quick

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!

Panko & Coconut Crusted Escolar with Grilled Baby Bok Choy

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I’m not a fish eater. I like Salmon every once in a while and filet of sole (or flounder) in Franchaise sauce, but that’s pretty much it. And the second I eat something “fishy”, I’m off fish for a month or so before having the stomach to try, try again. I’ll happily eat sushi and I’d love to indulge in grilled rare tuna steaks more often…provided someone else wants to foot the bill.

One affordable fish I do love, however, is escolar, also know as Butter Fish. Boy oh boy, is it delicious, BUT there is a reason sushi restaurants serve it in limited quantities when they serve it at all. I’ll get into that later. Escolar is rich, super delicate in flavor, fresh, and almost sweet. It’s much less expensive than Tuna, but, like it’s red relation, it’s excellent for those who swear they “…don’t like fish.”

Inspired by Ming Tsai, I wanted to make a version of crispy fish without having the added calories and heaviness that comes with frying. Using his cooking method combined with my own flavors ended in crispy, summery, deliciously bright fish that was perfectly complimented by smokey grilled baby bok choy and a spicy lime cream sauce.

The recipe:

Two 4oz. center filet cuts of escolar, no blood line and as uniform in shape and thickness as possible.

1/2 cup flour

2 eggs, beaten

2/3 cup panko

1/3 cup coconut flakes

3 TBSP olive oil

Cream Sauce, served under fish and on the side:

1/4 cup Greek yogurt

3 TBSP sour cream

The juice and zest of 1 lime

1-2 tsp red pepper flakes or wasabi paste/powder

1/2 avocado, optional

1 tsp salt

Grilled Baby Bok Choy:

6 heads baby bok choy, split in half the long way

2 TBSP olive oil

2 tsp sesame oil

1/2 TBSP ginger, ground into paste

1/2 tsp chili oil, optional

1 TBSP ponzu

For the sauce, combine everything in a bowl to a smooth consistency and keep in the fridge until ready to serve.

For the fish, rinse and pat dry your filets. Set up the flour and beaten eggs in two separate shallow bowls. In a third bowl or dish combine the panko and coconut flakes. Lightly coat all sides of the escolar in the flour, gently shaking of the excess. Dip into the beaten eggs and then into the coconut/panko mixture, making sure each side is coated. Place to the side.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. In a medium oven safe pan (I used cast iron) heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Once the oil is nice and hot turn the heat down to medium and put the fish top side (serving side/pretty side) down in the pan and cook until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. Once nice and tan, flip the fish and place the entire pan into the oven to cook the fish through, about 7-8 minutes.

To complete this dish with grilled bok choy, pre heat your grill on high. Take the liquid ingredients and ginger, and whisk together in a bowl. Paint the mixture liberally over the cut sides of the baby bok choy. Place on the grill cut side down, and grill for 2 minutes. Flip bok choy and continue cooking one minute on other side.

To plate this dish, I did a zig zag drizzle of the creamy sauce on one side of the plate, piled the bok choy high on the other side, and placed the Escolar right onto the sauce. It was light, bright, crunchy, summery, smokey, and well balanced. I can’t wait to make this again in the near future.

Now, 4oz doesn’t seem like a large serving, but if you’re still hungry have some sticky rice or a salad, NOT more fish! It’s nicknamed Butter Fish for good reasons: It’s rich, indulgent, and so fatty that too much of it will make your body be unable to digest it, expelling it opposite your mouth rather quickly. Yes, over 5 oz of the stuff can turn it into the Olestra of the fish world, so definitely partake, but do so within reason. Besides, 4 oz is a healthy serving of any protein; we’re just used to HUGE sizes that are unnecessary.

Pig & Fig 2: Spicy Fig Glazed Grilled Pork Chops

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I’ve started mixing sweet with savory just for the thrill. It’s taught me a lot about food, made me a bit more adventurous, and aids me in cooking. With a recent bounty of figs I knew I had to come up with a few new creations before the figs went to the great fig tree in the sky, i.e. went bad. Working on something sweet, I originally made a fig sauce for dipping chicken into or pouring over fish, but the moment I tasted it I knew: This sauce was born for charring pork. My buddy tasted it and said “It’s good,” and then proceed to dunk a grilled chicken tenderloin into it. “Mmmm!…Yeah, okay,” he said while still chewing. “It would be best with pork.” Yes, padawan. I know.

Fig Sauce/Glaze:

1 1/4 cup roughly chopped figs

1 1/2 cup water

2/3 cup brown sugar

1 TBSP soy sauce

1 TBSP Ponzu

1 tsp red pepper flakes

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup orange juice

Throw everything into a sauce pot and cook down over medium high heat until it’s reduced by at least a third to half. It’s going to be pretty thick. Set it aside to cool.

While the sauce was marrying post simmer, I took two gorgeous, thick-cut bone in pork chops, about 6-8 ounces each, rinsed them, and patted them dry. Once the sauce cooled a bit (you can make this sauce a few days in advance if need be and keep it in the fridge in tupperware for 3-5 days) I blended it with an immersion hand blender, you can also use a potato masher. It’s fine if the sauce is still pretty chunky.

I then slathered the chops with the fully cooled sauce and let them sit at room temperature for 20-30 minutes. These were thick and needed to come to room temperature before I through them on the grill.

I operate on one speed: Fast. The also means that I generally cook on one temp: High. I preheated my grill, cleaned the grates, and slathered the pork just a bit more and cracked fresh black pepper over them before putting it on the grill. Now these chops were about 1 1/2 inches thick, so they had to cook a while, and though I wanted a char, I didn’t need dry pork. No one needs that. After 4 minutes on one side my friend gave the chops a quarter turn and left them for another 4 minutes.  We dripped a bit more sauce on the top and topped with black pepper again prior to flipping them and lowered the burners to medium-high. After about 4 minutes, there was a quarter turn and they were done two minutes later. You want your pork to register at 145 degrees – YES, this is safe – and remember that as it rests, it will continue cooking a bit.

This was a lot of pork for 2 people, so I served it with simply an arugula and summer greens salad dressed with olive oil, quartered figs, and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, which really intensifies the natural flavor and sweetness of the ripe figs. It was a perfect, protein packed, low fat dinner for a summer evening. This is great for everyone, but it’s also paleo friendly and excellent for South Beach or Atkins

The sauce and char makes ’em!

Pig & Fig – Quick, Easy, & Fancy – Paleo Friendly!

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A friend of mine has a neighbor with a wealth they don’t appreciate. Or, at least, more bounty than they can eat. Two huge fig trees, lime trees, and peach trees over-flow around the edges of their yard. Recently this friend of mine had the balls to ask that we have permission to pick at their harvest, and they graciously said “Yes”.

I love figs. I grew up with fig trees, in Connecticut of all places, and the sweet and delicate fruit was always a staple as the last course of dinner. My family did not, however, cook with this rich purple marvel. Now, however, with so many figs at our disposal or, rather, on our table, I’ve been forcing myself to come up with some new uses for this favorite fruit of mine.

Pork was an obvious place to turn. What compliments pig better than sweet? So I started with an easy, quick, flavorful, high protein, and – best of all – portable pig & fig recipe.

Ham cups are easy. If you have ham or prosciutto and a muffin/cupcake tin, you can make ham cups. For the filling, I decided on making a quiche like concoction to keep everything light and fluffy. This recipe makes eight cups; I recommend 2 or 3 for breakfast and they are easy to make on Sunday to be stored in tupperware for quick breakfasts throughout the week.

You’ll need:

8 slices deli ham or Prosciutto. I used black forest sliced on 1, though I would have used prosciutto if I wasn’t so lazy and didn’t want to wait in line.

2 eggs + 1 egg white. To make this fluffier you can use 1 egg + 2 egg whites.

1/4 cup coarsely chopped figs

1/2 TBSP Gorgonzola. I used just under a TBSP of Gorgonzola crumbles, but I like this flavor with the fig and ham. If you’re a fan use a little more than 1/2 TBSP, if not, use less.

3 TBSP plain Greek yogurt

1 tsp dried parsley

1/4 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp coarsely ground black pepper

Preheat your oven to 400. Spray a muffin/cupcake pan with cooking spray and lightly press a slice of ham into each muffin cup. It’s okay if your ham breaks or cracks: the egg will still setup just fine. Whisk together the eggs, figs, Gorgonzola, yogurt, parsley, salt, and pepper until blended and slightly frothy. Pour into ham cups until about 1/2-2/3 full.

Bake the cups for about 12 minutes. I baked mine for 11 only because they were cooked enough to dig into, but also so that when I reheat them later they won’t get horribly chewy and over cooked. Once finished the egg will have puffed a bit and, if slightly under cooking as I did, the very centers may jiggle slightly. Remove from oven and let sit 5 -8 minutes.

I served my cups with a trio of silver dollar honey pancakes, a recipe also on this site, and sliced figs. I topped the cups with just a little finely grated sharp cheddar, a bit more parsley, and I drizzled the figs with a little honey to bring everything together. The sweetness of the honeyed figs with the ham, creamy eggs, and bright Gorgonzola makes a great quick and easy breakfast to start the day with – and it’s healthy, too!

Easy Fire-Free S’Mores

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In Austin we have the very weird problem of summer actually not being the season for S’mores. I love me some s’mores. All gooey, chocolatey, crunchy, sugary, and delicious. The thing is that here it gets entirely too hot to stand outside, have a fire toast a few ‘mallows, and throw together a s’more. Your chocolate will be melted by the heat of the sun, the flies will be all over you, and most of the time there’s a burn ban against fire pits anyway. Yes, we Austinites have 2 days of cooler days a year, Flash Not-Summer, where we can actually toast marshmallows for s’mores. Our seasons are as follows: Pre-Summer (January – February), Summer (March – October), Slightly Lesser Summer (November – December 29th), and, of course, Flash Not-Summer (December 30-31).

So, what to do? You can always microwave yourself one, but the chocolate is still hard as a rock and the graham cracker gets tough.

The simple answer: use your microwave for a simple ganache and make magic by swapping out the marshmallows for Fluff.

On a cookie sheet lined with wax paper I placed 14 graham cracker halves. I like a good amount of fluff, so in the center of each cracker I dropped s heaping tablespoon of the white stuff, allowing it to settle and spreading with a butter knife prayed with non-stick spray where needed. In a microwave-safe bowl I poured the contents of a bag of Ghirardelli semi-sweet chips with 5-6 tablespoons of butter.

I microwaved the mixture in spurts for no more than 12 seconds at a time, stirring at each break. Once the chocolate was melted, I dropped a spoonful, about a level tablespoon, onto the fluff. I placed a graham cracker 1/8th onto the top of each so that the eater would have a place to hold with their fingertips without getting all gooey. Then I placed them in the fridge for 30 minutes to setup a bit.

I was tempted to add strawberry slices to a few and peanut butter to a couple. You could really do so many toppings that would stick perfectly to the fluff, even bananas with a little peanut butter on top for an Elvis inspired treat.

More than anything, though, I recommend these for any time you need an easy chocolate fix or a dessert you can make with your kids. You can keep leftovers in tupperware on the counter for about 3 days or in the fridge for about 5 until the graham starts softening.