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Archive for the ‘Spices, Sauces, Condiments’ Category

smoked whole chicken

Smoked, brined chicken. Isn’t it a lovely color?

The first time I brined a chicken, it was an act of desperation. I had purchased a couple whole chickens at a good price, and we have a great roasted chicken recipe. But with more than one, there was no way we needed to cook both, so one went into the deep freeze. (I’ve mentioned I love my deep freeze.)

One thing I have never – never – had luck with is thawing a whole chicken. (Here are the USDA’s guidelines for safe thawing.) Everything I’ve read says a 3.5 pound chicken should thaw in your refrigerator in a day. I tried that. It was most definitely still frozen, even after two days or three. I got frustrated with cool water methods. (What a waste of water!)

So I decided to brine the chicken in the frig for 48 hours. I figured unlike most cool water methods, where you keep the chicken in its plastic bag so the water doesn’t touch it, the brine is allowed to penetrate all the cavities in the chicken, allowing warmth to seep in everywhere.

What do you know, it worked! Not only did my chicken thaw completely in far less time than all my other attempts, it was the tastiest, juiciest, most tender bird I’d ever roasted. This is what I posted to Facebook:

“If you’ve never brined a chicken before roasting/grilling it, DO IT! I did it Saturday out of desperation since the chicken did not get taken out of the freezer. We roasted it today in the usual way, and it was wonderful!”

I’ve since tried brining for only 24 hours, and if I recall correctly, my bird was completely thawed then, too. Hooray! I get a thawed bird AND tastier chicken? That’s a win! I brined my Christmas turkey, and that, too, got raves.

A few years ago, my husband took up smoking meats as a hobby. What a tasty hobby! We’ve enjoyed several experiments over the years, and I’m sure I’ll share a few of them with you, but one of our daughter’s favorites is Dad’s smoked chicken. “It doesn’t even need ranch dressing!” That’s a high compliment in our house!

Brine for Chicken

  • 1 gallon cold water
  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar (or brown sugar)
  • Added flavorings (try rosemary and sage, or whatever suits you!)

Dissolve salt and sugar in water in a large ziptop or other food-safe plastic bag. Add flavorings as desired. Place your chicken in the bag, making sure all cavities are filled with water. Seal bag tightly and place in a deep bowl in the frig overnight.

Drain brine. Pat chicken dry and cook as usual. (Roast, grill, smoke, you name it!) Enjoy!

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We love this tasty dish from Practical Paleo, but I despise making meatballs. The process is just tedious and messy. So I’ve found a way to maximize output and minimize mess – at least how many times I have to make a mess.

This meatball recipe uses nuts and veggies as the binder for the pork as opposed to eggs or breadcrumbs. The result is a sneaky way to get a little extra nutrition and fewer carbs. The original called for cooking these tidbits in a skillet first, but we found we actually prefer the bit of crunch from not cooking them ahead. (Not to mention having one less dish to wash!)

Here are my meatball tips:

  1. I double the batch. This means I’m making this family favorite once but getting more than one meal.
  2. I use my cookie scoop/melon baller to measure out the meatballs. This ensures they are the same size without a lot of guesswork.
  3. I put enough in a pan for dinner. The rest go on a cookie sheet to freeze. After being frozen, I put them in a freezer container and label. From there, I only pull out what I need for the next meal and bake as usual.

Thanksgiving Stuffing Meatballs

meatballs and corn

Thanksgiving stuffing meatballs with corn on the cob. Yummy!

  • 2 lbs ground pork
  • 2 Tbsps. Italian Sausage Spice Blend (recipe below)
  • 1/4 cup onion, finely chopped*
  • 1/4 cup celery, finely chopped*
  • 1/4 cup carrot, finely chopped*
  • 1/4 chestnuts, walnuts, pecans, finely chopped*

*I put all these ingredients in my mini food processor. Speeds up the prep time.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, combine pork and spice blend until will combined. Then combine onion, celery, carrot, and nuts with the meat mixture until well combined.

Form into 1-inch meatballs. Place in an oven-safe dish or on a baking sheet and bake approximately 25-30 minutes or until cooked all the way through.

To use frozen meatballs: Place as many as you need on a baking dish or baking sheet and bake at 425 for 30 minutes or until cooked through.

Italian Sausage Spice Blend

  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 Tbsp. fennel seeds, ground
  • 1 Tbsp. ground sage
  • 1 Tbsp. garlic powder
  • 1 Tbsp. onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp. white pepper (or 1 tsp. black pepper)
  • 2 tsps. dried parsley (optional)

*I mix up a big batch of this (like, triple) and keep it on-hand in my spice cupboard. I tend to leave out the fennel, and it is still tasty. You can use 2 tablespoons of this per pound of meat to make sausage.

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