Thanksgiving this year rather than after Halloween.

As if on cue though, old-man winter swept through and dumped four inches of snow on us the day before this recipe went to press. Sometimes the stars aline just right and a project comes together. I knew the cold was coming and really wanted to share a favorite comfort dish which is why I chose stew. It would have been odd to publish this recipe when the weather man was calling for highs in the 60s. Instead, when readers got this, the ground was covered with snow here in northern Indiana. Which I hope made it seem even more appetizing.

I really hate to pack away my shorts in the winter, I usually keep a pair out for lounging around the house. In the summer, I will go months wearing shorts – it takes a wedding or a funeral to get me to do otherwise. Well, it's cold and wintery here now, and it will be that way for the next several months – I need a winter home in Florida!

Eat well, cook often ...