You Know I Like My Chicken Fried

Sometimes the world outside is not fun. It’s sad and unnerving and scary and you want to IMG_0471e hug everyone and hide under the table at the same time.

And sometimes it makes you crave the simple things.

Kickball in the neighborhood streets, frisbee in the backyard of your college apartment, a glass of wine with girlfriends, Dad’s pancakes on a Saturday morning.

Sometimes it makes you crave the fried things, like chicken and potatoes. And sometimes you remember that you’re an adult who tries to make healthy choices and you put the deep fryer away. But even though you’ve stepped away from the peanut oil, you’re still certain that chicken tenders are it — they’re all that will restore your will to take on the world another day.

So you fake it.

You salt&pepper some chicken, dunk it in egg wash, dredge it in cornflakes and cayenne, and then even though your hand really wants to drop those tenders into bubbling oil, you instead put them on a sheet pan and bake ‘em.

And since you’ve put away the fryer, you roast some potatoes with olive oil and rosemary instead of making French fries to dip in sriracha mayo.

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And because you’ve heard about ‘nutrients’ and ‘vegetables’ being ‘beneficial’ before, you sneak in a side salad.

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But you add cheese to the salad.

Because chicken tenders are still the only thing that will restore your will to take on the world another day, but cheese. Cheese rights all wrongs and heals all wounds and makes you skinny.

Let’s Have a Chat About Tuna

I am accidentally on a food-posting kick recently, but this post was obviously meant-to-be for two reasons:

  1. I made really good tuna melts this weekend
  2. A coworker enlightened me with his tuna methods this afternoon

And for both of those reasons, I must share my thoughts on tuna. Canned tuna, that is.

1. Tuna Melts
The cupboards are bare in our apartment these days. Hugh eats take-out at work for all of his meals and I make a big meal or two and live off of leftovers most of the week. On Saturday, we found ourselves in rarely charted territory — both at home, working on separate things, and in need of lunch. I foraged a bit and came up with bread, pepper jack cheese, and canned tuna. We’re havin’ tuna melts! I exclaimed.

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I toasted some bread, sliced up some cheese, and mixed some tuna with mayo, soy sauce, sriracha, chili powder, celery salt, cayenne, and black pepper. Took the bread out of the toaster oven, piled some cheese onto one slice and threw it back in under the broiler for a couple minutes to get melty, bubbly pepper jack.

After piling on a ton of tuna, I squirted some more sriracha on top because there can never be enough sriracha on a thing (an invaluable lesson I learned from my friend Elizabeth). And we had ourselves a tuna melt (which we had again for lunch Sunday because times are tough, folks).

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2. Tuna Enlightenment
When my coworker proudly informed me that he brought tuna (dinner leftovers) for lunch, I thought tuna noodle casserole, a tuna sandwich, or maybe an actual hunk of tuna steak. But he clarified that he made tuna which is so much more than just tuna. To canned tuna he adds mayo (real, Hellman’s), hard boiled egg, relish, all sorts of bell peppers, and spicy mustard.

Not all of this was new to me — my standard non-pepper-jack tuna melt requires cheddar and spicy mustard. I don’t like relish, but I know people sometimes use it in tuna salad. I’ve put diced onions in tuna before but never bell peppers, though it doesn’t seem that strange.

But egg?

I feel as though egg salad should have its own show and tuna salad should have its own show. They’re both great for their own reasons in their own time slots. A tuna + egg spin-off is not really necessary. I mean, we all saw what happened to Joey.

Because I believe in being open-minded as well as eating food, I might give it a try. But it will have to wait because I need a tuna break.

Plus, our stash ran out this weekend.

Zen Baking and Magic Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Most people know that I am a spaz in the kitchen. I almost always drop something, burn a palm, knick a finger, or dirty an excessive number of dishes at one time. But there are a few things that send me into my focused zone in the kitchen, things I call Zen Meatballs, Zen Grits, Zen Cookies, and you get the idea. They’re recipes I know by heart and I have loved them exactly the way they are since the first time I made them. There’s no need to call audibles or get creative in these recipes, they are perfect just the simple way they are.

When I’m making a zen recipe, I move through the kitchen with ease, floating through tasks, mixing this, adding a dash of that, no rushing, no stalling, no sudden improvisations. It’s not brain surgery or expert cooking by any means, and that’s part of the beauty of zen cooking. The final products are — without fail — delicious, comforting and, when necessary, capable of turning a bad day around.

These ‘Magic’ Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies are one of my favorite zen recipes. I have never liked oatmeal raisin cookies — they always seemed too close to healthy to be dessert. But when I learned that you could substitute chocolate chips (or anything, really) for the raisins, and that oatmeal chocolate chip is the Hughsband’s favorite cookie, I started experimenting with recipes.

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This zen recipe makes cookies that are dense, crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. And I’m calling them magic now since I substituted half the butter for peanut butter*, which is healthier and therefore makes you lose weight. It’s basically science people.

*Hugh maintains that you shouldn’t mess with something as perfect as an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie and somewhat resents my use of peanut butter. But I tend to think that if he didn’t know it was in there, he wouldn’t have said anything…

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups self-rising flour**
  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup chocolate chips

**all-purpose flour will work too, just double the baking soda and add a 1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350. Beat butter and peanut butter using an electric mixer on medium speed for about a minute. Add sugars, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt if you’re using some, and beat until combined. Beat in eggs and vanilla until combined. In small additions at a time, beat in the flour. Now you have to give up your electric mixer and go at it with a spatula or my preferred tool — a silicone spoonula. Stir in the oats, relish the arm work-out, engage your core, and stir in the chocolate chips.

Form into roughly 1-inch balls on a lined baking sheet — I bypass the two-spoons-method and the cookie-dough-scooper and just go at it with my hands. I think it’s easier and quicker, and the cookies turn out more round and perfect. Pop ‘em in the oven for 8-12 minutes, just until the tops turn the slightest bit brown. Too much longer and they’ll be too crispy.

Let them cool on the pan for about 2 minutes then transfer them to wire racks until they’re completely cooled. I normally ignore these kinds of instructions and either transfer them to wire racks right away or eat them all before they make it there. But I feel like this is an important step in maintaining the crispy-to-chewy ratio.

Makes 3-4 dozen.

Two dozen for Hugh, two dozen for me.

The (D)evolution of Bunco

Back in July of 2011 I sensed a need to establish mandatory girl time. One friend (also my roommate) was about to get married, one was already living with her beau, I was about to move in with Hugh, and several more of our friends were soon headed for coed co-habitation. We needed a monthly gathering to give us boy-free time to look forward to.

I’d heard of ladies in other age brackets playing a game called Bunco, so after a quick read of the wikipedia article, I sent the following invitation to my girlfriends:

Bunco invitation

We gathered, we snacked, we learned the rules of the game, and we actually played several rounds of it — and then we did it again the next month. And every month since, we take turns hosting and providing snacks while everyone else shows up bearing bottles of wine. It has often been the shining star of my calendar.

But lately Bunco has evolved. Or rather, it has devolved — we’ve gone from dutifully rolling the dice, recording our scores round by round and declaring a winner at the end of the night to not even bothering to find dice. Instead, we feast on snacks (often pinterest-inspired), share the latest gossip (often wedding-related), sip on glasses of wine (often several), and generally enjoy the company of other women without a trace of the presence of men.

Last night I hosted the first Bunco since our holiday hiatus and it was every bit the Bunco-free Bunco we’ve all come to hope for. I made salsa chicken with make-your-own taco bar and appetizers included a bean dip I’ve reluctantly added to my repertoire (and secretly learned to enjoy). And we only had one red-wine-on-the-carpet fiasco! It was quickly thwarted by cold water and some vinegar and the not-Bunco-playing carried on.

Jessie asked for the salsa chicken recipe, I told her the three easy steps, and she asked me to write it down anyway. Sweet Jessie. So, Jessie, here are my recipes:

Salsa Chicken

  • 3-4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (about two pounds)
  • 24 oz jar of salsa
  • dashes of garlic powder, chili powder, cumin, cayenne, salt and pepper

Too simple. Put some chicken breasts into the crock pot in a single layer. Throw in some taco seasoning — most versions of this recipe call for a packet of taco seasoning, but I don’t keep them on hand, don’t want to buy them, and find them pretty salty. So I use garlic powder, chili powder, cumin, cayenne, salt, and black pepper — large dashes of the first two, medium dashes of the next two, and smaller dashes of the last two. Then dump your jar of salsa on top, put the lid on, and cook low and slow for 4-6 hours.

I use mild store brand salsa and set my crock pot timer for 5 hours, then keep warm. I find that that’s the perfect point of tender shred-able chicken without veering toward dry and overcooked. 

When I’m ready to shred the chicken (which pulls apart effortlessly using the two fork method) I drain the cooking liquid through a big strainer and make sure that the majority of the salsa remains intact with the chicken. And voila — it goes great in a tortilla with some cheese, lettuce, red onion, tomatoes, and black olives.

Super Simple Bean Dip (that even I will eat)

  • 1-2 cans of refried beans
  • 1 package cream cheese, softened
  • about 1.5 cups of shredded cheddar
  • small can of chopped green chiles, drained
  • optional other ingredients for optional other layers

Preheat the oven to 350. Mix together the refried beans, green chiles, cream cheese, and about 1 cup of shredded cheddar. I promise this is much easier if you’ve let the cream cheese soften outside of the fridge for a while. Season the mixture with your standard taco flavors (I pretty much stick to the same shtick performed in the making of salsa chicken). Pile the mixture into a baking dish, making sure it’s even. Add optional additional layers of black beans (make sure they’re really really drained), corn, salsa, whatever your husband’s tastebuds desire. Sprinkle the top with remaining shredded cheese, and sliced black olives if you’re me, and bake for about 15 minutes or until the cheese does that delicious bubbly thing it does.

I only like beans in a few forms — green beans or chickpeas that have been turned into hummus or falafel — but I threw together this bean dip for Hugh and his friends one night recently and even I liked it. So, much to Hugh’s delight, it has been added to my repertoire of easy go-tos. Must have something to do with the cheese content…