Mexican Butter-Stuffed Chicken

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I’ll start this post with a warning:  this recipe is not a quick one to prep.  It’s not difficult to put together but it does involve a lot of “chill time” before cooking.  You can, however, prep and freeze the chicken ahead of time for a quick mid-week cook!  I’ve noted in the recipe below the best place to pack up and freeze for future cooking.

Another warning: slightly mushy story about this recipe coming up.

Will and I love to have friends over for dinner.  We love to plan a full dinner from appetizers to dessert, usually having guests contribute parts of the meal, and enjoy some wine and bourbon along the way.

One Friday night mid-June, we had some friends over for dinner.  We had made the butter-stuffed chicken before and thought it was a good dish to prep ahead of time and easily cook for a dinner party. Dinner was delicious and we went outside to enjoy the night and continue conversations.  Everyone was settled and Will brought out a wine bottle to refill glasses as needed.  He looked around, said “Now that everyone has a full glass…”, dropped down to one knee on the deck of our back porch and pulled out what instantly became my most favorite ring ever.

There was nervous laughter on my part, excited exclamations from our friends, that super-cute smile of Will’s and then a very firm “YES!” from me. Champagne was popped and thus began our year of wedding prep and life of marital bliss.

acceptance

I’ve said since this day that when we move out of this house, I’m taking with me the board that Will’s knee was touching on June 15, 2012.  We’ll serve Mexican Butter-Stuffed Chicken for dinner the night the board finds its new home 😉


Mexican Butter-Stuffed Chicken

  • 1 small onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 poblano, roughly chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, chopped
  • ½ red bell pepper, chopped
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 tablespoons cream cheese, cubed and softened
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • ¼ teaspoon minced fresh lime zest
  • four boneless skinless chicken breast, 6 to 7 ounces each
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • ½ cups panko

Place the onion, poblano, jalapeno, red bell pepper, garlic, cumin, oregano and coriander in a food processor. Pulse everything together until all the veggies are a fine dice.

I love my food processor as it cuts down chopping and mixing time and effort in many situations.  We have both a 3.5- and a 7-cup size and they both get a workout frequently!  Don’t have a food processor handy?  Chop all the veggies into a fine dice from the start – since this is part of the filling inside the chicken roll-up you just want small, fairly equal sizes so that it stuffs and stays inside the chicken well.

Take one tablespoon of the butter and melt it in a skillet over medium-high heat.  Saute the veggie mixture in the butter, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.  Cook the mixture until all the moisture from the veggies evaporates – about 15 minutes or so.  Remove the mixture from the heat and let it cool a bit as you move on to the next step.

Mash the cream cheese and remaining 4 tablespoons of butter together. Mix in the cilantro and lime zest.  Stir in the veggie mix then taste to check for seasoning.  Add a little salt and pepper, if needed.  Place the butter in the fridge to chill until firm, about 30 minutes.

While the butter is firming back up, prepare the chicken breasts.  Place one chicken breast inside a resealable plastic bag with just about 1 teaspoon of water inside of it – the water helps the chicken to not stick to the bag as much.  Pound the chicken breast to 1/8 – 1/4 inch thick with the smooth side of a mallet.  You can also use the bottom of a heavy skillet or pan to pound the chicken down.  Repeat this with all four chicken breasts.

Once the butter if firm, divide it into quarters. Place one quarter of the butter in the center of each pounded chicken breast. Fold one end over the filling, tuck the sides of the chicken in, then continue rolling until the filling is covered.  Tightly wrap the stuffed chicken in plastic wrap and repeat the process with the remaining breasts and butter.

Chill the wrapped chicken at least one hour or as long as overnight.  If you are in a little more of a hurry, pop the wrapped chicken into the freezer until just firm.  You want the chicken breasts firm around the filling so that when they cook the chicken stays together without having to secure the meat with toothpicks.  I can never find all those toothpicks after cooking…  😉

Season the flour with salt and pepper.  Unwrap the chicken then dredge the roll-up in the flour.  Dip the roll-up into the egg, then roll in panko, pressing the panko into the chicken to coat it well.  Wrap the breaded chicken in plastic wrap again and chill to set the coating at least one hour, up to three hours.

** This is a great point to freeze any roll-ups that you don’t want to cook the same day **

Heat your oven to 450.

Heat about 1/2-inch of canola or vegetable oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.  You want the oil to be about 375 degrees.  I don’t like to drag a deep-fry thermometer out so here are a couple ways to check oil temp without one:

  • Stick the handle of a wooden spoon, or use a chopstick, into the oil.  If the oil starts steadily bubbling, the oil is ready for frying.  No bubbles – keep heating.  LOTS of vigorous bubbles – let the oil cool a bit.
  • Drop a 1-inch square of bread in the oil.  If it takes about 60 seconds to brown the oil is at 365.
  • Drop a single kernel of popcorn into the oil. The kernel will pop as the oil reaches 350-360 degrees.

Fry the stuffed chicken, a couple at a time to not overcrowd the pan, until browned on all sides, about 5-6 minutes.

Transfer the chicken to a rack set over a baking sheet and continue to fry/brown the rest of the chicken.  Place the rack with all the chicken breasts into the oven.  Roast the chicken until cooked through, about 18-20 minutes.  This is where you do want to grab a meat thermometer – when done, the chicken should register at 150-155.

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Let the chicken rest a couple minutes before slicing and serving so that the stuffing has a chance to settle a bit – if it is too hot when you slice the lovely juices will run out and you’ll end up with a messy, drier chicken breast.

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The stuffing can be changed up several different ways to swap out the flavors.  Simply leave the butter/cream cheese base the same and mix up the veggies – maybe a little drained spinach and feta?  Green bell pepper and mushrooms?  Sweet cherry peppers and olives?  How would you change it up?


Full Recipe

Mexican Butter-Stuffed Chicken

  • 1 small onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 poblano, roughly chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, chopped
  • ½ red bell pepper, chopped
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 tablespoons cream cheese, cubed and softened
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • ¼ teaspoon minced fresh lime zest
  • four boneless skinless chicken breast, 6 to 7 ounces each
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • ½ cups panko

Place onion, poblano, jalapeno, red bell pepper, garlic, cumin, oregano, and coriander in a food processor.

Process until everything is a fine dice.

Sauté vegetable mixture in 1 T butter over medium-high heat, season with salt and pepper.

Cook until moisture evaporates, about 15 minutes.

Set aside to cool a little.

Mash cream cheese, 4 tablespoons butter, cilantro and lime zest together.

Stir in veggie mix.

Season with salt and pepper.

Chill until firm, about 30 minutes, then quarter.

Pound chicken breast to 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick one at a time inside a resealable plastic bag with 1 teaspoon water using the smooth side of a mallet.

Stuff chicken breast by placing a quarter of the filling in the center of each pounded breast.

Fold the end over the filling tucking the sides then continue rolling until the filling is covered.

Tightly wrap the stuffed breasts in plastic wrap and repeat stuffing and wrapping with remaining breasts.

Chill breasts at least one hour or as long as overnight, or freeze just until firm.

Season the flour with salt and pepper.

Dredge the chicken in seasoned flour, then dip into egg, then roll in panko, pressing to coat.

Wrap the breaded breasts in plastic wrap and chill to set the coating at least one hour or up to three hours

**Freeze any wrapped chicken breasts you do not wish to cook today**

Heat oven to 450.

Fry the stuffed breasts in ½ inch of canola oil heated to 375°, until browned on all sides, about 5-7 minutes.

After browning, transfer breasts to a rack set over a baking sheet and transfer to the oven. Roast stuffed breasts until an instant read thermometer inserted into the chicken registers 155°, 18-20 minutes.

Grillades

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Confession: I’m a little obsessed with Tabasco products right now.

Will and I made an escape last week to Lake Charles.  It’s a favorite quick getaway for us, typically involving a little gambling, floating a lazy river and a visit to our favorite restaurant.  This time, we also included a jog over to Avery Island to tour the Tabasco Visitor Center and Factory.  I’d never been and it had been quite some time since Will had visited.  It also just happens to be the 150th anniversary of the brand!

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We started in the museum and then wandered through five different buildings on the self-guided tour, learning all about how Tabasco products are made and distributed.  Did you know that the peppers picked when the match the exact color red of the  ‘le petite baton rouge’ and then aged in white oak barrels for up to three years?

After the tour, we had lunch at Restaurant 1868 and toured the neighboring Jungle Gardens. If you have never visited Avery Island and the opportunity presents itself, check it out!

We most definitely hit up the gift shop after all the touring and I snagged a copy of the Tabasco cookbook (cookbooks, in my humble opinion, often make the best souvenirs). As we flipped through the recipes, knowing something Tabasco was in our foodie future, one recipe really caught our eyes.  Grillades.

Grillades (get your Cajun on and pronounce it “gree-yahds”) is a traditional Creole breakfast specialty of thin-sliced veal or beef braised in a tomato-based gravy until fork-tender and served with grits or spoonbread. Historically,  the dish is made, refrigerated overnight, then reheated and served the next day.  However, there’s no definitive history of the dish, no distinct origin or starting point.  The word sounds French, but there is not really a literal translation of the dish.  Regardless, grillades and grits continue to be a tradition at many a Sunday brunch in Louisiana.

So we tweak the recipe just a little by using cubes of chuck roast, swapping the typical green bell pepper for Hatch peppers and upping the amount of Tabasco just a bit.

Because, you know, Tabasco is my life right now 🙂


Grillades

  • 2 pounds boneless chuck roast, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 4 T vegetable oil
  • ½ cup flour
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 ½ cups chopped poblano/hatch peppers (about 4 Hatch, 2-3 poblanos)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, drained
  • ½ tsp dried thyme
  • ¾ cup beef broth
  • ½ cup red wine
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 T Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 ½ tsp Tabasco
  • 3 T fresh chopped parsley

Season the chuck roast cubes with salt and pepper.  Because this was a post-trip cook for us, we used Avery Island salt, freshly ground black pepper and the Tabasco pepper pulp to season the beef.  The pulp is really interesting – it’s what is left behind after the peppers and salt come out of the aging barrel, is mixed with vinegar and pressed.  It has the spice of the pepper and a hit of the vinegar that makes it Tabasco sauce.

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In a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot, heat about 2 tablespoons of the veggie oil.  Work in batches so that you don’t crowd the pot and sear the meat on all sides.  As it is browned, remove the beef from the pot and set aside.

When the beef is browned, add the remaining veggie oil and the flour to the pot.  Stir the flour over medium heat for about 30 minutes to make a dark brown roux.  The last roux we made was for the Etouffee and we stopped that one at a “peanut butter color”.  This one goes further – to a nice, dark, chocolate brown.

Add the onion, the peppers and garlic. Cook for about five minutes, stirring often, until the veggies are soft.

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So, I know that in Creole cooking “the trinity” involves green peppers.  But… it’s Hatch pepper season and we had some at home, so why not use them? Just a heads up, they do provide a little extra heat to the grillades.

Add the tomatoes and thyme.  Cook for another three minutes or so, stirring often.

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Add the beef broth and red wine (you know the cooking-with-wine rule by now, yes?).  Stir well for several minutes, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot.

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Return the meat to the pot and stir in the salt, bay leaf, Worcestershire and Tabasco.

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Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for an hour and a half.  Stir occasionally, until the meat is very tender.  Trust me, the time spent on this dish is worth it!

Remove the bay leaf and stir in the parsley, reserving some for garnish.

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So this is where you would typically let the dish cool, then store it in the fridge overnight.  We completely ignored that and served the grillades up with cheese grits.

Remember the Grits and Greens Casserole from a while back?  This would also be amazing here!

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Will and I plated a little differently… but both completely enjoyed this food souvenir. What’s one of yours?


Full Recipe

Grillades

  • 2 pounds boneless chuck roast, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 4 T vegetable oil
  • ½ cup flour
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 ½ cups chopped poblano/hatch peppers (about 4 Hatch, 2-3 poblanos)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, drained
  • ½ tsp dried thyme
  • ¾ cup beef broth
  • ½ cup red wine
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 T Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 ½ tsp Tabasco
  • 3 T fresh chopped parsley

Season the beef with salt and pepper.

In a Dutch oven or heavy pot, heat 2 T of the oil.

Working in batches, add the meat and brown well, removing each batch to a warm plate.

Add the remaining 2 T oil and the flour to the pot.

Stir over medium heat for about 30 minutes to make a dark brown roux.

Add the onion, Hatch/poblano peppers and garlic.

Cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes, or until soft.

Add the tomatoes and thyme and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes.

Add the broth and the wine.

Stir well for several minutes, scraping up any bits form the bottom of the pot.

Return the meat to the pot and stir in the salt, bay leaf, Worcestershire and Tabasco.

Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 1 ½ hours, or until the meat is very tender, stirring occasionally.

Remove the bay leaf.

Stir in the parsley, reserving some for garnish.

Serve with grits right away -or- let cool, refrigerate overnight and reheat to serve with grits the next day.

Mexican Pesto Pasta with Shrimp

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I love a good pesto.  They are packed with bold flavor, easy to pull together and completely customizable to any recipe theme.

A basic pesto is basil, pine nuts, garlic, parmesan and olive oil.  You can’t go wrong with the classic, but why stay there? You could swap the basil for parsley, kale, spinach, collard greens or cilantro as we have here. Pine nuts can be pricey and a little more difficult to locate than their more common counterpart – walnuts, always a good substitute in a pesto. I’ve played around with a few different versions, I’m sure  you’ll see more recipes sneak in on this blog, but this one has quickly held it’s place at the top of my list.  The pepitas and cilantro play together nicely for a light summer dinner when paired with the angel hair pasta and shrimp tossed in cumin and lime.

Have you ever played with pesto? What’s your go-to combination or favorite flavor find?


Mexican Pesto Pasta with Shrimp

  • 1 cup raw pepitas
  • ½ cup raw pecans
  • 2 bunches cilantro
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • ½ cup grated parmesan
  • EVOO
  • ¼ – ½ cup half and half
  • 1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1-2 tsp cumin
  • 1 lime, zest reserved
  • Angel hair pasta
  • 1-2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ½ cup white wine

Start by making the pesto.

*First a note about the nuts used in this pesto: Pepitas are just pumpkin seeds. I was able to locate them, both raw and roasted & salted, in the bulk section of my local grocery store.  If you can’t locate pepitas, this pesto is just as tasty with all pecans or a mix of pecans and walnuts.

You want to toast the pepitas and pecans to develop their nuttiness a little and make for a more flavorful pesto.  Starting with raw nuts that haven’t been toasted or salted yet helps you to control those elements as you cook. To toast the nuts, simply place them in a dry skillet over medium heat.  Stir the nuts every few minutes, keeping close by – you’ll know the nuts are ready to pull when you can smell them!  Don’t leave them too long after you catch their aroma, they can quickly go too far and taste burnt.

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Place the toasted nuts in a food processor and add the cilantro, garlic and parmesan.

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Stream in the olive oil (EVOO) with the food processor on low until the pesto is a paste to the consistency of your liking.  I prefer the pesto to be well-chopped and more on the thick side than a normal thinner pesto before adding the half-and-half.  Taste the pesto and add salt, freshly ground pepper and parmesan, as needed.  If you want to kick it up a bit, this would be a good time to add in red pepper flakes.  With or without the red pepper flakes, a touch of granulated sugar, up to about a teaspoon,  will help balance flavors and bring your pesto together.  Play with the flavors a bit until you get what you are looking for!

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Place the pesto in a bowl.  Stir in the half-and-half and check the seasoning again,  adjusting if necessary.  Set the pesto aside as you prep the shrimp and cook the pasta.

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Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add a healthy amount of salt to the water – this is your chance to flavor the pasta itself.  Cook the angel hair pasta to al dente.

Season the prepared shrimp with the cumin, salt, pepper and lime zest.  If you are not quite ready to cook the shrimp, hold off on adding the lime juice until right before they are ready to hit the pan.  Citrus juice will ‘cook’ seafood as it sits together (think: ceviche) and this is not quite what we are going for here.  We want the lime juice to flavor the shrimp as it sears instead.

Saute the shrimp in the butter, a couple minutes per side. When cooked, remove the shrimp to plate and set aside.

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Deglaze your pan with the white wine.  You can use any white wine here… just remember this one rule:  cook with wine you would drink.  Reducing the wine intensifies the flavor, so if you wouldn’t drink it, you shouldn’t eat it 😉  Tonight, I’m drinking/eating Joel Gott Sauvignon Blanc – I tend to enjoy any varietal from the Joel Gott family and they are reasonably priced and easy to find in my grocery store.

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Once the wine has reduced a bit and you have stirred up all those tasty brown bits from the bottom of the pan, add the cooked and drained pasta to the skillet.  Toss it around to coat the pasta with the pan sauce.

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Turn off the heat source and stir in the creamy pesto, a little at a time, until the pasta is coated and to your desired consistency.  I typically work in 1 1/2 – 2 cups of the pesto.

*Storage tip for leftover pesto: To store any remaining pesto in the fridge, place the pesto in a sealable container and smooth over the top.  Cover the entire top of the pesto with EVOO, place the lid on the container and store in the fridge for 3-4 days.  You can also freeze the pesto at this point.  The EVOO protects the pesto from browning, leaving it that vibrant green for your next cooking adventure.

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Top the pesto pasta with the cooked shrimp.  Sprinkle on extra parmesan and chopped cilantro, if desired, and enjoy!

*To change it up and enjoy your grill in the summer:  a nice update to this recipe would be to grill the shrimp for an added char to the shrimp.  Cut back a little on the garlic in making the pesto and then saute some fresh, chopped garlic in the 1-2 tablespoons of  butter in a skillet.  When toasted, add the wine to deglaze and follow the original recipe from there!

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Full Recipe

Mexican Pesto Pasta with Shrimp

  • 1 cup pepitas
  • ½ cup pecans
  • 2 bunches cilantro
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • ½ cup grated parmesan
  • EVOO
  • ¼ – ½ cup half and half
  • 1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1-2 tsp cumin
  • 1 lime, zest reserved
  • Angel hair pasta
  • 1-2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ½ cup white wine

Make the pesto:

Toast the nuts in a dry skillet.

Place the toasted nuts in a food processor and add the cilantro, garlic cloves and parmesan.

Stream in EVOO as you pulse until the pesto forms a paste to the consistency of your liking.

Season with salt, pepper and more parmesan, if desired. (adding a little sugar will balance out the blend)

Transfer the pesto to a bowl and stir in the half and half to desired texture and check for seasoning again.

Make the pasta:

Boil pasta in salted water to al dente.

Prepare the shrimp:

Season the prepared shrimp with cumin, salt, pepper, lime and lime zest.

Saute in butter, a couple minutes each side.

Remove shrimp from pan, set aside.

Deglaze the pan with white wine.

Toss the pasta in the pan to coat with sauce.

Remove the skillet from the heat.

Add the creamy pesto, slowly to desired thickness, and toss.

Top with cooked shrimp and serve.

Mango Jalapeño Pork Tenderloin

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Summertime = grill time. Just about every night we can step out into our backyard and if our grill isn’t fired up, we can smell another one somewhere in the neighborhood. The smells of summer!

We like to keep our grilling recipes pretty simple.  Case in point, this tenderloin is an easy,  but extremely flavorful option for summer nights.  Will sous vides the tenderloin as it marinates in a Mango Jalapeño jelly and then bastes again before grilling.  Simple, yet delicious!

What’s your favorite thing to grill during the summer?


Mango Jalapeño Pork Tenderloin

  • 1 1/2 – 2 lb pork tenderloin
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • Mango Jalapeño jelly

Take a few paper towels and blot the tenderloin to remove any excess moisture.  Season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

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Cover the tenderloin with the Mango Jalapeño jelly.  Place in a vacuum-seal or air-tight storage back to sous vide.

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A couple notes here:

First, pork (as well as chicken) is great with any “sweet heat” baste – a fruit base with anywhere from mild to spicy pepper kick.  Here, we are using Turtlefly Fields’s Mango Jalapeño jelly as the baste.  Turtlefly Fields* also makes a Pineapple Habanero, Raspberry Jalapeño and plain Jalapeño that would also be very nice on the pork.

Secondly, in this recipe we are using the sous vide method to cook the tenderloin before grilling.  Alternately, you could grill the tenderloin with just the salt and pepper seasoning, then baste the jelly on the tenderloin as it reaches an internal temperature of 150°.  Adding the jelly earlier will cause the sugar to burn, leaving a not-as-nice bitter taste to the baste.

*(Disclaimer:  Turtlefly Fields is owned and operated by myself and my sister, Laura)

We set the temperature on our sous vide to 150 and let it do it’s thing for a couple hours. If you haven’t tried sous vide… look in to it!  Sous vide is French for “under vacuum” and is the process of cooking food to a precise temperature in a water bath.  This method allows you to cook food to the exact level of doneness you select and keeps meats extremely juicy and moist.  We have the Anova Precision Cooker and have fallen in love with this method!

Remove the tenderloin from the sous vide bag and glaze again with the jelly.

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Grill on the hot side of the grill with direct heat to sear all sides of the tenderloin.

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Remove the tenderloin and let it rest a couple minutes. Slice the tenderloin on a bias.  If desired, thin a small about of the jelly with a touch of water and brush over the tenderloin slices for one last hit of flavor.  The glaze also makes for a nice presentation 🙂

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Serve it up!

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Full Recipe

Mango Jalapeño Pork Tenderloin

  • 1 1/2 – 2 lb pork tenderloin
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • Mango Jalapeño jelly

Blot the tenderloin with paper towels to remove any excess moisture.

Season with salt and pepper.

Cover the tenderloin with the Mango Jalapeño jelly and seal in a plastic bag.

Sous vide to 150°.

Remove tenderloin from the bag and cover again with jelly.

Grill over direct heat to sear all sides.

Remove tenderloin from the grill and let it rest a couple of minutes.

Cut on a bias and baste with a thinned mix of jelly, if desired.

 

Crawfish Etouffee… but really, Swamp Fries

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Will and I love a good road trip.  It’s one of the best things ever to get in the car and go exploring for the day or pack up for a quick weekend getaway to a more familiar location.  We will make a run to the Hill Country for a boot fitting, aim a little more South to find a new Texas winery, find restaurants or farmer’s markets in Houston, load up Silver Sadie Wonderdog for an overnight beach trip, or head to dozens of other places just a drive away.

One of our favorite roadtrip getaways is in Lake Charles.  Say what you like, but I am a sucker for a good penny slot machine or some video roulette.  Craps and Blackjack tend to call Will’s name. Depending on the weather, our favorite place to stay offers a lazy river to float during the day and a lovely wine and tapas bar with live piano music to wind down in at night.  All that said… it’s never a trip to Lake Charles without a visit into town to Steamboat Bill’s.  The pistolettes are perfect.  The gumbo is amazing.  The winner though?  The Swamp Fries. Cheese fries smothered in shrimp etouffee.

Will may have been just a touch hesitant the first time we ordered them.  Etouffee goes on rice, right?!?  Y’all.  We get these every stinkin’ time now.  The etouffee is so tasty and pairs so well with a crispy, hot cheese fry.  We’ve since made them at home with our own version of a crawfish etouffee and every time they take me right back to Lake Charles.

Did you just hear that slot machine ding???


Crawfish Etouffee – Swamp Fries

  • 1 cup onion, diced
  • ½ cup bell pepper, diced
  • ½ cup celery, diced
  • Salt, pepper
  • Cajun seasoning – such as Salt-free Tony Chachere’s
  • ½ stick butter
  • 2-3 drops Tabasco (more, to taste)
  • 1-2 T Worcestershire sauce
  • 1-2 tsp garlic
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 4-6 cups seafood/chicken stock
  • 1 lb crawfish tails, peeled and deveined
  • 2 bay leaves
  • french fries, shredded cheese, sour cream and green onion for serving

Etouffee is a fairly simple recipe that takes just a little bit of time to bring on big flavors. It’s great post-crawfish boil to use up some leftover tails but you can easily sub in small shrimp instead.

To start, season the diced veggies with salt, pepper and cajun seasoning.  In cajun cooking, these three veggies are known as “the Cajun trinity”.   This combo of veggies is essentially the base for most cajun dishes and more often than not, added to roux as the beginnings of gumbos, soups, stews and jambalayas.  Typically, the bell pepper is the traditional green bell pepper – we often use red, yellow and orange peppers though for their variety in sweetness and color.

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Melt the butter in a skillet until it browns and begins to smell nutty.  You’ll see the fats in the butter starting to foam around the edges as well.  Add the seasoned veggies and saute until they begin to soften.  Add Tabasco, worcestershire and garlic to the skillet and saute another couple of minutes.

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Add the flour to the veggies and cook until it is light brown in color.  Whisk in the stock slowly and carefully to avoid creating lumps in your roux.  Add the crawfish tails and bay leaves.

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Simmer 20-30 minutes, until the etouffee has reached your desired thickness.  Don’t forget to remove the bay leaves when you are done simmering!

You can go traditional and serve with rice…

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…or you can go SWAMP FRIES!  Plate your french fries and top with shredded cheese.  Pour the etouffee over the fries and top with sour cream and diced green onions.

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There you have it – one ticket to Steamboat Bill’s Lake Charles.  Enjoy the ride and let me know how your penny slots pay off 😉


Full Recipe

Crawfish Etouffee

  • 1 cup onion, diced
  • ½ cup bell pepper, diced
  • ½ cup celery, diced
  • Salt, pepper
  • Cajun seasoning – such as Salt-free Tony Chachere’s
  • ½ stick butter
  • 2-3 drops Tabasco (more, to taste)
  • 1-2 T Worcestershire sauce
  • 1-2 tsp garlic
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 4-6 cups seafood/chicken stock
  • 1 lb crawfish tails, peeled and deveined
  • 2 bay leaves

Season chopped veggies with salt, pepper and cajun seasoning.

Melt butter in skillet and brown until it smells nutty.

Add chopped veggies, saute until beginning to soften.

Add tabasco, Worcestershire and garlic to veggies, saute another couple of minutes.

Add flour to the veggies and cook until it is light brown in color.

Whisk in stock carefully to avoid lumps.

Add crawfish tails and bay leaves.

Simmer 20-30 minutes, until it has reached your desired thickness.

      *Don’t forget to remove the bay leaves.

Serve over rice or french fries.

Polenta-Crusted Fish and Cilantro Risotto

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Summer- summer- summertime!  Yeah!

Does everyone just pause and take a breath when summertime hits?  Being in the world of education, I can tell you I do!  Even though I work throughout the summer, once the break hits for students and teachers everything just mellows out a bit.  Days are longer so there isn’t a rush to run those errands post-work and before heading home.  Fridays off mean that I can join those summer revelers a little bit and still have a weekend.  Road trips come a little easier.  It’s hot out… but it’s supposed to be, amiright?

Summer dinners also lighten up.  Crockpots are put away and grills are brought to the forefront.  Heavy stick-to-your-ribs dinners make way for salads, kabobs and, as we have here, fish.  I love fish. I love my fisherman husband and his knowledge of how to catch and prepare fish.  Fried, baked, grilled, sashimi, sushi, ceviche… we could go all Forest Gump here in the multitude of ways we can cook fish but today we going to focus on a winning style we found on our Honeymoon.

Just about five years ago (this Friday!) Will and I said our “I dos” and then headed out for a week of fun and sun in Costa Rica.  It was such a memorable, exciting trip filled with many, many great meals.  One of my absolute favorites came from a meal provided after an excursion.  Several places offer a breakfast before or lunch after their scheduled activities so we weren’t surprised that the zipline adventure we chose provided lunch at the end.  We made our way out to MidWorld Costa Rica and had an absolute blast on our zipline courses.  If you ever travel to the Manuel Antonio area of Costa Rica, do yourself a favor and look them up.  They have several fun options including ziplines and four-wheeler routes, are so professional and friendly, offer the longest double-cabled line in Central America (the Superman) that give amazing views of the landscape and, as a major bonus, have great food!  The lunch we were provided was so good – we even had to get a little information about it from the chef before leaving MidWorld.  We feasted on fish, plantains and the typical gallo pinto found accompanying most meals in Costa Rica.

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The fish is what really got me.  (Obviously, as I had to remind myself to put the fork down and snap a quick pic of it!)  It was so simple but had the perfect, light fry to it that makes for a great summer meal.  When we asked the chef she simply said “polenta, salt and pepper”.  Without the heavy breading of a flour-based coating the fish was left to shine and truly made for a meal that I remember often.

We’ve made this polenta-crusted fish now several times.  Here, we forgo the gallo pinto (which is soooo good we will have to devote a whole other post to) and sub in Cilantro Risotto, another summertime fave of mine.  Polenta-crusted fish always satisfies – both in taste and in memories recalled.


Polenta-Crusted Fish and Cilantro Risotto

For the fish:

  • fish fillets – grouper, snapper, tilefish, etc
  • s&p
  • 1 egg
  • 1 T of water
  • 1 cup polenta
  • ¼ – ½ cup veggie or frying oil

For the Jalapeño Cream Sauce:

  • 3-4 jalapeños, roasted, seeded and sliced
  • ½-1 cup fresh cilantro
  • 1-2 garlic cloves (fresh or roasted)
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • ¼-½ cup cream
  • Salt & pepper

For the Cilantro Risotto:

  • 6 cup chicken stock
  • 3 T butter
  • 2 T onion, finely diced
  • 5 small cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 ½ cup arborio rice*
  • 1 cup white wine (pour it, then let it sit on the counter as you start prepping)
  • ¼ tsp salt & pepper
  • ¼ cup parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup cilantro, chopped

For the purposes of cooking this meal all together, we will start with the Jalapeño Cream Sauce so it can chill in the fridge and allow the flavors to all meld together.  Then we’ll move on to the risotto and then quickly wrap up with cooking the fish.

A quick note regarding risotto:  it is a labor of love.  Risotto-making really is a simple process – start with onions, toast your grains, slowly add warm liquid and let it absorb in and develop the starch as you stir.  You are somewhat shackled to the stove as you stir but the results lend itself to a silky, creamy rice dish that looks so impressive as it pours out on a plate.  You can easily swap out the flavors but the process remains the same – toast, slowly add warm liquid, stir until absorbed, add more liquid, repeat.  Try it out – you’ll impress yourself and your dinner guests!

Alright – let’s cook.

Start with the Jalapeño Cream Sauce:  you’ll need 3-4 roasted jalapeños to start with.  Simply place your jalapeños on the grill or beneath a broiler until the skin starts to blister and blacken.  When they are all blistered up, put them in a bowl and cover them with saran wrap or a towel for a few minutes so that they steam and the skin loosens from the meat a bit.  After a few minutes, you should be able to slide the charred skin off of the pepper “meat”.  Then, simply slice them open to remove and discard the seeds.

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Place the jalapeños, cilantro and garlic in a food process and pulse until you have a smooth consistency.  You may add a little olive oil as you puree, if needed, to keep the consistency smooth.  Blend in the sour cream and lime juice. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, to your taste.  Place the sauce in  the fridge for later use.

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Now, start the risotto.

In a medium pot over medium heat, warm the chicken stock.  If you are going for a vegetarian risotto, sub in veggie stock here.  Two things about the stock:  First, please do not use water as a replacement.  This is your chance to sneak some great flavor into the rice. Use a low-sodium stock so that you can control the salt added in to the dish as you cook.  Second, make sure you warm up with stock.  If you were to add in a cold/cool stock to the rice as you cook, you are dropping the temperature of the dish, bringing it back up, dropping the temp down, etc.  Keep your liquid warm for a consistent cooking temperature that will keep your risotto rocking until the end.

Heat a large skillet with edges (you’ll be stirring quite a bit and want those sides to help you keep in all contained) over medium-high heat.  Add the butter, onions and garlic and saute until the onions are translucent.

Add the arborio rice and saute, stirring until the rice is slightly toasted.

*Why arborio rice? Arboria is a short-grained rice full of starch. It’s a short, fat, oval-shape rather than the longer, rod-shape of traditional rice.  As you cook and stir, the release of the starch is what gives risotto its signature creaminess.  You won’t get quite the same effect with a traditional white rice.

When toasted, add the white wine to the pan and stir until most of the wine has been absorbed.

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Notice my setup here with the risotto pan and the stock pot?  Keep the stock close, you’re gonna need it!

Add about a cup, or a good ladle-full, of warm stock to the risotto.  Stir constantly until most of the liquid is absorbed.  For this first ladle-full, you want to stir constantly and it will absorb somewhat quickly.  Keep stirring until you can pull the rice back and the liquid doesn’t instantly fill the track in, as pictured below.

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Add another 1/2- to 3/4- ladle-full to the skillet stir until the liquid absorbs into the rice. As you add liquid, you will be able to back off on the stirring a bit as it won’t absorb as quickly.  But don’t wander off – keep an eye on the skillet so that it never completely absorbs all the liquid. You don’t want the rice to sit on the hot skillet and form a crust along the bottom.  Keep it moist and moving so that the starch of the rice creates a creamy, silky texture as it cooks.  When you pull back the risotto with the spoon and can see that track along the pan, it’s time for more stock.

You will repeat this process until the rice is al dente, or to your desired texture.  This usually take about an hour or so, depending on heat levels and the texture you want to achieve.  I like my risotto to be just a little past al dente – still leaving a bit of a bite to the rice.

When it looks like you are reaching the end of risotto-stirring, grab the Jalapeño Cream Sauce from the fridge and place it in a small pot over low heat.  Whisk it up with the cream until you have your desired temperature and consistency. Check your seasoning again and set it aside for topping later.

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Now, prep your fish fillets so that they are ready to cook:

Make sure your fish fillets are cleaned and bone-free.  Here, we had a nice grouper Will cleaned up and portioned out for dinner but we have also used tilefish and snapper in this preparation.  Any flaky, firm white fish is perfect for polenta-crusting.  Lightly season the fish with salt and pepper.  Grab two shallow bowls – one for the polenta seasons with salt and pepper, the other to whisk in the egg and water for a light egg wash.

Lightly dredge the fish fillets in the egg wash, then the seasoned polenta.  You want just a light covering on the fish, not a thick crust at all.  Set this aside on a plate until you are ready to pan fry the fillets.

Back to the risotto:

When the rice has reached your desired texture and consistency, remove it from the heat. Add the parmesan cheese and black pepper.  Check the seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if needed.

Fold in the chopped cilantro and serve the risotto warm!

Finally… let’s finish the fish.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Cover the bottom of the skillet with a light coat of oil, just so the oil is about 1/4-inch thick across the bottom.

Pan fry the fillets in the skillet, about 3-4 minutes on each side, just until they are golden brown.

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Top the fillets with the Jalapeño Cream Sauce and serve with Cilantro Risotto!

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*As you can see here, the scallops looked so good in the fish market we just had to grab a couple to serve as well!  A couple tips for cooking scallops:  First, pat them dry with a paper towel before seasoning and placing in the pan.  If they are wet, the scallops will steam rather than sear.  Second, sear them for just about 90 seconds on each side with a little butter in a screaming hot pan.  You want a crust, but you don’t want to cook them all the way through so that they become tough or chewy.

We hope you enjoy this recipe!  It’s a favorite in our house that always brings back some good memories of Honeymoonin’ in Costa Rica.  What are some of your food-related travel memories?


Full Recipes

Polenta-Crusted Fish

  • Fillet fish – grouper, snapper, tilefish
  • s&p
  • 1 egg
  • 1 T of water
  • 1 cup polenta
  • ¼ – ½ cup veggie or frying oil

Make sure fish fillets are cleaned and bone-free, lightly season with salt and pepper.

Season the polenta with salt and pepper in a shallow bowl.

Whisk together the egg and water in a shallow bowl.

Lightly dredge the fillets in the egg wash.

Lightly dredge the fillets in the seasoned polenta – this is a light covering, not a thick crust.

Heat a large skillet on medium-high heat.

Cover the bottom of the skillet with a light coat of oil, just about ¼-inch thick.

Pan fry the fillets in the skillet, about 3-4 minutes per side, just until golden brown.

Jalapeño Cream Sauce

  • 3-4 jalapeños, roasted, seeded and sliced
  • ½-1 cup fresh cilantro
  • 1-2 garlic cloves
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • ¼-½ cup cream
  • Salt & pepper

Puree the jalapeños, cilantro and garlic in a food processor until smooth.  

Add a little EVOO as you puree, if needed, for a smoother consistency.

Blend in the sour cream and lime juice.

Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, as needed.

Before serving, place sauce in a small pan over medium-low heat.

Whisk in cream as it warms to desired consistency, checking for seasoning.

Cilantro Risotto

  • 6 cup chicken stock
  • 3 T butter
  • 2 T onion, finely diced
  • 5 small cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 ½ cup arborio rice
  • 1 cup white wine
  • ¼ tsp salt & pepper
  • ¼ cup parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup cilantro, chopped

In a medium pot over medium heat, warm the chicken stock.

In a large skillet, add butter, onions and garlic.

Saute over medium heat until onions are translucent.

Add rice and saute, stirring until rice is slightly toasted.

Add the white wine and cook until the wine is absorbed.

Add 1 cup of chicken stock stir constantly until liquid is absorbed.

Keep adding chicken stock 1/2 cup at a time stirring constantly until all chicken stock has been used and absorbed into the rice.

Once rice is al dente and to desired texture, remove from the heat and add parmesan cheese, salt & pepper.

Stir until well combined.

Fold in cilantro and serve warm.

Fried Rice and Easy Potstickers

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Life gets busy, y’all.

As you can tell from my lack of posts, this is a busy time of the year for us. This is the time when we all need a stash of quick dinnertime recipes to get us through, am I right?  This fried rice totally fits the bill.  It’s a quick pull-together option that is pretty customizable and perfect for leftover rice.  Like, the drier/stickier the rice, the better in this case. I’m pretty bad about making way too much rice as a side dish so it is not uncommon to see this dish as a follow-up throughout the week in our house.  You can also make it more of a centerpiece dish by adding these easy potstickers on the side.  What’s so easy about them?  We skip the attempt at making the dumpling dough and reach for the premade wonton wrappers instead.

So how can you change these two recipes up?  Both call for ground pork – you can use the Asian Sausage as we did, or sub in ground/shredded chicken, ground beef, thinly sliced pork chops or leave out the meat completely for a vegetarian option.  You can use the potsticker filling in egg rolls, or scoop it into a bowl with fried wonton strips for an even faster “deconstructed” egg roll dish.  Pick and choose the veggie options for both the fried rice and filling to whatever you have currently available in your fridge.

So let me hear you – what are your go-to dinners for when life gets busy?


Fried Rice and Easy Potstickers

For the Fried Rice:

  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • ½ pound ground pork
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced – reserve half of the sliced green tops
  • 1 bell pepper, sliced into strips
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ – 1 cup thinly shredded cabbage (optional)
  • 2 cups cooked rice
  • Chicken stock
  • Soy sauce

For the Potstickers:

  • ½ pound ground pork
  • 2 stalks celery, julienned
  • 2 carrots, julienned
  • 1 scallion, thinly sliced
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup thinly shredded cabbage
  • Wonton wrappers

For the Dipping Sauce:

  • 6 T rice wine vinegar
  • 1 thinly chopped scallion
  • ½ tsp sugar
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1 inch ginger, finely minced
  • 8 T soy sauce
  • ¼ tsp sesame oil (2-3 drops)
  • 1 T chili garlic paste

Start by mixing up the dipping sauce so that it has time to sit and develop.  That’s all it takes – mix all the ingredients together and let it sit at room temperature for at least an hour.  This sauce is great with dumplings, potstickers, egg rolls, etc.

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The most time consuming piece of this recipe is prepping the veggies.  I do highly recommend spending some time chopping and prepping the veggies before you start cooking as it all comes together pretty quickly once you start cooking. For the rice, I cut all the veggies other than the bell pepper into a small dice for even cooking.  I like to leave the bell pepper in a good-sized strip so that they don’t completely wilt away when cooking, especially if you are using the small thinner-skinned sweet bell peppers like we typically do.  For the potstickers, you want to julienne the veggies in to thin strips. This cut helps for a couple of reasons.  First, the thin strips cook quickly and second, they are pretty uniform inside the potstickers. You can see the difference here between the veggies for the rice on the left and the veggies for the potstickers on the right.

I also shred the cabbage pretty thinly and sprinkle a little salt on it as it sits so that some of the water inside the cabbage starts to draw out a bit before adding it to the saute pan.

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Heat a nonstick skillet over medium high. Add olive oil to the pan and begin to saute the full pound of ground pork. As stated above, we used the Asian Sausage recipe for this dish.  If you are using a plain ground pork, ground beef or chicken, season the meat with a little ginger, coriander, garlic, salt and pepper. Once the pork is browned, remove half of the meat and set it aside for the fried rice.

If keeping your dinner vegetarian, you would start here 🙂

To the pork left in the pan, add the julienned celery and carrots, scallion and garlic.  Season with a little salt and pepper.  Saute the mix until the veggies are just starting to become tender.

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Add the shredded cabbage, excess water drained/dabbed off, and toss the mixture until the cabbage is wilted.  Remove from the heat.

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Lay one wonton wrapper on a tray or sheet of parchment paper. Place one heaping teaspoon of the filling on the wrapper just off-center.  Using room temperature water, wet two edges of the wrapper. Fold the wrapper over the filling and press the edges together. Set the potsticker aside and repeat the process for the desired amount of potstickers.  (The remaining filling freezes very well if you do not use it all here)

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As you can see, we tried a few different shapes and sealing/pinching techniques on the potstickers.  Will liked using a biscuit cutter which gave the rounded, scalloped edges.  Mine were freeformed and definitely less precise!

Place the nonstick skillet back over medium high heat and cover the bottom of the pan with vegetable oil. *Nonstick is KEY here!* Place the potstickers in a single layer over the bottom of the skillet and cook for just about one minute, until the bottoms are starting to turn golden.  Pour some water in the pan until just the bottoms of the dumplings are covered and place a lid over the skillet.  This action will steam the potstickers to heat up the filling and cook the dough through.  Cook until most of the water has vaporized, about 7 minutes.

Remove the lid and cook until the bottoms of the potstickers are golden brown, another 1-2 minutes.

While the potstickers are steaming, prepare the fried rice.

Heat another nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Scramble the eggs, then set them aside and wipe out the skillet.

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Add the reserved 1/2 pound of cooked pork. Add a little olive oil, if necessary, then add the celery, carrots, whites and half of the greens of the scallion, bell pepper, garlic, and cabbage (if using).  Saute until the veggies are softened.

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Add the rice to the skillet.  This is where your actions will change a little depending on how dry or sticky your rice is.  Drizzle 1-2 tablespoons of soy sauce over the rice and begin to “fry” it in the pan.  The rice should stick and brown up a little. If the rice is fairly wet and sticky, you may be pretty good here.  If the rice is cold or drier, add a little chicken stock, just a couple tablespoons at a time, to loosen it up a little so that it will cook and brown in the pan.  You want the rice to take in a little of the liquid but not become too wet and mushy as you cook.  Taste it and check for consistency and seasoning.  Continue to fry the rice in the pan until you have reached your desired texture.

Stir in the scrambled egg at the very end so that you don’t break it up too much – I like to leave pretty decent sized chunks of egg in the rice.  Remove the rice from the heat.

Sprinkle the fried rice with the reserved green portion of scallion and serve with additional soy sauce, if desired.  Drizzle the dipping sauce over a few of the potstickers and serve with additional sauce on the side.

Looks pretty impressive for a quick weeknight dinner, don’t you think? 😉


Full Recipe

Fried Rice

  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • ½ pound ground pork -or- Asian sausage
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced – reserve half of the sliced green tops
  • 1 bell pepper, sliced into strips
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ – 1 cup thinly shredded cabbage (optional)
  • 2 cups cooked rice (great for leftover rice)
  • Chicken stock
  • Soy sauce

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium high heat.

Scramble the eggs.

Set aside and wipe out the skillet.

Add oil to the skillet, saute pork until browned. (Season with garlic, ginger, coriander, salt and pepper)

Add the celery, carrots, whites and half of the greens of the scallion, bell pepper, garlic and cabbage, if using.

Saute until veggies are softened.

Add rice to the skillet.

Top with 1-2 T soy sauce and “fry” in pan.

If the rice is dry, add a little chicken stock.  Continue to “fry” until you have reached your desired texture – taste and adjust seasonings.

Stir in scrambled egg.

Remove from heat, top with reserved scallions.

Easy Potstickers

  • ½ pound ground pork
  • 2 stalks celery, julienned
  • 2 carrots, julienned
  • 1 scallion, thinly sliced
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup thinly shredded cabbage
  • Wonton wrappers

Saute the pork in a skillet until cooked through.

Add the celery, carrots, scallion and garlic, season with salt and pepper.

Saute until veggies are starting to become tender.

Add cabbage and toss until wilted.

Remove from heat.

Lay one wonton wrapper on a tray.

Place one heaping teaspoon on the wrapper just off-center.

Using room temperature water, wet two edges of the wonton wrapper.

Fold the wrapper over the filling and press the edges together.

Set aside and repeat with remaining wrappers and filling.

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium high heat and cover the bottom with oil.

Cook for about 1 minutes, until bottom of dumplings are golden.

Pour some water in the pan until the bottoms of the dumplings are covered.

Place a lid over the skillet and steam the dumplings until most of the water has vaporized, about 7 minutes.

Remove the lid, cook until the bottoms are golden brown.

Dipping Sauce

  • 6 T rice wine vinegar
  • 1 thinly chopped scallion
  • ½ tsp sugar
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1 inch ginger, finely minced
  • 8 T soy sauce
  • ¼ tsp sesame oil (2-3 drops)
  • 1 T chili garlic paste

Mix all ingredients together.

Let sit at room temp 1 hour.

Crawfish Cornbread

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Crawfish boils are one of the best things about springtime. Typically they involve warmer weather, piles of peel-and-eat mudbugs, various veggies that have soaked up all the good spice, dirty rice, lots of napkins, drinks and good friends.  Minus the warm weather, we had all that this past weekend.

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Towards the end of the night, I start hoping for leftovers.  That’s because something tasty comes the day after a boil… Crawfish Cornbread.  This recipe comes from a family friend of Will’s and it has now become a post-boil tradition in our little home. It’s easy to make and makes a potentially forgotten and leftover mudbug shine as a new dinner option.

Fun fact:  Will also won the Friday Night Feast event at a local cookoff with this recipe.  It’s award-winning cornbread!

Do you love a good crawfish boil?  What’s your go-to for leftovers?


Crawfish Cornbread

  • 1 box Jiffy Corn Muffin mix
  • 1 stick melted butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 can creamed corn
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp Cajun spice
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 2 C cheddar cheese, shredded
  • ½ C chopped green onions
  • ½ C chopped bell pepper, or small can of diced green chiles
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1 lb crawfish tails

Preheat the oven to 375.

In a large bowl, or using a mixer, combine the cornbread mix, melted butter and eggs.

Stir in the creamed corn.  Add the baking soda, Cajun spice*, salt, pepper and shredded cheese.

*For Cajun spice, we tend to use something along the lines of Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning.  If you are into making your own blends, I like to follow the recipes for Emeril Lagasse’s seasonings.

At this point, I usually take the bowl off the mixer stand and do the rest by hand. Stir in the chopped veggies and the crawfish tails.

Pour the mixture into a greased 9×13 baking dish.

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Bake for 45-50 minutes or until the top is a golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Easy, right?!

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Full Recipe

Crawfish Cornbread

  • 1 box Jiffy Corn Muffin mix
  • 1 stick melted butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 can creamed corn
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp Cajun spice
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 2 C cheddar cheese, shredded
  • ½ C chopped green onions
  • ½ C chopped bell pepper, or small can of diced green chiles
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1 lb crawfish tails

Mix all ingredients and pour into a prepared baking dish.

Bake at 375 for about 45-50 minutes.

Roast Chicken, Gruyère Bread Pudding and Roasted Brussel Sprouts

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In case you didn’t already know… Will and I love food.  We love to stay at home and cook and we love to go out.  We find new restaurants to try, we hit up our favorite places multiple times, we are on a mission with another food-loving couple to go to as many of the Houston’s Top 100 restaurants as we can, we indulge in both Houston and Galveston Restaurant Weeks every year… basically, we love food.

In trying new places we try many new dishes.  Sometimes you just gotta try what the restaurant boasts as their specialty, right?  However, every now and then it’s all about the basics.  I mean, if the restaurant is good their roast chicken should be pretty darn good , right…?  I like to test this theory sometimes.

Will and I had the opportunity to travel to Colorado in the summer of 2016.  We stayed with a fabulous friend in the mountains for a few days and planned an anniversary dinner at Acorn in Denver our last night of the trip.  We shared a couple small plates to start but then landed on the their oak roasted chicken with a savory bread pudding, seasonal vegetables and whipped potatoes.  It was amazing – the whole meal was!  When we got home, I played with a recipe until I got what I am sharing today – Roast Chicken, Gruyère Bread Pudding and Roasted Brussel Sprouts.  Any one of the three recipes is a stand-alone stunner.  But together, they will always remind me of a special anniversary dinner we shared at a cozy spot on a wonderful vacation.

To me, recipes and memories make the best souvenirs. And a signed menu, of course 😉

Acorn dinner


Roast Chicken, Gruyère Bread Pudding and Roasted Brussel Sprouts

*For this recipe we are brining the chicken. We typically let a whole chicken sit in the brine overnight.  If you are using bone-in chicken pieces, let the pieces sit in the brine 3-4 hours.

For the chicken:

  • ½ cup Turbinado or raw sugar
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup pink Himalayan salt
  • ½ cup kosher salt
  • 2 T whole peppercorns
  • bundle of fresh rosemary
  • bundle of fresh thyme
  • bundle of fresh oregano
  • Tea kettle of boiling water
  • 4-5 lb whole chicken, innards removed
  • 1 1/2 sticks butter, room temperature
  • 1-2 lemons

For the bread pudding:

  • Olive oil
  • 2 stalks leeks, or 1 small sweet onion, diced
  • 1 large red onion, diced
  • 2 clove garlic, minced
  • 12 c cubed, day-old bread (Challah, Brioche, French)
  • 3 c Gruyère (or Swiss) cheese, shredded
  • ⅓ c chives, chopped
  • ⅓ c parsley, chopped
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 c chicken stock
  • 2 c heavy cream
  • 1 T salt
  • 1 T freshly ground pepper
  • 2 T scallions, chopped
  • kitchen twine

For the brussel sprouts:

  • 3-4 strips bacon, chopped
  • Brussel sprouts
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & pepper
  • Red pepper flakes
  • ½ cup balsamic vinegar

Start with brining the chicken.  A basic brine is 1 cup of sugar, 1 cup of salt and 1 gallon of water.  We’ve tweaked this one a bit with some more flavor.  (see note about brining a little further down)

Mix the sugars, salts, peppercorns and 4-5 stems each of the fresh herbs together in a large container.  For a whole chicken, we use a plastic 8-qt container with lid.  Don’t have raw sugar?  Sub in some brown sugar.  Don’t have pink Himalayan salt?  Well, you just aren’t living right.  Just kidding – double up on the kosher salt.

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Pour the boiling water carefully over your mixture and stir to combine and melt sugar/salt.  Set it aside to cool or add some ice to bring the temperature back down before adding the chicken.

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When the brine has cooled, submerge the chicken.  You may need to add more water to the brine as you want the entire chicken to be covered.  Before placing the lid on the container, we used a coffee cup under the lid to hold the bird down a little.

Cover and chill overnight, or 3-4 hours for bone-in chicken pieces.  When ready, remove the chicken from the liquid and discard all leftover brine.

So – can you roast a chicken without brining it?  Definitely.  You can simply start here in the recipe for a flavorful chicken.  Will swears by brining though and I’d have to agree – he’s made some killer chicken and smoked turkey in many a cookoff.  Soaking poultry in a brine not only seasons the meat itself but keeps the bird moist as it roasts/cooks.  Try it at least once!

Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and set aside.

Finely chop 3-4 stems of each fresh herb.  In a food processor, mix the room temperature butter, the chopped herbs and a pinch of salt until it is all evenly combined.

Work the butter under the skin of the chicken, all around the bird.  Use your fingers to gently loosen pockets around the breast, legs and wings then massage the skin to move the butter all around.  Get the butter all over the chicken until you have used the entire stick and a half.

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Quarter the lemon(s) and fill the cavity of the chicken with the lemon and any remaining fresh herbs.  Since we are using leeks later in the bread pudding, we also stuffed an extra stalk of leeks in here, you could also use quartered onion here.

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Truss the chicken to keep the wings and legs tight against the body.  Don’t be scared – that basically means use some kitchen twine to tie the legs together and to pin the wings to the breast so they don’t flap around or hang out while cooking. We may not truss the same way every time… but it gets done.  Here’s a good tutorial if you’d like to check it out.

This past Thanksgiving we moved our family time out to Sargent beach and took a Big Easy oil-less fryer with us for turkey-cooking.  We fell in love with it!  It produced a juicy, delicious turkey on Thursday, followed by a wonderful prime rib on Friday.  Since then, it’s been a go-to for roasting/”frying” meat.  We use it here but you can certainly oven-roast your chicken nicely.

We placed the buttered & trussed chicken in the basket of the Big Easy and roasted for about an hour and fifteen minutes before checking the internal temperature of the bird.

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To oven roast your chicken, place the bird on a rack over a sheet tray to catch the drippings. (Bonus: if you have any potatoes, carrots, root vegetables etc, you can place those under the rack to catch all the drippings or use them as the ‘rack’ itself!  Pile the veggies up and place the chicken right on top.  You just want some air to be able to get to the bottom of the chicken so that all sides crisp up while cooking).  Roast the chicken at 425 for an hour and 15-30 minutes, checking the internal temperature in the last 15 minutes.

**Food safety by definition means that chicken should reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees to be considered safe to eat.** Will usually pulls chicken closer to 145-150 and gives it some resting time before cutting into it.

Remove the chicken from the cooker/oven and let it rest a few minutes before carving.

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While the chicken is cooking, get the bread pudding and brussel sprouts going.  To plan ahead, both have about a 15 minute prep time and will bake for a total of 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

For the bread pudding, place the day-old cubed-up bread in a large bowl.  You don’t have to be precise about cubing the bread – you can even just tear it up with your hands.  The size and shape of the bread is up to you!

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In a medium skillet heat about a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Saute the leeks (or sweet onion), the red onion and the garlic until soft.  Remove from heat.

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*Leeks can be fairly gritty.  To easily clean them, chop off the dark green tops and discard (you can use them for making stock, but they are too tough to eat).  Cut off the root end and then slice the stalk lengthwise.  Chop the stalks down to your desired size, then swish the chopped leeks in a bowl or sink of cool, clean water.  The grit will sink to the bottom leaving the clean leeks at the top to strain and dry*

In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, stock, cream, salt, and pepper.  

With the bread cubes, combine the Gruyère, chives, parsley, and cooked onion mixture. Stir it all around, it’s okay if the cheese starts to melt a little bit.

Pour egg mixture over bread mixture. Using the back of a spoon, press bread to soak up liquid.  Let the mix sit 8 – 10 minutes or until bread has absorbed all liquid.

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For the brussel sprouts, rinse the sprouts and cut them in half lengthwise.  Smash and peel the garlic cloves, leaving large pieces to roast.

 

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and dump the veggies on top. Drizzle the veggies with olive oil, season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to taste, mixing well.  

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Butter a 3-quart casserole dish, or spray with nonstick cooking spray. Transfer the bread pudding mixture to the casserole dish and cover with foil.

Place the bread pudding and the tray of brussel sprouts in the preheated oven for 30 minutes.  Toss the sprouts a bit about halfway through.

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While those are cooking, saute the bacon for the brussel sprouts until cooked about ⅔ done – think chewy bacon, not crispy.  

After 30 minutes, add the cooked bacon to the sheet of sprouts and stir.  Remove the foil from the bread pudding and cook both dishes another 15-20 minutes.  The bread pudding should be nice and brown across the top.

During the last 15 minutes of cooking, add the balsamic vinegar to a small pot. Over medium-low heat, reduce the vinegar by about half, until it is thick and sweet, about 10 minutes.

Let the bread pudding rest and set a few minutes after coming out of the oven, then sprinkle on scallions before serving. Drizzle the reduced balsamic vinegar on top of the roasted sprouts before serving.

Look at this lovely meal!

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Play with the flavors of butter for the chicken – you can use any combination of herbs, any citrus or onions for stuffing.  You can roast a combination of veggies as a side and change up the cheese and onions in the bread pudding for different flavors.  This meal is a classic by nature but so very comforting and brings back a couple of my favorite travel memories.

What’s your favorite food souvenir?


Full Recipe

Roast Chicken, Gruyère Bread Pudding and Roasted Brussel Sprouts

Roast Chicken:

  • ½ cup turbinado (raw) sugar
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup pink himalayan salt
  • ½ cup kosher salt
  • 2 T whole peppercorns
  • bundle of fresh rosemary
  • bundle of fresh thyme
  • bundle of fresh oregano
  • Tea kettle of boiling water
  • 4-5 lb whole chicken, innards removed
  • 1 ½ sticks butter, room temperature
  • 1-2 lemons
  • Kitchen twine

 

Mix sugars, salts, peppercorns and 4-5 stems of each herb in a large container.

Cover with boiling water and stir to mix, set aside to cool to room temperature or add ice to drop the brine temperature.

When cooled, place chicken in brine.

Cover with enough cool water to submerge chicken completely.

Cover and chill overnight (3-4 hours for pieces of chicken)

Remove chicken from brine and pat dry; discard brine.

Finely chop 3-4 stems of each fresh herb.

In a food processor, mix the butter, herbs and a pinch of salt until thoroughly combined.

Work the butter under the skin of the chicken, all around the bird.

Quarter the lemon(s) and fill the cavity with the lemon and any remaining fresh herbs.

Truss the chicken to keep the wings and legs tight against the body.

Using the Big Easy oil-less fryer – 1 ½ hours; oven roast 425 for 1 ½ hours

Let rest, serve.


Gruyère Bread Pudding:

  • Olive oil
  • 2 stalks leeks, or 1 small sweet onion, diced
  • 1 large red onion, diced
  • 2 clove garlic, minced
  • 12 c cubed, day-old bread (Challah, Brioche, French)
  • 3 c Gruyère cheese, shredded
  • ⅓ c chives, chopped
  • ⅓ c parsley, chopped
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 c chicken stock
  • 2 c heavy cream
  • 1 T salt
  • 1 T freshly ground pepper
  • 2 T scallions, chopped

Preheat oven to 350.

In a medium skillet over medium heat, heat olive oil.

Add leeks, onion(s) and garlic and cook until soft, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Remove from heat and let cool a while.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, stock, cream, salt, and pepper.

In a large bowl, combine bread, Gruyère, chives, parsley, and reserved onions.

Pour egg mixture over bread mixture.

Using the back of a spoon, press bread to soak up liquid.

Let sit 8 to 10 minutes or until bread has absorbed all liquid.

Butter a 3-quart casserole dish, or spray with nonstick cooking spray.

Transfer bread mixture to the casserole dish, cover with foil, and bake for 30 minutes.

Remove foil and bake until hot and browned on top, 15 to 20 minutes more.

Let rest 15 minutes, then sprinkle on scallions before serving.


Roasted Brussel Sprouts:

  • 3-4 strips bacon, chopped
  • Brussel sprouts
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & pepper
  • Red pepper flakes
  • ½ cup balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 350

Rinse and half the sprouts.

Smash and peel garlic, leaving large pieces to roast.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and dump the veggies on top.

Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to taste, mixing well.

Roast 30 min, tossing halfway through.

While the sprouts are roasting, saute the bacon until cooked about ⅔ done.

After the first 30 minutes of roasting, add the cooked bacon to the sheet and stir.

Roast another 15 min.

Add the balsamic vinegar to a small pot.

Over medium-low heat, reduce the vinegar by about half, until it is thick and sweet, about 10 minutes.

Drizzle the reduced balsamic vinegar on top of the roasted sprouts and serve.

Freezer Meal: Make Ahead Mini Chicken Pot Pies

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I love to have ready-to-go meals in the freezer for a few reasons: they are easy to share with friends and family, they are great food gifts when someone needs a night or two free from dinner planning and prepping, and there is always a time or two when you just want to grab something out of the freezer, warm it up and relax for the night.  These Make Ahead Mini Chicken Pot Pies are perfect for all of these reasons.

Chicken Pot Pie is such a classic comfort food.  The crust, the veggies, the gravy… it all just makes for a warm, tummy-filling dinner.  This recipe makes 6 mini CPPs – and while they may look small, one CPP is a pretty filling dinner!  Will and I are pretty adamant about the double-crust on a good CPP so these have a layer of premade pie dough on both the bottom and top.   You can be fancy and make your own pie dough for these… but if I am looking for a quick, easy freezer meal I’m going to reach in the cold case for the premade version.

Plan ahead and pick up 6-7 mini aluminum loaf pans when you plan on making this recipe.  I find them in the baking aisle with all the other disposable aluminum baking pans.  These also add to the no-fuss, individualized gift-giving option of the CPP – who wants to worry about giving/getting back a dish?! 😉  I’ve also easily doubled this recipe and made up to 15 CPPs to freeze at a time.  Heads up if you double – I usually feel that the gravy doesn’t thicken as much as I like it to in the doubled version and add a little cornstarch slurry as it cooks to help it out.  We’ll talk about that more down in the recipe.

Did a new neighbor just move in? Do you have a friend with a busy week that could use a go-to dinner? Try these Make Ahead Mini Chicken Pot Pies out and share!  I won’t tell though if you make a batch just for your own freezer… 🙂


Make Ahead Mini Chicken Pot Pies

 Yield: six pot pies per recipe

  • 1 ½ -2 lbs. chicken – breast, thigh, tenders – boneless and diced
  • salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 48 oz. chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 1/3 cup carrots, sliced
  • 1 1/3 cup celery, diced
  • 1 shallot or onion, finely diced
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 cup frozen petite peas
  • 15 oz. box refrigerated pie crust (two pie crusts)
  • Disposable aluminum mini loaf pans (at least 6 per recipe)

Remove the pie crusts from their box and set on the the counter to warm to room temperature.  Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large Dutch oven or pot over medium heat.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper.  If I am making one recipe, I tend to use chicken tenders or breasts, whichever is on sale at the store when I shop for groceries.  If I am doubling the recipe, I’ll grab one package of white meat and a package of chicken thighs.  Thighs are incredibly tasty, and inexpensive, and they work well in this dish.  Use whatever you like or have on hand!

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Brown the chicken until cooked through, about 7-8 minutes – work in batches if you are doubling the recipe so that you don’t crowd and cool the pan.  Remove the cooked chicken to a plate and set aside.

Melt the butter in the now-empty Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the carrots, celery and shallot or onion.  Don’t forget when you are chopping up your celery:  there is a ton of great flavor in the leaves of the celery stalks.  Use the bright green, tender leaves in the center of your bunch (on the left of the picture below) and avoid the darker, larger leaves on the outside (top-right of the picture below) for best taste.

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Stir occasionally and cook the veggies until lightly browned and softened.

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Add the flour to the veggies and whisk for about 1 minute, making a light roux.

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Add the broth and milk and whisk until it thickens, about 5 minutes or so.  Remove from heat.

This is where we need to talk about the cornstarch slurry.  As you can see from the picture above, when I make a double batch of these CPPs, as was the case in these photos, I start the gravy in a separate pot.  This is just because in a double batch there are a TON of veggies to incorporate.  It does take longer to thicken in a double batch and in this instance it wasn’t getting as thick as I liked.  Think about what you want – the sauce will thicken a little as it cools, but you want a sort of biscuits-and-gravy, custardy consistency to this so that it is scoopable to place into the pie crusts and so that it freezes well.  As the gravy was cooking, I ended up adding a slurry of about 1/4 cup of cornstarch and 1/4 cup of water.  That definitely helped to get things going!

Add the cooked chicken (and veggies if using a separate pot to make the gravy) to the thickened gravy.  Taste and adjust your seasoning if needed.  Set this aside or in the fridge to cool completely.  I have even made the CPP filling the night before and let the whole batch chill in the fridge overnight until ready to scoop into CPPs.  (I know you see peas in that picture below… don’t worry, they are coming.  My picture-taking timing was a little off here!)

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Spray each mini aluminum loaf pan with a nonstick cooking spray.  **THIS IS IMPORTANT!**

Unwrap one pie crust and roll it out on a flour dusted counter. Using the mini loaf pan as a guide/template, cut a bottom layer of dough for each mini loaf pan.  Place it in the bottom of each mini loaf pan.

Unwrap the other pie crust, unroll it onto your floured counter, and cut a top crust for each mini loaf pan.   Cut a few slits into each top crust to vent the crust. At this point, I sometimes get a little creative with the dough scraps.  I use them to cover the top, leaving little vents here and there where the dough scraps don’t exactly meet up.  You could also cut the dough into strips and make a weaving pattern across the top ala a dessert pie if you wanted to be super fancy.  You do you when it comes to CPP top crusts.

Grab the filling mixture from it’s chilling location and stir in the frozen peas.  Spoon the filling evenly into each mini loaf pan on top of the bottom layer of dough. Top each loaf with a pie crust – remembering to have some slits or places for steam to escape when baking.

From here, it’s either cook or freeze!

To cook now: 

Brush the top crust with an egg wash (whisk one egg with about a tablespoon of water in a small bowl). Place on a sheet tray and in a 400 degree oven, covered with foil, for about 20 minutes, then uncover and bake another 20-30 until crusts are golden brown.  Let sit a few minutes before serving.

To freeze: 

Wrap each CPP well with plastic wrap and aluminum foil.  I like to then put two CPPs in a gallon freezer bag or vacuum storage bag and seal them up in pairs.

Freeze up to 2 months.

To cook from frozen:

No need to thaw out the CPP!  Unwrap the pot pies and place on a sheet pan.  Brush the top of the frozen CPP with egg wash (whisk one egg with about a tablespoon of water in a small bowl) and replace just the foil on top of the CPP.  Cook at 400 degrees for 40 minutes.  Uncover and cook for another 30 minutes.  Let the pies sit a few minutes before serving.

Want a handy tag for printing the cooking instructions?  Click here!

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What’s your favorite freezer meal?  Let me know what you like and how these super delicious Make Ahead Mini Chicken Pot Pies work out for you!


Full Recipe

Make Ahead Mini Chicken Pot Pies

  • 1 ½ -2 lbs. chicken – breast, thigh, tenders – boneless and diced
  • salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 48 oz. chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 1/3 cup carrots, sliced
  • 1 1/3 cup celery, diced
  • 1 shallot or onion, finely diced
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 cup frozen petite peas
  • 15 oz. box refrigerated pie crust (two pie crusts)
  • Disposable aluminum mini loaf pans – at least 6 per recipe

Remove pie crusts from box and set on counter to thaw/warm to room temp.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper.

Brown the chicken until cooked through, about 7-8 minutes.

Remove the chicken to a plate and set aside.

Melt the butter in the empty Dutch oven over medium heat.

Add the carrots, celery, and shallot/onion.

Stir occasionally and cook until lightly browned.

Add the flour to the vegetables and whisk for 1 minute.

Add the broth and milk and whisk until it thickens, about 5 minutes or so.

Remove from heat.

Add the chicken to the sauce, season with salt and pepper, and mix well.

Cover and refrigerate until completely cooled.

Spray each mini loaf pan with cooking spray.

Unwrap one pie crust, unroll it on a flour dusted counter.

Cut a bottom crust for each loaf pan, place in the bottom of each mini loaf pan.

Unwrap the second pie crust. Cut a top crust, or use the scraps, for each mini loaf pan.

Cut 3 steam vents in each top crust.

Remove the vegetable/sauce mixture from the refrigerator. Uncover the bowl and mix in the frozen peas.

Spoon the mixture into 6 mini loaf tins evenly.

Top each with a pie crust.

 

Wrap well in plastic wrap and aluminum foil.

Freeze up to 2 months.

 

To cook from frozen:

Unwrap the pot pies and place on a sheet pan.  Brush the top of the frozen pot pie with egg wash and replace just the foil on top of the CPP.  Cook at 400 degrees for 40 minutes.  Uncover and cook for another 30 minutes.  Let the pies sit a few minutes before serving.