Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Addictive Stuffed and Breaded Chicken Breasts

Let me just say that if you're on a diet or watching calories, look away.  This is not a post for you.  This dish is delicious, but not low in fat or calories.  It's hearty and comforting.  

Our crew loves chicken in all of its forms- eggs, thighs, breasts, legs, whole chickens, wings, you name it.  Of all the cuts, the boneless skinless breast is the most boring on its own. The humble chicken breast gets an amazing make-over in this recipe.  It's stuffed with cream cheese, goat cheese, herbs, and bacon!  You can't go wrong with bacon.  It's nearly impossible to do so.  This recipe leave you with moist chicken, a crunchy crust, and a creamy sauce built in. 

Addictive Stuffed and Breaded Chicken
Yields 4-8 pieces

4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
2 oz cream cheese (plain or vegetable cream cheese)
2 oz goat cheese (the soft spreadable kind)
2 cloves garlic finely minced
2 tablespoons fresh minced parsley
2 tablespoons thinly sliced scallions
4 slices cooked and crumbled bacon
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup of panko bread crumbs
1 tbsp of Italian seasoning (omit if using seasoned bread crumbs)
1 tbsp melted butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  In a bowl, combine cream cheese, goat cheese, garlic, parsley, scallions, and bacon.  Butterfly your chicken breasts and pound with a meat mallet until thin.  If the breasts are very large (my 4 were) cut each breast down the center seam to make 8.  If they are small, leave them whole.  Spoon a couple tablespoons of the cream cheese mixture onto one end of the open chicken breast. Roll the chicken breast, tucking in the sides as you go, to close it. In a shallow bowl put the heavy cream.  In a second shallow bowl, add breadcrumbs, melted butter, and seasoning if using.  Stir well to make sure the butter is equally distributed.  Holding the chicken breasts to keep them closed, carefully dip them into the heavy cream, then place them in the breading mixture and turning them to get them well coated. Place on a silicone baking mat or oiled pan. Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes until no longer pink inside. If they are browning too quickly, place a bit of tin foil on top of them to allow the centers to cook before the outside burns. 

The Most Perfect Banana Bread

I often get asked to share my recipes.  Some recipes I spent years perfecting- like my sugar cookies- and won't give those out.  Others, like this one, I'm  more than happy to share.

This recipe is a family favorite.  I am never bummed to find that I bought too many bananas one week because I know banana bread is just a few days away.  And with my children, banana consumption varies wildly as one week they'll eat a dozen, the next week they won't touch them.  So if you find yourself with an abundance of bananas, here's a great way to use them up.  This recipe is adapted from the one found in The Joy of Cooking.

Have all of your ingredients at room temperature and preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.  
Cream together 1 1/3 C sugar and 1 1/2 sticks (12 Tablespoons) butter. 

It should look like this- suuuper creamy. 

Add 2 Teaspoons cinnamon, 1/4 Teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (ground nutmeg may be substituted), and 3 large eggs.  There really is no substitute for the flavor you'll get from freshly grated nutmeg but you can use ground in a pinch.
And now for the bananas.  If they have any green on them- they're not ripe enough.  
You want the bananas to have a fair bit of brown on them and definitely be on the soft side.  
You can cut away any brown spots on the fruit itself but brown skins are ideal.
You want 2-3 Cups of banana total, so 4-6 of them.  I used 7 but had to cut off a couple brown spots. 

Chop up the bananas and toss them into the bowl along with 2 teaspoons vanilla extract.
The mixer will chop/smash them further so don't worry if the chunks seem big.  

Mix it all up.  It should look like this.  

Dump 3 cups of flour, 3 teaspoons of baking powder, and 1 teaspoon of salt in.
Mix it until just combined, scraping bowl if needed. 

Scrape batter into greased loaf tins. Mine aren't even the same size.  
You could even use muffin tins with cupcake liners here if you'd like.  
(Just make sure to reduce baking time if you make muffins!)

Bake for 1 hour or until toothpick inserted into the center of each loaf comes out clean. 
Allow to cool for a couple of minutes before unmolding. 
 Let cool completely (or at least mostly) before slicing.  This will help it retain its moisture.

Banana Bread
yields 2 loaves

1 1/3 C sugar
1 1/2 sticks butter (12 Tablespoons)
2 Teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (ground nutmeg may be substituted)
3 large eggs
2-3 cups mashed ripe bananas chopped (4-6)
2 Teaspoons vanilla extract
3 Cups all-purpose flour
3 Teaspoons baking powder
1 Teaspoon salt
Optional- 1 Cup chopped nuts, any type.

Have all ingredients at room temperature.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease 2 standard loaf pans.  In a large bowl at medium speed, cream butter and sugar until very creamy.  Add cinnamon, nutmeg, and eggs.   Mix on low until combined.  Add chopped bananas and vanilla, beat until combined.  Add flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix on low until just combined.  Scrape batter into prepared pans.  Bake for 1 hour or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Cool slightly, then unmold.  Cool completely before slicing. 

*If you are not a cinnamon/ nutmeg fan replace those ingredients with 2 Teaspoons grated lemon zest and omit the vanilla. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

Cold brewed iced coffee!

I have 3 kids- 2 under 2 years old.  It's safe to say that I survive on caffeine.  I get anxiety thinking about how my day would go if I ran out. In the summer I cannot stand hot coffee in the mornings, or anytime really. I am also too impatient to make coffee and wait for it to cool in the fridge. I'm all about instant gratification when possible.  Enter cold-brewed coffee. *insert singing angel voices here* I make it twice a week and it gets my day started off on the right foot each morning. In MI and PA, I wouldn't start making it until June but here in VA it's been in the 80s already.  

The magic is in cold brewing the coffee grounds.  If you're looking for the least bitter coffee, coarse ground beans are the way to go. A finer grind, especially if the grinder is dull, causes heat due to the friction of grinding. This allows the chlorogenic acid to form quinic acid as the beans cool down. Quinic acid has a notable astringent flavor and why hot brewed coffee can be bitter while cold brewed tends not to be.  The result of cold brewing is smooth, refreshing, delicious, and roughly 67% less acidic than its hot cousin- great news for those that suffer from heartburn.  I find that I need no sugar and just a touch of cream when I cold brew as opposed to the half gallon of creamer I use per mug of hot coffee.

 The process is simple. You'll need a glass jug with a lid (old applesauce jar, mason jar, pitcher, etc), decent ground coffee, non-tap water (spring, distilled, or filtered), a strainer/colander, and coffee filters or cheesecloth. I'll be using a half gallon mason jar I had laying around with a plastic lid.

So grab your glass jar and add coffee. The magic ratio for me is ¾ cup good, ground coffee to 3 cups of water.  If you reeeaalllly love coffee, you can up that to 1 cup of ground coffee per 3 cups of water.

I measured 6 cups of water and added 1.5 cups of ground coffee
Put a lid on, shake, and pop it in the fridge.  You can pull it out 12 hours later but I usually leave mine for a full 24 hours. If you remember to, shake it a few times during its chilly nap.
It's not very attractive, but that's ok.  Weren't we taught that beauty is only skin deep and it's what is inside that counts? Let's use that line of thought here because what is inside that jar is B-E-A-UUUUUTIFUL!

Once it has completed its time in the fridge, strain it through a colander or strainer lined with cheesecloth or coffee filters. Cheesecloth works best but alas I had none and wanted (no, NEEDED) this coffee. I had to replace the coffee filters several times as they got clogged up with grounds. 

After it's all strained, rinse your glass jar, and pour the coffee back into it to store. Use within 3-4 days, if it even lasts that long. 

Cleaning nylon high chair straps

Have a highchair at home? Take a look at the straps. They're probably pretty funky looking. They're also super easy to clean! 
You'll need:
*a glass jar with a tight fitting lid- I used an old applesauce jar
*dishwasher detergent
*boiling water

These are from my daughter's highchair. Simply put- they're gross.
Remove them from the chair and stuff them into your glass jar, buckles and all.  Sprinkle in 1Tbsp of dishwasher detergent.  I have powdered currently but the gel kind works well too. I've even used powdered Comet cleaner in a pinch.  This isn't rocket science. 
Add 2 Tbsp of bleach and fill the jar with boiling water.  Screw the lid on and shake it like a maraca at a fiesta. Periodically shake the jar over the next hour. You'll see the stains slowly fade away. This was mine at the 1 hour mark. 
Unscrew the cap and carefully dump out the bleach water.  Refill with plain water and shake again. Then refill with plain boiling water and let it sit for 15-20 minutes to help remove the rest of the bleach and detergent. When they're done they should look like this:
So.much.better!!! Let them dry and reinstall. 

Our playhouse repurposed into a chicken coop project is underway and should be up in a week or so!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Dragon Eggs

You heard me correctly. I said Dragon Eggs.  Allow me to elaborate.  When E was 3, he decided dyeing Easter eggs wasn't very interesting.  He wasn't an arts and crafts kid.  He liked mud and dinosaurs and trucks.  So after some googling I saw a picture of crackled Easter eggs.  In that post, you hardboiled the eggs, cracked them, dunked them in dyed water for a few hours and peeled them.  Do you know how long an active 3 year old boy's attention span is? It's approximately 4.35 seconds. (I'm just guessing but those who hang out with little kids will relate.)  There was absolutely no chance he was going to wait for hours for the eggs to dye.  Instant gratification was my best chance to keep his attention.  So I adapted the process. 
You'll need:
*hardboiled eggs
*food coloring (the little liquid vials work better than gel dyes
*white vinegar 
*sandwich sized plastic storage bags
*something to protect your work surface

1) Hardboil some eggs. Use your preferred recipe.  I always add 2 tsps baking soda to the water before boiling as it helps the shells peel off cleanly later.  Also, if you have farm fresh eggs, put them in the fridge for at least a week before dyeing them.  Fresh eggs don't peel well. 
Please cover your work surface before proceeding.  A flat garbage bag works perfectly. I don't want to be responsible for your countertop looking like a tie dyed t-shirt. 

2) Take each egg and crack the shell gently.  Tap it on the counter, rotating the egg as you go, until the whole shell is cracked.  If you find a big spot on the egg that won't crack, gently press on it with your thumb to crack it. The dye follows the cracks. Big uncracked area= big white patch on egg. 

3) Put your cracked eggs into zip top sandwich bags- 2 per bag is ideal.  Even when they're dyed together, they won't be identical.

4) Drop a couple drops of food coloring directly on the eggs. (This stuff stains. You've been warned.)  Add several different colors.  Have fun with it. If you have it, add a couple drops of vinegar to the bag.  It helps to set the colors and makes them more vivid.  If you don't have it, don't sweat it.  They'll still work.

5) Seal up the bag.

6) Gently rub the eggs until the dye is spread all over the shell. 

7) Repeat with the rest of the eggs. Leaving the eggs sealed in the dye bags, set them all aside for 10 minutes. 

8) Grab a bowl (or the pot you boiled your eggs in to save washing an extra dish) and put some cold water in it.  Carefully peel the shell off.  I always peel my eggs in water.  They tend to peel more cleanly. 
Admire your awesome work. 

PS- These make extremely fun deviled eggs. Try it. 

Happy Easter!!! And in the next couple weeks I'll be posting details of an awesome chicken coop and run we're building.  We just added 14 chicks to our family!