The Occasional Recipe Review

I’m starting a new thing up on the blog here: a review of new recipes–or at least recipes that are new to me and my family.

Let me explain. You see, I’m easily bored of the same old routine, so I spend some time every week on a few cooking sites clipping recipes with the fabulous Evernote Web Clipper plug-in. Once the recipes are in Evernote, I’ll massage and edit them a bit, sort them into the proper category and tags, and hopefully not forget them.

But for the last several months, I’ve tried to make my cooking life easier and more varied by planning out the menu in two-week blocks. This serves two purposes: with everyone going different directions on different nights (Patrick working some nights of the week and not others, and Jenni and I having evening activities on a regular basis) this planning helps me make sure I can cook what people might like, and it makes the bi-weekly hunt-and-gather at Costco and Cub more efficient. But after doing this for a while and digging into the same pile of 20 or 30 standard recipes, I get bored and feel uninspired. And then I hate cooking.

And I don’t like hating to cook.

So I figured I could review these new recipes and give you all the links to find them out there on the world-wide interwebs.

First up (though not first up in the list of new recipes I’ve tried…I’ll have to come back to some of those later) is a two-fer: Honey garlic chicken and mini twice-baked potatoes.

I love bone-in chicken thighs. They’re rich, flavorful, much more properly sized than a chicken breast, and the bonus is that they can make the basis of a killer roasted chicken soup in the colder months. So part of the appeal of the honey garlic chicken recipe is that it’s really designed for chicken thighs and drumsticks, but the rest of the appeal is its simplicity.

I followed the recipe exactly, with two drumsticks and six thighs, but instead of cooking in the oven, I cooked them on a charcoal grill.

While initially, you might think that only 3 tablespoons of honey and one tablespoon of brown sugar won’t possibly overcome 4 mashed cloves of garlic and some mashed onion, I found that it’s just about the right amount, though I might make slightly more the next time for a better toss after pulling them off the grill–by the time they were done, there wasn’t much more than a thin film left in the bowl, though I did coat them twice while they were on the grill.

The sauce is pleasant–surprisingly not overly sweet, with only a minimal hint of the garlic–though I’d add just an extra pinch of salt over everything at the end, depending on how well you salted the meat before cooking. If you did a good job prior to cooking and let the salt soak in a bit, then you should be fine. But it’s tasty and different enough to not be mistaken for just salt and pepper seasoned roasted chicken.

I’ll be adding this to the rotation and trying it again sometime.

The second recipe is a slam dunk around here, where potatoes are strongly favored, and twice-baked potatoes are perhaps the pinnacle of the potato hierarchy. I do twice-baked potatoes on a regular basis here, and when I do them, it’s in quantity, so that there are leftovers that could be frozen, but they frequently don’t make it past a few days in the fridge before being devoured.

But these mini twice-baked potatoes appealed to me partially because they’re kind of cute and elegant, simply because of their size. And frankly, “cute” and “tiny” seemed to be the prevailing squeal of delight when the family saw them at dinner.

I loosely followed this recipe, replacing half of the sour cream with cream cheese, adding an egg, removing the herbs, and using a blend of cheddar and parmesan cheese in the mixture. And instead of mashing, I used my potato ricer, which I’ve found makes for a much better, fluffier, and lighter filling for twice-baked potatoes than a filling that has been mashed or mixed with a hand mixer.

The reviews were what I expected from a twice-baked potato: Zoe ate 4 of them plus the small cup of extra filling that didn’t fit into the potato shells (normally, she’ll have 2 full-sized twice-baked potatoes at a sitting), so that is quite the endorsement. The nice addition here over standard russets is the use of the yukon gold potatoes, which makes the filling that much richer and less starchy.

Obviously, I’ll also be using this recipe again.

In the picture above, you can see a honey garlic chicken thigh, one mini twice-baked potato, and some purple and golden beets that were cooked in a foil packet on the grill with salt, pepper and olive oil.

Social Justice

Eggs of Justice

I can never complain that my family lacks passion for causes they support. They get angry, voice their opinions quite eloquently, and generally have strong, deeply held, well-reasoned views on those causes.

And as each of them has grown up, they’ve adopted more and more causes. Which ultimately is a good thing: apathy is crap. It makes me proud that they’re able to form these opinions so well on their own. And that they’re willing to support their causes in spite of what kind of social headwinds the world might through at them.

So now that the girls are in high school, I suppose I should have realized that one or both of them would find some cause that spoke to them. And I suppose I should have known that cause would affect me in some concrete way.

The latest is the result of a video Hannah saw in class. It talked about conditions at chicken and egg farms. And it grabbed her attention.

The upshot is this: I am now buying, whenever possible, cage-free and antibiotic-free eggs and chicken products. And I’ve pushed that to include similarly raised beef. All because it’s an important issue to Hannah and I want to let her know that I support her views and the issue itself.

Now, I’m not complaining (at least about Hannah’s stand on the issue), but for those who haven’t strolled down aisle of the meat section of their grocery store or haven’t looked at the comparative prices for, say, a family pack of “normal” chicken breasts and a similar pack of cage-free and antibiotic-free organic chicken breasts (hereafter referred to as “happy chicken”), you won’t realize that it’s close to twice as expensive for the happy chicken as it is for the non-happy chicken.

And I’m still trying to figure out whether the organic chicken packs I can get at Costco comply with the requirements of the diet. Because nothing is as confusing as food labeling.

As I’ve learned with the gluten-free diet, food labeling is a morass of confusion and stupidity, all wrapped in an incoherent shell of hyperbole. It is the perfect intersection of marketing speak and governmental regulation.

I’m discovering that I’m just starting to learn this whole new language…

Like organic means that the chickens are feed organic feed and don’t get antibiotics unless medically necessary starting the day after they hatch. It also means that they aren’t necessarily cage-free or free range, rather that they have to be provided with access to the outdoors, though there aren’t any regulations for how much access they should have and how big the space outdoors needs to be.

Cage-free apparently isn’t a thing, as all chickens are cage-free. At least the ones raised for meat.

Free range means the chickens can go outside. Like for a walk, or to watch this week’s solar eclipse.

So, I get to read more labels when shopping. I already read for gluten-free products, I read for diabetic-friendly products. And now I’ll read for free range cage-free happy chicken.