picnic

Spicy Beer Poached Pulled Chicken Tacos & Crispy Baked Veggies!

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We’ll start with dinner’s side, crispy un-fried “fries”.

I am not a huge fan of potato chips. I’m really not, can’t remember the last time I bought a bag, and will take a scoop of dressing-free coleslaw over them any day (I don’t like creamy coleslaw, either). I do occasionally like fries, though, especially sweet potato fries. Actually frying the perfect fries, though, is a multi-step process and a messy pain in the ass. Oh, and they’re SUPER unhealthy. Luckily, veggies can be easily manipulated to become something else.

Baked Veggie Fries

Carrots, zucchini, parsnips cut into wedged sticks. Figure 1-2 vegetables per person.

2 TBSP olive oil

2 tsp kosher salt

2 tsp black pepper

1/4 cup panko bread crumbs

2 tsp garlic powder

2 tsp red pepper flakes, optional

sprinkling of dried parsly

I took carrots, zucchini, and parsnips, but you can seriously do this with any fruit or veg. Halved Roma tomatoes would be bad ass done the same way. But I was searching for a fried sweet potato alternative. I cut the root veggies and the zucchini into somewhat evenly sized wedged sticks, equaling what was probably 4-5 cups of “fries”. It’s hard to measure sticks in bowl form. I used 1 zucchini, 2 large carrots, and 1 parsnip, and it was more than enough for 3 people.

Preheat the oven to 450 and spray a cookie sheet with Pam (or whatever cooking spray ya got). Toss the “fries” in olive oil and then toss them in the panko. The panko isn’t meant to completely coat the veggies; it’s just meant to make up for a little bit of the crunch missed from deep fried anything. Spread the sticks out on the cookie sheet and sprinkle evenly with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and red pepper flakes if going for spicy fries. Roast at 450 for 20-25 minutes. The baked carrots are exactly like fried sweet potato. You know how people say Coke Zero tastes just like regular Coke, when, in fact, it tastes gross, plasticy, diety? Well, these actually taste JUST like sweet potato fries! You’ll be searching for ranch or honey mustard to dip them into. And they’re baked and delicious and a little crispy, too. I’m not going to say they’re “healthy” because I’m at a point where I feel like just eating at all is unhealthy (fat complex, leave it be), but they are a great alternative when you’re craving something that is truly not great for your system.

Entree Time…

The chicken was a no-brainer dinner – I wanted flavorful, moist chicken tacos! Poaching is a great way to keep chicken breast tender and juicy, but visually it ain’t pretty. Everything looks delicious when it’s in a taco, though! So, I went for it, and it’s something I’m going to add to my usual weeknight dinner line up. This recipe is more than enough for two people.

Spicy Beer Poached Chicken Tacos

6 oz. boneless chicken breast or tenderloins

1 bottle beer (I used a brown ale)

2 TBSP Franks Hot Wing Sauce

3 large garlic cloves, minced

2 tsp chili oil or red pepper flakes, optional

1 tsp kosher salt

2 TBSP brown sugar

1/4 cup orange or grapefruit juice

Dump everything, but the brown sugar and OJ into a saucepan together, stir, and bring to a simmer. You want the chicken to be mostly covered with liquid, so use a smaller sauce pan with tall sides. Once simmering, poach the chicken for about 10-15 minutes, or until cooked through. Remove the chicken breast with a slotted spoon and let rest five minutes. While the chicken is resting, add the brown sugar and orange juice to the poaching liquid in the sauce pan and bring to a boil, reducing the liquid by 1/3 to 1/2. You can add the orange juice right at the beginning, but adding it at the end and then reducing keeps its flavor bright. “Pull” the chicken apart using 2 forks, go with the grain, making it a very easy process. Once the liquid has reduced, turn off the heat and return the now pulled chicken to the sauce. Let the chicken absorb the liquid for about 5 minutes or so before making into tacos.

I topped my tacos with a little spring mix, diced tomatoes and onion, freshly cracked black pepper, and a squeeze of lime. A little sour cream  goes perfect to quell the sweet heat as well. Served with the veggie fries this was a filling dinner on the lighter side of the usual American taco meal!

Watermelon & Feta Summer Salad

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Kick cole slaw to the curb with the healthy, tasty, and refreshing summer salad. It’s also super easy and can come together in minutes.

Vegetables were very important in my family when I was a child and, as a result, vegetables are very important in my life as an adult. No meal is complete without them, which means you have to be pretty creative to keep from getting into a veggie rut. There were a number of salads in my youth that I continue to make today. While this one wasn’t prevalent in the past, it is a mainstay during the summers now.

Watermelon & Feta Summer Salad

4-5 cups watermelon, cut or broken into rough 1 1/2 inch pieces

1/3 cup feta cheese

1/2 cup arugula, optional

1 1/2 TBSP fresh mint leaves, chiffoned.

1 TBSP olive oil

1/2 TBSP balsamic vinegar

1 TBSP champagne vinegar (You can use all Balsamic if you prefer)

1 tsp honey

Fresh cracked black pepper

I generally buy those freaky, genetically modified “personal sized” watermelons and crack it, like a giant egg, on the edge of my counter. This allows me to let the watermelon drain a little bit before dicing. After about an hour of draining, I broke and cut the watermelon into 1-2 inch chunks. You can use a melon baller, too. I dumped the watermelon and above ingredients into a bowl and gentle tossed. The watermelon will absorb the vinegar nicely, so generally once everything is mixed, I will let the salad sit for about 10 minutes and then move the mixture to a strainer over a bowl, just to help get rid of extra water. It only needs to sit in the strainer a couple of minutes.

If I’m having this as a brunch or mid-day thing, or if feeding it to picky eaters, I will sometimes omit the arugula. It’s just so delicious, that slightly bitter pepperiness with the sweet refreshing nature of the watermelon, honey, and mint. Not to mention the salty tang of the Feta! Oh, it comes together ever so nicely!

Just as beautiful to eat with your eyes as with your mouth!

Skip the arugula and add a croissant for brunch.


Crispy Coconut Shrimp & Spicy Citrus Mint Marmalade

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I recently made a crispy baked Escolar filet with coconut. I really liked this bright, sweet, and oh-so-summery punch of flavor. As I had a bit of coconut leftover, I began to think of other foods that incorporate similar flavors that I love.

Years ago something I became addicted to (shamefully) was Outback’s Coconut shrimp. I’ve noticed a number of restaurants have picked up a similar recipe, but the last few times I’ve tried this dish, it’s been disappointing. The coating was too much or soggy, and the shrimp were small and sometimes not even cleaned.

The great thing about perfecting a recipe at home is that you control what does and does not go into it; the bad thing is once you have it down pat you find it’s harder and harder to eat out. …Maybe that’s a good thing.

The interesting part of the coconut shrimp was creating the spicy citrus marmalade that compliments the sweet coconut perfectly, and it was super easy. I fried my shrimp, thinking of this offering as an appetizer and not an entree. Frying the shrimp of course insures crispiness, but it also keeps the shrimp from shrinking as they so often do during cooking. You can bake the shrimp instead – it honestly comes out JUST as good – and directions for doing so are below.

Take the time to clean your shrimp. It’s really not that bad and you can pretend you’re a rugged chef who hunted the wilds for the bottom feeders you’re about to devour. I tend to butterfly the shrimp about 1/2 to 2/3’s of the way up the back of the shrimp because it helps it cook evenly, makes them seem larger for a more effective appetizer, and they have more surface area for the awesome dip. You don’t have to do that, but be sure to “devein” the shrimp in the very least. Surprise: It’s not a vein. It’s the poop shoot. So devein away.

Shrimp:

1 pound “Collosal” shrimp, deveined

1/4 cup flour

2 eggs, beaten

1/2 cup panko

1/2 cup sweetened, shredded coconut

vegetable oil for frying (or an oven for baking!)

Spicy Citrus Mint Marmalade:

3 heaping tablespoons orange marmalade

1/2 TSBP chiffoned mint leaves

2+ tsp red pepper flakes or wasabi powder based on your heat preference

1 tsp chili oil

1 1/2 tsp fresh lime juice

1 tsp curry powder (IF you’re not allergic to it!…I mean, it’s optional.)

Frying directions: Fill a heavy, deep pan or stock pot with about 3 inches of oil and heat to roughly 375 degrees. The shrimp are going to cook quick and you want them to brown, but not burn. Combine the panko and coconut shreds in a bowl. While the oil is heating up, dredge your cleaned shrimp – lightly coat in flour, shaking off excess, followed by a dip in the beaten eggs, ending with a coat in the panko & coconut mixture. Fry in the oil for about 3-4 minutes per shrimp. They should start to get golden pretty quickly, and they will continue cooking a bit after you take them out of the oil, so if it’s been 3 minutes and they’re brown, pull them out and move to a paper towel coated plate to drain.

While the fried shrimp are resting, make your dipping sauce: Combine all ingredients in a bowl, adjusting the heat with more or less red pepper flakes or wasabi to fit your own preference. Remember that as it sits it will get a little spicier if you’re using red pepper flakes.

If you’d rather bake the shrimp, preheat your oven to 400. Spray a baking sheet with olive oil spray (Pam works), prepare the shrimp the same as if you were going to fry them,  and layout the shrimp on a single layer on the pan. Spray the tops of the shrimp with a bit of the olive oil spray. Cook for 10-12 minutes, flipping half way through. Seriously, I was surprised that these came out just as tasty as their fried counter parts, there was less mess and less calories. The only difference was there was slightly less browning as well.

Serve with slices of lime and make sure you put a few shrimp to the side for yourself because these will disappear entirely too fast. Ridiculously too fast. I recommend a pound of shrimp as an appetizer for four people who like shrimp. People seem to have a tendency to eat far more than they expect of these, like really good pizza. You may have to double the marmalade as well depending on heavy handed dippers. So freakin’ good.