Chicken in a Basil Cream Sauce

On December 16, 2009, in Recipes, by Chris Baccus

This is a rather simple and quick dinner that people will think took a long time to make. The total preparation and cooking time is about 30-40 minutes. What is nice about the dish is the blend of the Parmesan Cheese and chopped Basil. Fresh basil is definitely required for this dish as it is a key ingredient and probably wouldn’t work very will with a dried herb substitute.

Chicken in a Basil Cream Sauce
Serves 4

1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup dried bread crumbs
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 (4 ounce) jar sliced pimento peppers, drained
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

1. Place milk and bread crumbs in separate, shallow bowls. In skillet, heat butter or margarine to medium heat. Dip chicken in milk, then coat with crumbs. Cook in butter or margarine, on both sides, until juices run clear (about 10 minutes). Remove and keep warm.

2. Add broth to skillet. Bring to a boil over medium heat, and stir to loosen browned bits from pan. Stir in cream and pimentos; boil and stir for 1 minute. Reduce heat.

3. Add Parmesan cheese, basil and pepper. Stir sauce and cook until heated through. Pour mixture over chicken and serve.

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Food Inc.’s Impact on Our Food Buying Decisions

On December 6, 2009, in Food, by Chris Baccus

My wife and I watched a very interesting and, by seeing how my Sunday went, potentially life-changing film called “Food, Inc.” It’s basically a documentary that tries to cover the steps of where our food comes from. It’s not as graphic or gory as some documentaries I have watched on the subject of animal cruelty and factory farming. Sure it has a little of that and there are some tear-filled moments, but this film is less sensational and more informational.

After a long discussion with Stephanie about what changes we could make in our family’s diet we decided to do a bit of research. Fortunately, our diet is filled with a lot of home cooking with fresh meats, fruits and vegetables. Plus we buy a lot of organic products. Very little of our consumption is processed foods and we had already eliminated high-fructose corn syrup from our diets a few years ago after Stephanie watched an episode of Oprah featuring Doctor Oz.

What you learn in Food, Inc. is that “organic”, “natural”, “anti-biotic free” are labels that while good are simply scratching the surface and factory farming has bastardized many of the terms. So what do you look for?

Here is an article I highly recommend everyone to read: Avoiding Factory Farm Foods.

Read it and then come back to this article if you care to see what changes we did.

A few easy decisions involved changing our diary choices. We bought a lot of Organic but only milk from the Organic Valley brand. They are very well respected and a very easy decision when buying diary products so we are now exclusively using their products. Sure there are some other labels out there that are just as good, but Organic Valley is pretty much everywhere we shop.

We eat a lot of meat, mainly boneless, skinless chicken which is probably 70-80% of our meat choice. Stephanie doesn’t eat seafood and I eat very little of it. The other 20-30% is mainly beef and a little pork.

Our beef and pork are all bought from Costco. Well, I should say WERE bought from Costco. We’ve decided to go exclusively with a farm that we bought some meat from at last summer’s Birmingham Farmer’s Market – John Henry’s. It’s a local farm that raises pasture beef and pork. They do home delivery in our area. I used to bulk buy from Costco and individually freeze the meat with our Food Saver. Now I’ll just buy bulk from John Henry’s Farm and freeze.

Chicken can also be purchased from John Henry’s but I wanted to see if we could find it more easily since it’s a larger, more frequent part of our diet.

Organic Valley’s meat brand is Organic Prairie that sells prairie raised animals. Problem is it’s very hard to find (Whole Foods Rochester Hills and a Co-op in Ann Arbor) and the cost is exorbitant. For example, frozen boneless, skinless chicken breasts run about $5 per chicken breast. Trader Joe’s frozen all-natural boneless, skinless chicken breasts I used to buy are about $2.75 per chicken breast. Of course the Trader Joe’s chicken is not free-range raised. The best route to buy free-range chicken is to buy from a local farm like my local farmer’s market meat seller, John Henry’s, which charges only $5.29 a pound (or about $3.50 per chicken breast.)

Fortunately, I went back to Trader Joe’s this evening and bought some of their individually wrapped packaged Organic Chicken. It’s about $4 per chicken breast ($7.49/lb.) The difference between the All-Natural I used to buy and the Organic is tremendous. Here is how the label reads on the Organic package:

“These certified organic birds eat organic feed their entire lives – their corn and soy based diet is free of antibiotics and animal by-products. They’re free range, raised in spacious, naturally lit houses and large, fenced outdoor pens, where they are free to roam.”

If you read the article I mentioned above, you’ll know the last sentence is very important and major difference from other suppliers. For instance, I went to Whole Foods’ website and it says nothing of the sort, only the following is mentioned:


* No antibiotics — ever
* No animal byproducts in feed
* No beak trimming for broiler chickens and game hens
* Appropriate beak trimming for turkeys allowed when necessary*
* Appropriate litter provided for comfort and to satisfy natural foraging instincts

So there you have it, our changes after a day of research. I’m sure we’ll do some more looking into things with other products, but this at least gives us some good information to ‘vote with our dollars.’

Please share any brands, products, farms, etc. that you do to improve how and what you eat.

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Deb’s Chicken Pot Pie

On December 6, 2009, in Recipes, by Chris Baccus

Facebook is a great resource for talking food with friends and family. Fortunately, I have a good network of fellow home cooks. One such friend is Deb Tighe who kept talking about a chicken pot pie she was making over and over again. She was in a bit of a food rut, but thank god because if it wasn’t for her rut and Facebook status posts about it I would’ve never made this delicious pot pie.

Most pot pies I have had are a bit over done in the ingredients department, they are often over flavored. Other recipes are a bit too simple and well bland. This recipe has a very nice balance of flavor letting you enjoy every ingredient.

I did make a few minor tweaks to Deb’s original recipe (my changes are in the recipe here.) I added a small amount of Thyme and Oregano and also pre-boiled the potatoes so they would be fully cooked.

Enjoy and thanks again to Deb for an excellent recipe!

Deb’s Chicken Pot Pie

Serves 8 (2 pies)

1 10 oz. package frozen mixed vegetables
1/3 c. butter
1/3 c. flour
1/3 c. chopped onions
1 potato, peeled and diced into small cubes
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp dried Thyme
1/4 tsp dried Oregano
1 3/4 c. chicken broth
2/3 c. milk
3 c. chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
2 pie crusts (9 in.)

Boil potatoes in hot water for about 8 minutes to soften. In a large skillet, melt butter and add onions, potato, flour, salt, thyme, oregano and pepper. Stir and cook until bubbly, remove from heat. Stir in chicken broth and milk. Stir constantly and heat to boiling. Boil one minute while stirring. Stir in veggies and shredded chicken.

Prepare bottom pie crust and pour chicken mixture into crust. Add top crust and crimp edges or pie. Prick top of crust. Bake at 425 degrees for about 45 minutes. Cool 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Chicken pot pies can also be frozen before baking for use later. When ready to use, thaw in refrigerator and bake as directed above.

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Restaurant Style Prime Rib Roast

On November 29, 2009, in Recipes, by Chris Baccus

I was at Trader Joe’s rummaging through the packaged meats when I ran across a Prime Rib Roast. Never having made one I immediately checkout and found a recipe that was simple and highly rated with over 200 positive reviews. Turned out it was very easy to make and cooked perfectly.

The recipe may seem odd as it requires you to turn off the oven and leave the roast in for 3 hours. While doing this, you cannot open the oven for anything since the secret here is to trap the heat and slow cook the roast for the majority of the cooking. Trust me it works.

Restaurant Style Prime Rib Roast
Serves 6-8

1 (5 pound) standing beef Prime rib roast
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder

Allow roast to stand at room temperature for at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Combine the salt, pepper and garlic powder in a small cup. Place the roast on a rack in a roasting pan so that the fatty side is up and the rib side is on the bottom. Rub the seasoning onto the roast.

Roast for 1 hour in the preheated oven. Turn the oven off and leave the roast inside. Do not open the door. Leave it in there for 3 hours. 30 to 40 minutes before serving, turn the oven back on at 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) to reheat the roast. The internal temperature should be at least 145 degrees F (62 degrees C). Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes before carving into servings.

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Shepherd’s Pie a Party Pleaser

On November 9, 2009, in Recipes, by Chris Baccus

I made this for a gathering of over 20 people today, my sister in-law’s son Cooper turned one. The recipe was tripled for the party and really made for an easy meal for a large gathering. It also reminded me of how simple Shepherd’s Pie is to make. The meal takes about an hour to prep and cook, not bad and it looks like a lot more time went into it. The flavor of this recipe is very traditional in that there is nothing odd or gourmet about it; it’s just a simple, flavorful recipe.

Cheddar-Topped Shepherd’s Pie
Serves 8

2 pounds baking potatoes (about 4),
peeled and thinly sliced
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
6 medium carrots, halved lengthwise,
quartered and thinly sliced
6 celery stalks, thinly sliced
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 pounds ground beef chuck
1 cup whole milk
1 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1. Preheat oven to 450. Place potatoes in a large saucepan, and cover by 1 inch with salted water. Bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer. Cook until potatoes are easily pierced with a tip of a paring knife, 15 to 20 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, heat oil in a 5-quart Dutch oven or heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add carrots, celery, onion, and thyme. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Add flour and tomato paste; cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add beef; cook, stirring occasionally, until no longer pink, 8 to 10 minutes. Add 1 cup water; bring to a boil, and simmer 1 minute. Set beef filling aside.

3. Drain potatoes; return to pain. Cook over medium, stirring, until liquid has evaporated and a thin film covers bottom of pan, about 1 minute. Remove pan from heat; add milk and 1 cup cheese. Mash until smooth; season with salt and pepper.

4. Pour beef filling into a 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Drop dollops of topping over filling; spread to edges with a spatula. Using a fork, make decorative peaks; sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup of cheese. Bake until topping is browned and filling is bubbling rapidly, about 20 minutes (if topping and filling were chilled, increase to 35 minutes.) Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

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Pork and Cabbage in Milk

On October 4, 2009, in Recipes, by Chris Baccus

This is kind of a strange dish. We liked how the cabbage and bacon added a nice flavor to everything without either overpowering the dish, but it wasn’t great. It was good. This is something to add to the mix in the fall or winter months that is hearty and tasty, but not as heavy as a stew or roast.

Pork and Cabbage in milk

Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 boneless pork loins (1-inch thick, fat trimmed)
coarse salt and pepper
4 strips bacon, coarsely chopped
1 medium onion, cut into 1/2-inch slices
1/2 head green cabbage, cored an cut into 4 wedges
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups whole milk

1. Preheat ove to 400 and set a large roasting pot over high heat on burner, add oil to pot. Season pork with salt and pepper; brown each side – 3 to 5 minutes. Flip and cook 1 minute more. Transfer to plate.

2. Reduce heat to medium. Add bacon; cook until golden, about 5 minutes stirring often. Add onion; cook until softened, 5 minutes. Add cabbage and cook until light golden, about 6 minutes. Flip and cook until slightly tender, about 3 more minutes. Add flour 1 tablespoon at a time to 2 cups of milk in a bowl, stir each tablespoon with whisk until blended. Add milk and flour mixture to pot and cook until thickened for 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, then return pork loins to pot (with any juices.) Transfer pot to oven and bake until pork is cooked through, about 10 minutes.

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Hickory-Smoked Beef Brisket

On September 7, 2009, in Recipes, by Chris Baccus

I decided to do a modified version of this recipe from the LA Times. Last night I made a rotisserie chicken and tonight I decided to do a rotisserie version of beef brisket that actually turned out fantastic. The meat was very moist and I put in adjusted cooking times from the LA Times recipe to account for a smaller piece of meat. The recipe that follows works great for a 2-2 1/2 pound brisket. If you want to use a larger piece, follow the LA Times recipe.

For the barbecue sauce, I went with Bandana’s BBQ sauce from St. Louis, Missouri. I used their Sweet & Smoky version which went very well with the hickory smoked meat.

Hickory-Smoked Beef Brisket
Serves 4

1/2 tablespoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1 (2 1/2 pound) beef brisket with a layer of fat no thicker than 1/2 -inch

2 bottles of beer

1 cup water

Hickory chips, soaked

1. In a small bowl, combine the salt, pepper, onion powder, cumin and garlic powder. Rub the mix into the brisket and let sit at room temperature, 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, prepare your smoker or grill to cook over low, indirect heat for several hours. Set up a drip pan underneath where the brisket will smoke, and fill with the beer and water. Shortly before cooking, adjust the heat as needed to maintain a temperature around 250 degrees, and add hickory chips to start smoking.

3. Place the brisket on a rotisserie rack and cook for 1 1/2 hours. Set a pan with beer and water mixture below rotating beef making sure the beef dips into the basting sauce. Adjust the heat as needed (add several coals to either side of the grill as needed if using a kettle grill) to maintain the ambient temperature (around 250 degrees); replenish the chips as needed to keep smoking. The rotisserie will baste the brisket keeping it moist.

4. After 1 1/2 hours, wrap the brisket (fat side up) tightly in foil and continue to cook over indirect low heat until the meat is fork-tender, 2 additional hours (time may vary depending on the heat of the smoker and size and thickness of the brisket).

5. Remove the brisket from heat and, still wrapped in foil, cover it with a layer of newspaper and kitchen towels to keep warm. Set aside, covered, for at least 15 minutes before serving.

6. Slice against the grain of the meat and plate. Squirt barbecue sauce over meat and serve an extra portion of sauce on the side.

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Rotisserie Chicken in a Cherry Ale Basting Sauce

On September 7, 2009, in Recipes, by Chris Baccus

This recipe requires a rotisserie. Also, I used Cerise Cherry Ale from Grand Rapids, Michigan for the beer which added a nice sweetness to the basting sauce. You can use any beer, I would just avoid stouts or porters as they overpower everything.

I did not make a sauce the night I did this recipe. It is optional.

Our local farmers market
Rotisserie Chicken in a Cherry Ale Basting Sauce
Serves 4

One whole roasting chicken

Basting Sauce
12 oz. beer
12 oz. water
1 stick butter
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

Heat grill rotisserie for 15 minutes on high.

Wash chicken and pat with paper towel to remove water. Cut one tablespoon of butter off stick of butter and place into cavity of chicken. Put chicken on rotisserie rod.

In a pan add beer, water, butter, pepper, salt, and garlic powder. Place chicken on grill rotisserie and place basting pan under chicken so chicken is dipping into the sauce. Cook chicken for 1 1/2 hours on high heat in closed grill.

When done cut chicken into serving pieces. Add about half of the basting sauce to a small sauce pan and heat at medium on stove, bring it to a boil. In a small bowl, add 2 tablespoons of flour and mix with equal part water and blend so there are no lumps of flour, add water as necessary. Reduce basting sauce when at boil and add flour/water mixture and mix. Let it heat so the sauce thickens.

Plate chicken and drizzle sauce over chicken.

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Gnocchi with Red Sauce

On September 7, 2009, in Recipes, by Chris Baccus

You can make this recipe without the Italian sausage for a vegetarian version. Also, you can skip the whole oven process and just serve the pasta with the red sauce and pasta finished in a saute pan. If you make it without the oven steps, skip the bread crumbs but still use the mozzarella and parmesan cheese just cook them in the pan with the pasta and sauce until they mozzarella partially, but not fully, melts.

Gnocchi with Red Sauce
Serves 4

1 lb ricotta gnocchi
14 ounces of red sauce*
1/4 lb. italian sausage
1/3 lb. fresh mozzarella balls
1/2 cup of cooked spinach
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons bread crumbs
2 tablespoons parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Heat water for gnocchi to boil, reduce heat to a gentle boil. Add a sprinkle of salt to the water and add gnocchi. Cook according to package directions. For fresh gnocchi, cook for about 2 minutes.

In a pan on medium-high heat, add italian sausage, sprinkle dried basil and oregano over sausage, and break it into smaller chunks with spoon. Cook until done, about 4 mintues. Mix often and set aside once cooked.

Heat olive oil in saucepan on medium heat. Add sliced garlic to pan and let it cook for 1 minute. Add spinach and cook spinach until done. You want to make a 1/2 cup of cook spinach. Set aside once done.

Heat red sauce in pan on medium heat. Reduce heat once it boils to remove boil. Add spinach with garlic and add cooked sausage. Add the balsamic vinegar and cook for 1 minute.

In a dutch oven or oven safe ceramic pan, add cooked gnocchi and red sauce mixture together. Tear mozzarella balls into pieces and mix in with gnocchi and sauce. Mix in parmesan cheese. Sprinkle top of pasta with bread crumbs and drizzle with olive oil to help brown bread crumbs in oven.

Place dutch oven in oven and cook for 15 minutes. Sauce should be bubbling and bread crumbs should be golden brown when finished. Plate with garlic bread or salad. Sprinkle parmesan cheese over pasta.

* For the red sauce , I use Mario Batali’s Basic Red Sauce recipe. The most important thing about this recipe is using the right canned whole peeled tomatoes. I highly recommend using ONLY Carmelina ‘e San Marzano. I make it according the recipe and freeze about 4 containers with enough sauce for making a pound of pasta. For this recipe you just need 1 container, approximately 14 ounces.

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20-Minute Tabbouleh with Chicken

On July 28, 2009, in Recipes, by Chris Baccus

This simple recipe is all prep. In fact, if you don’t want to cook a single thing all you have to do is substitute the chicken I use with a store-bought rotisserie chicken. This would leave you with only having to heat a cup of water to a boil, remove from heat and add the bulgar wheat to thicken. Beyond that, all you have to do is chop, chop some more and keep chopping until you finish a few simple dashes of spice and some crumbled feta cheese. Easy.

The best part is that this meal is really, really good. It’s the perfect summer meal or dieting meal. There is so little to it that all you have to do is make sure you wrote down all the ingredients before making a trip to the market.

Here is the recipe using boneless-skinless chicken breasts. Like I said above you could substitute the chicken with a rotisserie store-bought and avoid cooking altogether.

Chicken and Feta Tabbouleh
Serves 4

3/4 cup uncooked bulgar
1 cup boiling water
2 cups shredded chicken breast, skinless boneless
1 cup chopped plum tomato
1 cup chopped cucumber
3/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup (2 oz) crumbled feta cheese
1/3 cup finely chopped green onions
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon bottled minced garlic (or 2 chopped cloves)
1/2 teaspons ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

Place bulgar in a medium bowl; cover with 1 cup of boiling water. Let stand for 15 mintues or until liquid is absorbed.

Slice chicken into bit-sized chunks and saute in a pan with 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat cooking and turning for about 8 mintues. Remove from pan and set aside.

Combine remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Add bulgar to mixture and toss gently to combine. Spoon out mixture on plates and top with chicken.

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