THE Best Chicken Fingers

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Once in a blue moon I cook something amazing that even blows my own mind. Once in a blue moon I’ll share my recipe here, although it’s unfortunate that I can’t take 100% credit for it.

One of my friends, Colin, made something similar a few months back and I couldn’t find the recipe from MensHealth so I just rolled with it, hoping it works out, and did it ever.

Not only is this recipe the best (for real, you won’t need to look elsewhere for chicken finger recipes), it’s dead easy too. All you need to do is take the following ingredients to marinate the chicken strips overnight. Preferably cut the strips relatively thin so that they cook easier.

Dijon mustard (the ones with seeds) – I don’t know how many chicken breasts you’re working with but essentially you want to apply a liberal amount of this baby all over that baby.

Lemon juice. Don’t go overboard. For each chicken breast, maybe 3-4 drops will do.

Dried rosemary. Again, just a little bit ’cause you don’t want it to be overpowering. The dijon mustard is key.

Black pepper. 

4 ingredients people. Unless you want to add a bit of salt, but you definitely won’t need it because the seasoned bread crumbs are so flavourful already.

The next day, take a piece of aluminum foil and fold it in half. This is is more advantageous in serving as a platform for bread-crumbing your chicken than using any other equipment (e.g. cutting board, bowl, kitchen counter) for a couple of reasons. One, it’s disaposable, no washing and no salmonella residue. Two, you can fold the foil onto the chicken to cover all the meaty crevices better instead of, say, using your chicken to dip into the crumbs. And you’re not likely to waste any bread crumbs for that reason. Anyway, I over-analyzed this way too much, but what the fuck else am I suppose to write about? This recipe is too straight-forward.

Stage 2.

Stage 2.

NEXT, prepare a hot pan of vegetable oil on medium-low heat. You don’t want the heat too high otherwise it will burn the outside before it looks inside. It will probably take a couple of minutes on each side.

Serve it with some plum sauce!! SO. GOOD. and tender.

🙂

Stuff it good!

Stuffing food is great fun, it’s capable of sealing in a lot of food and flavours into a pocket that is, guess what, made out of more food. Get a grasp of this: you don’t need to bend over backwards in order to make something delicious. Exhibit A: strawberry stuffed cheesecake.

What fascinates me about stuffed foods: it’s kind of like eating an oreo. We all love it when life gives us options. You can (try) force the whole thing in your mouth, you can eat the cookie part first, or the filling! Whatever tickles your fancy. There are no rules. In a way, stuffed food brings out the kid in me.

It reminds me of this commercial…

Anyways…

Bite sized strawberry cheesecake

Unfortunately, I can’t take credit for this recipe. I googled it. I can briefly walk you through the steps. It was ingeniously simple and stupidly time-consuming.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, the most time consuming part goes into carving out the centre of the strawberries. Tip: buy mutant large strawberries. The bigger the better in this case. Screw the “motion of the ocean” attitude. It really does make your life easier if you’re able to carve out a decent sized cavity without demolishing the sides.

So, you will need: Philadelphia cream cheese (light for me), softened. 1 tsp vanilla extract, about 2 tbsp confectioner’s sugar (adjust to taste), and crushed graham crackers (optional).

After all of the strawberries have been carved, whip the cream cheese, vanilla extract and confectioner’s sugar using a hand mixer until smooth. Yup, that’s pretty much the basis of all cheesecakes that you get at stores and restaurants. If they can do it, so can you!

Using a zip lock bag, I snipped the corner and spooned the filling inside. You know what to do next! For the complete cheesecake look, sprinkle crushed graham crackers on top.

For about 2 dozen strawberries… it took me around half an hour with my sister’s help (she carved most of it… muahaha).

May I now introduce you to my newfound love. Stuffed mushrooms, ladies and gentlemen.

After making the stuffed strawberries, I was really getting into the stuffing groove. I knew that mushrooms are awesome stuffers…because you can find “Stuffer Mushrooms” at the supermarket.

If you are a mushroom lover like me (we all love a fun-guy. Haha.. that one hasn’t gotten old for me yet), you need to try this.

I still consider this recipe pretty simple. I mean, unlike the strawberries, you will need more than 2 ingredients, but I promise it’s going to rock your taste buds.

What I used for the stuffing:

  • Handful of chives. Chopped
  • Spring onions. Chopped.
  • Garlic. Chopped.
  • Bacon. Cut into small pieces. (Easier to deal with if it’s partially frozen)
  • Mushroom stems. Finely chopped.
  • Bread crumbs. The Italian seasoned ones are the best!
  • Chili powder or red pepper flakes (optional)
  • Salt and pepper of course

Firstly, you need to clean and de-stem the mushrooms and lay the caps on a baking tray. Remember to save the stems! Bake it for about 7 minutes at 400F. The purpose of this is to extract as much of the juices so the end product doesn’t get soggy. When that’s out of the oven, lay them right side up on paper towels.

Sautee onions and garlic in just a tad of olive oil on medium heat. Add the bacon and cook for 10 minutes. The longer the crispier the better!

Then I added chives and mushroom stems and cooked for 5-7 minutes more. Seasoned it with some chili powder, pepper and a pinch of salt. When I say a ‘pinch’, I really mean ½ teaspoon to 1 teaspoon. You know sometimes on TV how they throw in a good handful of salt as if saying that’s the correct definition of “a pinch?” Maybe I missed a website called foodurbandictionary.com but I normally try to cut down on as much of that stuff as I can; especially in this recipe where the bacon is already salty.

When you’re ready, remove from heat and stir in a liberal amount of bread crumbs. It’s important that you don’t cook the bread crumbs on the stove as it will burn.

Start stuffing the mushrooms! Grate some parmesan cheese on top and bake in the oven at 400F for 8-10 minutes. It’s good isn’t it?

My third dish…

Was a disaster.

It was mostly out of curiosity when watching Chef at Home one day. I am not at all against the combination of sweet and savoury. I believe that some things that wouldn’t normally SEEM to go well together can surprise me. So, I really wanted the idea of apples and pork to impress me. It was just not appealing in my mind. Nonetheless, I was excited to give it a real shot…

*sigh*

Essentially, I caramelized the apples and onions in olive oil and apple cider vinegar. Seasoned with rosemary, a bit of thyme, salt and pepper, and a dash of soy sauce. There were pieces of garlic in there somewhere too.

I marinated two slices of pork center loin and seared it in the pan on both sides. Instead of cutting a pocket out of a thick slice because that’s not the kind I bought, I sort of folded a pocket out of it and they were secured with toothpicks. I stuffed it and put it in the oven for 5-7 minutes at 400F.

I did not like it for a few reasons:

#1: Apples and pork did not impress or surprise me. It tasted just as unappealing as I had imagined.

#2: Meat was tough.

#3: I should have saved the apples for an apple crumble.

Say ‘Spanakopitas’ 10 times fast

This entry is inspired by the best Greek cuisine experience I have had to date. Two of my friends (Colin and Jimena) took me to a local restaurant a few weeks back called Mediterraneo. Although I responded with a slight skepticism at their suggestion initially, I would be batshit crazy to say ‘no’ to Greek food after that meal.

Spanakopitas are great appetizers but I find that they can be quite filling. Once you’ve had one, there’s no stopping!

You will only need a few ingredients, but of course, feel free to get creative with the filling.

First and foremost:

  • Filo/phyllo dough. If anyone tries to convince you that it’s pronounced “PHY-LOW” and not “FEE-LOW”, their name is most likely Colin. And he’s wrong (haha). You can buy filo at your local grocery store usually in the freezer section by the other frozen garbag-I mean–pastries. (p.s. if you’re skilled enough, you can try making your own filo. I am just not at that level yet)
  • Pastry brush
  • 1/4 cup of butter, melted. (You can substitute with cooking oil for this step. See instructions below)

For the filling I kept it simple because it was my first time doing it, and also I was going for the “less is more” philosophy.

  • Spinach
  • Feta cheese, crumbled. Try to get the low salt low fat kind. It still has a high salt content, trust me. I did not need to add ANY extra salt. The amount of cheese you need depends on how much you plan on making. Usually 1-2 blocks is enough for 3 handfuls of spinach.
  • 1 onion, chopped.
  • 3 cloves of garlic, chopped.
  • 1 Tablespoon of olive oil
  • Black pepper, ground
  • Salt (if you need to)
  • If you love the heat, red pepper flakes would complement the spinach well I hear. By the way, what’s your favourite herb/spice? And what do you use it in? 🙂

Let’s make some spanananakopitas!

Firstly, be sure to thaw filo in the fridge for a few hours before using.

Honestly, I don’t have a lot to walk you through the filling step. Sautee the onions and garlic on medium heat. Once that’s nice and brown, throw in the spinach and some black pepper and watch it wilt. BAM. Done. (Unless you had your own spices to add)

Let it cool then crumble the cheese in there and mix.

Here’s fun part:

Carefully lay one sheet of filo on a large cutting board. Have the pastry brush and melted butter (or veggie oil) ready. I opted for veggie oil for this step as it contains less saturated fats.

So basically you want to wet the filo with the oil but not soak it. Emphasize on the edges by making outward strokes.

Then, take another sheet of filo and lay it on top of the other. Do the same to that layer with the oil.

Now, get out a knife and cut it into four equal strips. I cut it into 3 at first but the spanakopitas looked like they were on steroids. Put a spoonful of the filling at the end of the strip and take one of the bottom corners and fold over to the other side.

Keep folding…

don’t start slackin’!

Look at that sexy triangle. Secure the flappy edge with oil to prevent it from falling apart in the oven.

Once you are about half-way through the batch, preheat the oven to 350F. Place the spanakopitas on a tray in the middle rack when you are all done. Set the timer to 30 min. It will probably take longer (maybe 45min) but I like to keep an eye on it so I take it out right when it starts to glow that golden brown colour.

Don't mind the burnt spilled filling. It happens!

Next time I will add some chopped dill and red pepper flakes to the filling. Spinach and cheese is an epic combination for comfort food. Enjoy!

Christmas tart

Ready for Christmas!

Thanks to my sister and Najin for having enough patience to cut and arrange the fruits on top! It is actually my least favourite part. I know this because I had to make another one the following week all by myself and boy is it tedious (especially peeling those kiwis). Even though the end result is totally worth it 😛

It’s not as complicated as it looks. I can assure you it’s a piece of cake (I had to).

For the tart shell you will need:

  • 1 1/2 cup of all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup of butter. Slightly softened.
  • 1/2 cup of confectioner’s sugar
  • Veggie oil (optional)

For the filling:

  • About 150g of white/milk chocolate chips (you can add more or less depends on how sweet you like it)
  • One package of Philadelphia cream cheese (I like using the light version. It’s better for you and I barely taste the difference)
  • 1/4 cup of whipping cream (18% cream worked for me too but it made the filling taste more like cheesecake)

For the topping:

  • Use any fruits you desire!

For the glaze:

  • 2 tsp cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons of white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
  • A “splash” of white wine (you can substitute with more lemon juice or leftover canned pineapple juice if you’re using pineapples for the topping. I got a little booze happy during Christmas though 🙂 )

Let’s get started:

Note: You can make the tart shell and slice up your fruits days ahead of time and store it in the fridge until ready to assemble and eat. This is very helpful if you’re on a tight schedule especially during the holidays.

  1. Preheat oven to 300F. In a mixing bowl, use your hands to mix confectioners sugar and butter until light and fluffy. I like using room temperature butter for this. Microwave the butter for about 10-12 seconds if it was refrigerated.
  2. Slowly add in the flour. It might be easier to do this on a board instead of a bowl. You really need to work it in with your hands. One way I can usually tell if it’s moist enough is when you grab a chunk of it in your fist. If it doesn’t crumble when you let go then it is ready to be molded into the tart pan! If it’s too dry, a bit of veggie oil will do the trick. Be careful not to go overboard with it.

    Have patience for this step! 🙂

  3. Place it on the middle rack in the oven for about 25min or until light brown. Then let it cool. If you want to store it in the fridge make sure you cling wrap the hell out of it!
  4. For the filling, empty the chocolate chips into a heat proof bowl and position it on top of a saucepan of simmering water at medium heat. Stir until melted.
  5. You will need a hand-held electric mixer for this step. Hulk-like biceps and a strong whisk would work too if you can’t afford the former. Add the cream cheese chunks at a time to the chocolate and beat until smooth and uniform. Then add the whipping cream and give it some more action until fluffy! Spread the mixture into the crust.
  6. Arrange the fruits on top in any pattern you like. Almost done!
  7. For the glaze, heat the lemon juice, sugar and corn starch on medium low heat stirring gently with a whisk. Add the wine and bring it to a bubbling thickened mixture. Remove from heat as soon as it’s boiling otherwise you will be cooking off a lot of the alcohol. Coat the fruits with a pastry brush once it’s cooled.
  8. Don’t say “just a sliver”. It’s Christmas! Enjoy a big piece 🙂

Note: This recipe is a derivation of Claire Darby’s creation on All Recipes.com

Bucket list

  1. Start a blog
  2. Eat a coconut macaron
  3. Make macarons (doesn’t look like an easy task but I can’t wait to try it!)
  4. Pick a coconut off the tree with my bare hands (who knows when that will happen)
  5. Make a fondant covered cake from scratch
  6. Make kimchi
  7. Make pho
  8. Meet an iron chef. Preferably Morimoto. (Not a fan of Flay’s attitude)
  9. Meet Jamie Oliver (this list is looking very ambitious, I know. But you gotta dream big!)
  10. Eat something from “The Best Thing I Ever Ate/Made” (WARNING: Do not watch this show at night, or you’ll be wiping saliva off your face before you even fall asleep)
  11. Master a rockin’ mussels dish (without the need to turn it into a pasta instead)
  12. Participate in a cook-off (hit me up if you’re down for a challenge!)
  13. Open a bakery

JUST DO IT

Cooking with mussels; story of a big fail

I’ve never been a huge fan of mussels. My dad used to use them in congee amongst other pungent ingredients that I won’t (don’t want to) get into. Despite my admiration for his culinary creativity, it also turned me away from even the slightest smell of mussels for several years.

For those of you who are not familiar with congee. (Courtesy of google images)

Very long side note: Congee is a very common savoury asian dish. Basically, it is a bowl of watery white rice that’s comparable to porridge. Personally, the BEST type of congee needs to have pork, pidan (preserved quail eggs), and spring onions (no mussels! Sorry dad); not just rice. Of course, there are other varieties of congee too, but if you want to try it for the first time, take my recommendation. I wouldn’t lie to ya 😉
It typically goes well with a side dish such as preserved tofu, zhacai (pickled vegetable), or salted duck eggs (my grandmother used to scold me for neglecting the egg whites. The yolk is the key boys and girls. No matter what you do to eggs). I’ve had a few friends in the past who asked me what Chinese people eat for breakfast. At first, I was kind of stumped. Having moved to Canada 15 years ago, I am now so accustomed to having toast and cereal that I couldn’t remember what I ate for breakfast everyday as a kid!? Embarrassing. Well, if you’re still wondering, congee is a very popular food we eat for breakfast. In fact, we can have it at any time of the day during any meal. Now, try ordering french toast for dinner at a local restaurant without the waiter giving you weird looks.

Let’s get back to my mussels experiment.

It wasn’t until just a few days ago that I have had my first VERY tasty mussel experience at a local restaurant that left me aching to go home and recreate the dish. What’s even more impressive was the fact that this place is primarily known as a café. The sauce was a tomato base infused in garlic oil. Sounds simple enough right? The taste was much more complex. It had just the right amount of tanginess and heat at the perfect consistency in a pool of flavours. When I was finished scraping out the last piece of meat in that shell, oh no it did not end there! I had half a bowl of leftover sauce to dip my bread in.

Heaven in my mouth.

I hurried home to google the closest (or what sounded like) top rated recipe, and got the gist of how to do this. At this point I am super pumped to try it myself!

Venturing back from the grocery store couple of days later, I emptied about 1lb of mussels into a large bowl and rinsed it under water. Each one was scrubbed and de-bearded with a knife.

I sautéed some chopped onions and 5 cloves of garlic in a spoonful of butter on medium heat.  Added about a tablespoon of olive oil once the butter had completely melted in order to prevent it from burning. After about 2 minutes or so, I threw in a handful of chopped parsley and a touch of salt and pepper. This is what I really enjoy about cooking as opposed to baking; eye-balling ingredients, having temperature control from beginning to end, and knowing that sometimes, it can be reversed/fixed should I screw up. It is the one place I can count on where I do not need to follow things to the T.

Steaming up my camera! I did not take this one from google, as you can probably tell.

Here comes my favourite part. I dump about a third of my carton (man, “carton” just does not sound as sophisticated as “bottle”) of white wine into the pot and mix everything around on medium low heat. A pinch of dry red chilli powder and about a third of my chopped hot green pepper goes into the concoction.

I taste the broth and there is not enough of a “kick”. I grab my chilli powder and tried to carefully shake a little bit of it into the pot. Unfortunately, there was a clump about the size of a dime (10 cents for you Aussies) that I did not see and in that goes too! Now it is way too spicy and my mouth was on the verge of flames! I tried to reverse the damage by dumping two ladlefuls of broth down the sink and diluted it with more wine. At this point, I added the mussels and popped the lid on. Mussels only take 3-5 minutes to open up and although tempting, it is not recommended to cook them longer.

Waiting for the shells to open miraculously

One rule for mussels: Chuck the opened ones before cooking and chuck the unopened ones after cooking. I know it’s common sense, but just thought I had to throw it out there in case somebody tries to bust out a hammer on the ones that refused to open.

The End!……..?

Once I had served the mussels, a crucial realization punched me in the face. My garlic tomato mussels did not have any tomatoes! What a huge fail! 😦 Annnnnd of course there are none in the fridge. Fortunately the mussels turned out delicious with the broth I just created mistakenly. It was a hairline too spicy for my taste… But wait a second… *lighbulb!* I can use this broth to bake a seafood pasta dish the next day!

Again, I return from the grocery store the following day with cream, spinach and tomatoes.

I reheat the broth on the stove, added chopped tomatoes, then spinach and watched it wilt to one tenth of its original size.

Looks messy but it’s really starting to become a pasta sauce!

I pour in the cream in increments until the desired creaminess has been reached. This also reduced the intensity of the spice. I grated some cheddar to give it more flavour and texture. Once I have finally established the perfect taste (for me anyway), I sifted all-purpose flour to thicken the sauce.

Everything else beyond this point is self-explanatory (also, I forgot to take a picture of the pasta. Fail #2). I grated more cheese on top of the pasta and shoved it in the oven at 350F for about half an hour or until you get that fantastic golden cheesy crust on the sides. There we have it, seafood pasta bake. Failure of one thing leads to the success of another. This is not to say that I will not give the mussels another go one day. But for now, bon appetite!

I’m done exams, time to bake!

It’s my first day back at it after exams. It felt SO nice to be able to unwind again in the kitchen. No more flipping through endless notes, drinking what seemed like a bottomless pit of coffee and yet still somehow managing to walk around like a zombie. I lost 6lbs and haven’t done any type of physical activity for over a month! (do we really burn calories from straining our brains?) Except walking to the library, to my exam, and back to the library from my exam.

What actually gave me that kick-start in the kitchen again was the idea of combining pumpkin and coconut as two main ingredients. I can never get enough of coconuts. Whether it is used in curry, hand lotion, scented candles, or just drinking pure coconut water. It is definitely a fruit that hits my soft spot every time. I love the aroma, the subtle sweetness with a creamy aftertaste. Nothing can compare. Pumpkins on the other hand, can be repulsive looking and smelling when raw but I quickly learned that once it is used in baking, it could be transformed into something impressive. Not to mention it adds a moist texture, which is preferable in some types of baked goods, such as muffins. Okay, here’s my experiment.

Keep in mind that I had no recipe to go by, just blindly mixing ingredients together.  You’re probably seriously questioning my baking skills right about now (or lack there of) judging by that big clump of mess in the photo and the fact that I am using a pair of chopsticks to mix that batter; “did you lose your whisk!?” you might ask. I cannot explain that ugly chunk of dough because as great as it FEELS to be back in the kitchen, I am rusty as a nail. Now, with the chopsticks…

I think this was at the point where I started to realize my batter was too dry.

*tick tock tick tock*

I don’t even want to get into how long that took me

The last bit of it. *chucks whisk over shoulder*

Moral of the story: do not underestimate chopsticks. A lot of times I prefer to use them when I’m cooking (less often when baking) instead of other utensils. I can stir/mix with them, I can easily pick stuff up with them, it doesn’t make an awful scratching noise at the bottom of pots and pans, it doesn’t get too hot to touch after a while AND it’s impossible to lose (how irritating is it when we let go of a spoon or fork for a second and it drowns in the pot of boiling soup?).

Let’s just see how this turns out. Topping each muffin (or icing-less cupcake if you will) with frozen berries. Blackberries, raspberries, blueberries oh my!

Ready for the oven!

Looking non-disastrous so far. By the way, I really need to get a muffin tray that has smaller sized holes so that they do not expand outwards as much in the oven.

…The aftermath

My muffins bled and tasted too bland. E for Effort…?

Deedee’s “redemption”

You can probably sense a little bit of frustration, eagerness, with a hint of perseverance from this photo. When the chopsticks failed, I had to bring out the big guns.

Although the second batch turned out slightly better than the first, it was a taaaad too moist for my liking. Having experienced both ends of the spectrum in terms of moisture content in today’s amateur baking session, I have gathered -and learned- several points about muffins:

#1: Wet ingredients go in one bowl. Dry ingredients in another. Add wet to dry.

#2: Think “fold” rather than “mix” when adding wet ingredients. Don’t over-mix. Walk away even if you see clumps.

#3: Pumpkin and coconut do not go well together. Perhaps a lime coconut experiment next time!

#4: I have a LOT to learn