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Archive for the ‘Chicken’ Category

Guest Blog by: Damien Riley

Recently my wife and I set out to improve our eating habits. Into my late 30’s now fun stuff like high blood pressure keeping the old waistline trim are unwittingly important issues. Though we know we need to eat healthy, busy work schedules and three kids can often lead us in the opposite direction. Plus, a big big big concern for me regarding food is this: “does it taste good?” I don’t know how most of you are, but for me taste is so important.

As a result of our family’s health quest, my lovely wife Sarah is always on the lookout for great tasting recipes that are easy to make. The one we are writing about today is called Chicken Pitas and we enjoy it often. The best things is: it is 100% free from guilt. And of course, yes, it tastes VERY good.

My wife created this recipe one day and it has made it into our permanent recipe box. Iis quick, healthy, and delicious. It is perfect for a lunch or dinner. Best of all, your heart and your waistline will thank you!

Ingredients:

Whole Wheat Pita Pocket
4oz Boneless,
Skinless Chicken Breast
1/4 Sliced Bell Pepper
1/2 Large sliced Jalapeno
1 Large Clove of Garlic, diced
1/4 cup reduced fat shredded cheddar cheese
1 Tbls. Onion Flakes
1 Tbls. Olive Oil (optional)
Seasoning of your choice (sprinkled on chicken for flavor)

Directions:

  1. Cut your chicken into strips, cook in a non-stick pan sprinkled with a seasoning of your choice (I used the Creole Seasoning seen in the photo which is a bit spicy).
  2. In a separate pan heat the olive oil (optional) add diced garlic, sliced bell pepper, sliced jalapeno, and onion flakes. In this case I eliminated the oil. Since I like my vegetables well cooked I placed a lid over this with a touch of water, and lowered the heat allowing the vegetables to simmer and soften up.
  3. Once the chicken is fully cooked and the vegetables are cooked to your liking, remove them from the heat and stir together.
  4. Meanwhile, place your pita (sliced in half) in the microwave for a couple of seconds to soften it up; 5 seconds should be plenty. Add the reduced fat cheese to both halves, then equally split your chicken/ vegetable mix between the two halves.

Serve with fruit and you have a balanced meal your wife, kids (and your husband) will agree is the tastiest chicken pita ever!

This whole serving (without the olive oil or fruit) has 350 calories/8g of fat/ 39g of protein/ and 3 grams of fiber.
My wife and I hope you try this recipe. Please leave a comment for us.


I’m a dad, teacher, author in Southern California. I keep an eye on pop culture, psychology, and inspiration all around us. I have an MA in English with an emphasis in language, writing and rhetoric. I live with my three children and lovely wife.

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We use salt in our daily lives all the time without much thought. It’s just one of those things we have on the table and throw around freely. When we are cooking, however, the salt we chose can make a noticeable difference in the final result. Yes, there are many choices we have to make in our lives and now I’ve added a new one. My apologies for adding to the complexity of life.

It’s a surprise to many people that not all salt is created equal. The table salt most people use to fill their salt shakers at home is not pure salt. Most salt has iodine added to it, as a solution to a shortage of the element in most people’s diet. This is the ubiquitous Iodized Salt. In addition to iodine, table salt and some other fine pour-able salts have sodium ferrocyanide added to prevent caking. These additives have benefits but for some recipes they have drawbacks. In canning these ingredients will make the liquids cloudy. They can also contribute an off flavor for brine’s and dry cures. When you want absolute control of the appearance and flavor of your creation take salts with these ingredients off the list.

In addition to the purity issue, there are differences in the coarseness of available salts. Popcorn salt for example is very fine. Table salt is normally fairly fine. Canning and pickling salts and kosher salts are fairly coarse. Rock salt is left as crystals that are not ground. These salts can be mined or extracted from sea water through evaporation. They are normally made without additives and are largely the same in terms of content but they will react different in recipes and have different purposes because of how quickly they dissolve. Kosher Salt for example gets its name because it is used to help make meats kosher by extracting the last of the blood from meats. It’s coarseness prevents the salt from being absorbed fully before the blood is picked up by the salt.
In addition to these differences, there are salts available that have flavors added to them. They can have fruit flavors added for use in tropical drinks, smoke flavors used for dry curing, and even pickle flavored salt used for… well I was surprised at how popular pickle flavored salt was for making chips, burgers or your favorite side dish have that pickle taste. (Not to be confused with pickling salt which has no flavor added to it.)

Smoked flavored salts are very useful in dry cures. This is especially true if you are cooking the meat in an oven where smoke can’t be introduced. They are normally pure so the only thing they add is that smoky salt flavor to your recipe.

Knowing what is available and how it can be used can be very helpful when preparing to dive into that special recipe. The coarseness of the salt will also effect its volume when measuring it for a recipe. So until you get a handle on how it will change your recipe, use a little less salt. Then add to flavor. It won’t take long to get the right amount.

I have a variety of salts in the IGT Store so you can see some of the available offerings.

Thanks for stopping by. I hope the added complication added to your life is worthwhile.

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I’ve gone on and on about the different ways to smoke meat. Finally, I am going to have to pick one and write about it.

So here we go.

First of all, I am most familiar with using a brine to cure and flavor the meat. In a bit of research about what is out there I see quite a few recipes from people that are not worried about using a cure, in addition to salt, for low heat cooking. I think this is a bit risky, especially on poultry and fish, unless you are using a fairly high salt content by today’s standards. In ideal circumstances there would be no problem, but if the meat has a higher bacteria count than normal (maybe Earl at the plant got a bit careless when moving Porkchop to the breakdown area and dropped her on the floor, giving her an unintentional marinade in unmentionables or perhaps you were distracted as you were getting the ham out to put it down in the brine and the game you gave up on became a higher priority than that special project that got a bit warmer than intended before brining) you may wish you Had upped your protection. Point is that a cure is a great insurance policy against the unknown without having to make your brine too salty. The low heat cooking process is a more favorable environment for bacteria than a normal cooking process. The meat will spend twice as long in the ideal range for bacterial growth. So I recommend incorporating a cure in any Low Heat Cooking.

The original cure used in this process is salt. However we have other preservatives we can use, so the level of salt needed is lower and more a factor of taste than necessity. These other preservatives are the dreaded Nitrites, Nitrates, and Phosphates we spent a decade or more fearing. When the big studies were conducted to put the nails in the coffin of preservatives like these, the scientists were red faced to report that there were no links between these preservatives and health problems. In fact they found that there may be some health benefits from them. So when putting together a recipe, I recommend including a cure with your other ingredients or substitute a mix like Morton’s Tender Quick. It includes salt, sugar, nitrites, and nitrates. You use a 1:4 ratio of Tender Quick to water by volume. The directions say 2 cups of Tender Quick to 8 cups of water.

Hot Smoking Similar to Barbecuing but generally done at slightly lower temperatures. Smoke can be used for adding flavor.

Kippering Devised in particular for fish, this process relies on both the curing and cooking of meat. Smoke here is also used as a flavor enhancer.

Cold Smoking The process involved the use of smoke to preserve meat. Today, cures are used to help kill bacteria and parasites. Some people will also use a period of time (3 or more days) in the freezer to eliminate parasites, especially from fish. The cure alone only slows the growth of bacteria.

If I tried to include all of the different sources that contributed to all the ways of smoking meat, we’d have a book or two not a recipe.

That having been said, how about a recipe for something.

First, a good recipe for brine.

  • 1 gallon water (Hot)
  • 1 cup salt
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup whole cloves  (ground cloves are fine)
  • 1/4 cup ground nutmeg
  • 6 cinnamon sticks ( ground is fine, but I don’t have an amount for you, My guess 1/4 cup)
  • 1-2 oz of liquid smoke (2-4 Tbs)

The original recipe calls for boiling the mixture.  I combined the ingredients I used very hot water out of the tap and mixed it until the ingredients are dissolved as much as possible.   If the ingredients aren’t dissolving as much as you would like, boil the brine for 20 minutes or so.  Either way make sure the brine is cool or even cold before putting the meat down into it.
I adapted this from About.com And is by Derrick Riches.

I used this recipe because it is the most similar I have found to the recipe we used in the Smokehouse ( Yes, I added and subtracted a bit). The ingredients we used were only available commercially. This recipe does not include any cure, so here are some options. Add 1-2 oz of Tender Quick to the recipe or find a cure with no salt and follow the directions or substitute Tender Quick for the salt and the sugar.

Anytime you are making a brine or marinade you should be able to sample it and get an idea if the ratios are right. It will always be too strong to call tasty but it will give you an idea.

As far as time in the brine, that will vary a lot depending on the type of meat. Something small (A cut of chicken or a fillet of Salmon) can be cured in 8-12 hours. Something large (A Ham) may take 7-10 days. Also anything thicker than 2 inches should have brine pumped into it. We use, shockingly enough, a brine pump for this. It is a giant syringe like device, but with a needle about the size of a large nail, only longer. No you won’t want any flu shots with this. You pump it up like a beach ball and put it down in the brine. This is handy and recommended on hams, shoulders, and even loins.

After the meat is cured, you need to rinse it. For the large cuts, 1 1/2 – 2 hours under running water. It doesn’t need to be running at full tilt, just a light flow around it. In the meat business we use a sink that over flows into another sink, so the meat is immerse. You can use a container that can overflow into you kitchen sink or (raised eyebrow time) a container set in the bath tub overflowing into the tub. (There go the brownie points with the wife) You get the idea, use your imagination and have some good excuses ready.

And finally, you cook it up. An oven will work fine. Set it at about 225 and figure on 6 hours although it could take 8. A meat thermometer is critical here. Small or thin cuts will cook much faster, probably in 3 -4 hours. When it gets to 165, its ready. Remember in lost cases it will be heated up again, so don’t expect this to look like dinner. Smaller cuts may be ready to throw on a plate but the larger cuts normally are going to be cooked again. If you find the outside is getting too well done before the temperature gets to your target, then cut the temperature back to 210 or so. Adjustment is the name of the game.

Smoked meat is a lot of work, but it is very rewarding. I highly recommend that you write down exactly what you do to make your product. It will make adjusting your recipe much easier and since there are so many steps it can be hard to remember what you did a week ago when you made that brine.

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What could be worse than finding a cut of meat you had big plans for is partially or totally spoiled?

You weren’t supposed to bring a list, it was a rhetorical question.

Whether it makes your top list of worst disappointments or not, it’s certainly not what we bargain for when we pick up a cut from the meat case.

I thought it would be a little helpful to write about what causes spoilage so that you would have an idea of what to look for and how to prevent the early demise of hard earned dinner ingredients.

The first culprit is the one most likely to take food off your dinner menu. Bacteria. These microorganisms are everywhere looking for a free meal.  It should also be mentioned that we are chocked full of beneficial bacteria.  Some types of bacteria are harmful and sometimes high levels of, otherwise harmless, bacteria can cause problems for us.  So how do we keep the harmful bacteria away from our food. The main thing to remember about bacteria is that they like what you like.

  • moisture
  • temperate or warm climate
  • lots of light

Sounds like we could find them at the beach in California or Florida.

In all seriousness though, at room temperature (or a little above) bacteria are very happy, when they get happy they multiply quickly, and when they multiply, they ruin the neighborhood. That neighborhood was dinner. Some bacteria themselves can be dangerous when ingested. In high enough concentration these bacteria can overwhelm our bodies defenses and cause damage.  Normally, however,  it is the by-products of their existence that are the problem. The by-products cause bad smell, bad taste, or sliminess.  These are the signs of bacteria running rampant in our food. In addition to the effects we can see, there are also effects that are hard to see.   Poisons.  They can be harmful to us in many ways but the main thing to remember is that the poisons can be fatal and they are not always detectable.

Do spoilage bacteria make people sick?
Most people would not choose to eat spoiled food. However, if they did, they probably would not get sick.

Pathogenic bacteria cause illness. They grow rapidly in the “Danger Zone” – the temperatures between 40 and 140 °F – and do not generally affect the taste, smell, or appearance of food. Food that is left too long at unsafe temperatures could be dangerous to eat, but smell and look just fine. E. coli O157:H7, Campylobacter, and Salmonella are examples of pathogenic bacteria.

From the USDA Website

Whether bacteria ruins the flavor or is producing poisons it is something you want to avoid.  Cooking food properly will kill the bacteria, but if they have been in high enough concentration, the by-products, (poison) are left behind to do their damage.  So proper food handling is important to prevent spoilage or illness from bacteria.  Keep the food cool, this slows the growth of the little buggers.  Freezing brings their growth to a near halt.

Another culprit in the food spoilage campaign we are engaged in is Mold.  These organisms are larger than bacteria (bacteria is a single cell organism and molds are multi-cellular) but thrive in the similar conditions.  Some molds are poisonous wile others are benign.  We are in the fungus family. (Yes, mold is related to mushrooms) In general, mold in soft or moist foods should send the food to the trash.  Mold in hard foods like cheese or dry salami can be trimmed.  Also, if you are dealing with small pieces, like jerky, even though it is hard and can be fairly dry, it should still be tossed, out of caution.  The higher the moisture content, the sooner mold will steal your snack.  Sealing these foods away from air helps stop molds but in a airless environment you can get growth that looks like mold but can be a persistent bacteria.  Either way sealing meat away from air is not a solution by itself.  A thorough sterilization process would have to be applied to avoid molds and bacterial growth, even in an airless environment.  Cool temps are a good way to thwart the pesky mold and those nasty preservatives that so many people are afraid of are also helpful in keeping mold at bay.

So, keeping food in the fridge or freezer should do it right!  Wrong!  There is another culprit that lurks in the shadows.  It’ slower than the others I have written about but it’s all around us.  It’s Air!  Or more specifically Oxygen.  It’s the old we can’t live without it and we can’t live with it gag.  Oxygen is always burning everything it touches.  It is the source of rust and other oxidation around us.  Given enough time, oxygen spoils food too.  You know its fingerprints well.  They manifest themselves in several ways.  Rancid meat or butter is caused as a result of oxygen.  If you have a piece of meat for example that has little bacteria on it and you keep it in the fridge for a while somehow keeping the bacteria and mold away but exposed to the air, you will see in a few weeks the flavor turn rancid. Especially the fat portions.

An example more people are familiar with today is out of the freezer.  You put a cut of meat in a freezer bag and toss it into the freezer for a year long voyage.  On it’s arrival on the menu in your house, you find it is a little worse for wear.  Like it really went on a voyage around the world and put its time in as a fill in for the spare tire.  It is a frosty white color but you go forward with plans for dinner defrosting the well traveled steak or roast not wanting to waste a good meal over its having shown up in inappropriate attire.  After the careful thaw you notice an unpleasant odor coming from the long anticipated dinner guest.  Not wanting to be rude you insert the guest into its place of honor in you recipe only to discover the odor getting worse.  Kind of an old shoe leather odor but without the nostalgic memories.  You take a sample of the dinner, only to discover your recipe has been ruined by the apparent world traveler.  It’s not your guest’s fault.  It’s simply a case of a gate crasher beating you to the punch.  Freezer Burn ate dinner before you thawed it out, leaving spoiled meat in its path.  Freezer burn is oxidation that occurs in those low temperature conditions in the freezer.  It isn’t that it is dangerous, it’s just  distasteful and will give you an upset stomach.  Where you see it, trim away the burned portions and the rest will be alright.  The flavor from the unburned portioned may be a bit lackluster but it won’t be harmful or make anyone sick.  You just have to be sure to get it all trimmed off.

The way to protect your future dinner guests is to vacuum pack the meat if you plan to keep it in the freezer more than 2 months.  Vacuum packing pulls all the air out and seals the meat away.  This combined with freezing will preserve the meat for months or even years if done correctly.

Pressure Canning is another process that stands the test of time, with regard to these villains of good taste.  If the product is canned properly and the jars of goodies are kept in a cool spot (like a pantry or fruit cellar) the scale can be measured in years.

If a person is going to use a cut in 6 months to a year butcher wrap will work fine.

I guess the best advice I could give is invest the time to store it right and it will be ready when you need it.  Also, if it smells or looks wrong, be wary.  Don’t just throw it into a recipe for dinner to be served to your 90 year old Granny.  (Yeah, I know, you knew that already)  Test it on an annoying neighbor first.  Yes that was a joke, but don’t tell your neighbor.

Have a great day and a great meal.

Read Full Post »

What could be worse than finding a cut of meat you had big plans for is partially or totally spoiled?

You weren’t supposed to bring a list, it was a rhetorical question.

Whether it makes your top list of worst disappointments or not, it’s certainly not what we bargain for when we pick up a cut from the meat case.

I thought it would be a little helpful to write about what causes spoilage so that you would have an idea of what to look for and how to prevent the early demise of hard earned dinner ingredients.

The first culprit is the one most likely to take food off your dinner menu. Bacteria. These microorganisms are everywhere looking for a free meal.  It should also be mentioned that we are chocked full of beneficial bacteria.  Some types of bacteria are harmful and sometimes high levels of, otherwise harmless, bacteria can cause problems for us.  So how do we keep the harmful bacteria away from our food. The main thing to remember about bacteria is that they like what you like.

  • moisture
  • temperate or warm climate
  • lots of light

Sounds like we could find them at the beach in California or Florida.

In all seriousness though, at room temperature (or a little above) bacteria are very happy, when they get happy they multiply quickly, and when they multiply, they ruin the neighborhood. That neighborhood was dinner. Some bacteria themselves can be dangerous when ingested. In high enough concentration these bacteria can overwhelm our bodies defenses and cause damage.  Normally, however,  it is the by-products of their existence that are the problem. The by-products cause bad smell, bad taste, or sliminess.  These are the signs of bacteria running rampant in our food. In addition to the effects we can see, there are also effects that are hard to see.   Poisons.  They can be harmful to us in many ways but the main thing to remember is that the poisons can be fatal and they are not always detectable.

Do spoilage bacteria make people sick?
Most people would not choose to eat spoiled food. However, if they did, they probably would not get sick.

Pathogenic bacteria cause illness. They grow rapidly in the “Danger Zone” – the temperatures between 40 and 140 °F – and do not generally affect the taste, smell, or appearance of food. Food that is left too long at unsafe temperatures could be dangerous to eat, but smell and look just fine. E. coli O157:H7, Campylobacter, and Salmonella are examples of pathogenic bacteria.

From the USDA Website

Whether bacteria ruins the flavor or is producing poisons it is something you want to avoid.  Cooking food properly will kill the bacteria, but if they have been in high enough concentration, the by-products, (poison) are left behind to do their damage.  So proper food handling is important to prevent spoilage or illness from bacteria.  Keep the food cool, this slows the growth of the little buggers.  Freezing brings their growth to a near halt.

Another culprit in the food spoilage campaign we are engaged in is Mold.  These organisms are larger than bacteria (bacteria is a single cell organism and molds are multi-cellular) but thrive in the similar conditions.  Some molds are poisonous wile others are benign.  We are in the fungus family. (Yes, mold is related to mushrooms) In general, mold in soft or moist foods should send the food to the trash.  Mold in hard foods like cheese or dry salami can be trimmed.  Also, if you are dealing with small pieces, like jerky, even though it is hard and can be fairly dry, it should still be tossed, out of caution.  The higher the moisture content, the sooner mold will steal your snack.  Sealing these foods away from air helps stop molds but in a airless environment you can get growth that looks like mold but can be a persistent bacteria.  Either way sealing meat away from air is not a solution by itself.  A thorough sterilization process would have to be applied to avoid molds and bacterial growth, even in an airless environment.  Cool temps are a good way to thwart the pesky mold and those nasty preservatives that so many people are afraid of are also helpful in keeping mold at bay.

So, keeping food in the fridge or freezer should do it right!  Wrong!  There is another culprit that lurks in the shadows.  It’ slower than the others I have written about but it’s all around us.  It’s Air!  Or more specifically Oxygen.  It’s the old we can’t live without it and we can’t live with it gag.  Oxygen is always burning everything it touches.  It is the source of rust and other oxidation around us.  Given enough time, oxygen spoils food too.  You know its fingerprints well.  They manifest themselves in several ways.  Rancid meat or butter is caused as a result of oxygen.  If you have a piece of meat for example that has little bacteria on it and you keep it in the fridge for a while somehow keeping the bacteria and mold away but exposed to the air, you will see in a few weeks the flavor turn rancid. Especially the fat portions.

An example more people are familiar with today is out of the freezer.  You put a cut of meat in a freezer bag and toss it into the freezer for a year long voyage.  On it’s arrival on the menu in your house, you find it is a little worse for wear.  Like it really went on a voyage around the world and put its time in as a fill in for the spare tire.  It is a frosty white color but you go forward with plans for dinner defrosting the well traveled steak or roast not wanting to waste a good meal over its having shown up in inappropriate attire.  After the careful thaw you notice an unpleasant odor coming from the long anticipated dinner guest.  Not wanting to be rude you insert the guest into its place of honor in you recipe only to discover the odor getting worse.  Kind of an old shoe leather odor but without the nostalgic memories.  You take a sample of the dinner, only to discover your recipe has been ruined by the apparent world traveler.  It’s not your guest’s fault.  It’s simply a case of a gate crasher beating you to the punch.  Freezer Burn ate dinner before you thawed it out, leaving spoiled meat in its path.  Freezer burn is oxidation that occurs in those low temperature conditions in the freezer.  It isn’t that it is dangerous, it’s just  distasteful and will give you an upset stomach.  Where you see it, trim away the burned portions and the rest will be alright.  The flavor from the unburned portioned may be a bit lackluster but it won’t be harmful or make anyone sick.  You just have to be sure to get it all trimmed off.

The way to protect your future dinner guests is to vacuum pack the meat if you plan to keep it in the freezer more than 2 months.  Vacuum packing pulls all the air out and seals the meat away.  This combined with freezing will preserve the meat for months or even years if done correctly.

Pressure Canning is another process that stands the test of time, with regard to these villains of good taste.  If the product is canned properly and the jars of goodies are kept in a cool spot (like a pantry or fruit cellar) the scale can be measured in years.

If a person is going to use a cut in 6 months to a year butcher wrap will work fine.

I guess the best advice I could give is invest the time to store it right and it will be ready when you need it.  Also, if it smells or looks wrong, be wary.  Don’t just throw it into a recipe for dinner to be served to your 90 year old Granny.  (Yeah, I know, you knew that already)  Test it on an annoying neighbor first.  Yes that was a joke, but don’t tell your neighbor.

Have a great day and a great meal.

Read Full Post »