Mexican Salad – A Feast!

My love affair with this salad began 30 years ago at Michigan State University at a great Mexican restaurant, “El Azteco”, that remains an institution there.  Called a Topopo Salad (Topopo means “Volcano”), it has often been described as a Mexican chicken salad on steriods.  One look at it and you’ll understand.

It starts with a base of refried beans and then moves on to melted cheese, then guacamole.  The salad is a combination of shredded iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, green onion, jalapenos, shredded chicken and green peas and it’s dressed with a light vinaigrette and topped with Parmesan cheese.  At least I think it is and that’s how I’ve created our home version of it.  And I’m pretty sure that this will fast become a favorite of your home too!

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Buttermilk Fried Chicken – Extra Crispy

Let me start off by saying “If I can make this incredible crispy fried chicken recipe than so can you”.  Why do I say it like that?  Because I’ve never really deep fried anything before this recipe.  Buttermilk fried chicken, something my husband and I pine over, is reserved to once or twice a year at a restaurant that specializes in it.  I stay away from it more from fear of botching it up than anything else.  But I read so many fantastic reviews of the buttermilk fried chicken recipe from Chef Thomas Keller (of the famous French Laundry restaurant in CA and Ad Hoc in NYC) that I decided I had to give it a try.  And it is everything people have raved about and more!  In a word? OUTSTANDING!

Yes – the recipe seems long and that’s because of the brine.  But don’t worry if you don’t have all the ingredients for the brine or you don’t want to buy them all (it can get a bit expensive with the bay leaves and herbs).  I have made it using only a couple of bay leaves, half the lemons and just the rosemary and it is still just as delicious as ever.  Also – the recipe below is for basically two whole chickens but it can easily be cut in half (the brine as well as the batter ingredients).

Keys to success for this recipe: 1) You can’t skip the brine.  That’s what keeps the chicken so incredibly moist and flavors the chicken.  Although it seems like a lot of work it really isn’t.  You basically throw the ingredients in a pot, boil them for a minute and then chill before using.  2) You should start this a day ahead to make the brine.  If you are making this for an evening meal you won’t put the chicken in until the day you are going to cook it – but the brine, once made, takes quite a bit of time too cool.  Definitely easier to do it a day ahead. 3)  Make the brine in a pot large enough to hold the chicken – that’s a time saver and less dishes to wash.  4) Do include all the ingredients in the batter mixture – it gives that crispy crust SO much flavor. 5) Do set up the dipping station (it will consist of three bowls – two for the flour mixture and one for the buttermilk) – it will make things so much easier!

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Parmesan Crusted Chicken

This delicious, baked breaded chicken recipe is a staple in our home.  Although in our house. it goes by the name of “Jerry’s Scrumptious Chicken”.  Jerry is my husband and he’s the one that tinkered with ingredients and their amounts until he got it just right.

The secret to this recipe is: 1) Pound the chicken pieces quite thin before breading and baking.  That way the chicken pieces will all cook evenly, and 2) Cook in a very hot oven, 425 F, for 10 minutes.  They will not only be done but they will be incredibly moist and flavorful.

Leftovers are wonderful!  My husband often re-crisps with a little olive oil in a hot skillet – absolutely scrumptious!

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Chicken Francaise – A Must Have Recipe

Diva Entertains' Chicken Francaise

I had been making lemon chicken breasts for years; a dish that my husband and I love and that we eat frequently.  Then I came across this recipe by David Rosengarten and it was a bit different than the one that I had been using.  His called for making a batter of egg, Romano or Parmesan cheese and freshly chopped parsley.  Once the chicken breasts had been dipped in the batter, they are then lightly coated with flour prior to sauteing.  And, instead of adding lemon juice to the sauce that is made after the chicken pieces are cooked, he calls for boiling lemon slices in wine and chicken stock.  Now I’m not really sure why this proved to create a much more flavorful sauce than my original recipe, but I think it may have to do with the oils in the lemon rind.  Whatever caused it – the result is a luscious sauce.

Because the sauce is easy to make, the only real key to success here is to cook the chicken enough to develop crisp, browned sides but not to overcook it.  How to accomplish that?  First, pound the chicken breasts to an even thickness (1/4″ thick).  Then, once the oil in the pan is good and hot, let the chicken cook until a white-ish border about 1/4″ thick has developed around the edges.  This will probably take 2 – 5 minutes and should allow the chicken pieces to create a golden crust and wonderful flavor.  Turn the pieces over and cook for another 2 minutes or so. (Timing depends on how thin you’ve pounded the breasts.  You know the chicken is ready to turn when the white-ish border occurs and the second side will not take as long to cook as the first.)

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Sesame Chicken Recipe

Diva Entertains Sesame Stir Fry Up Close

This recipe is an all around winner.  It’s adapted from a recipe by dietitian Ellie Krieger, so its healthful.  Add to that it’s easy to make, beautiful on a plate, and the leftovers are absolutely scrumptious!  Unlike the dish you would purchase for Chinese take-out, this chicken stir-fry recipe isn’t fried.  Instead the chicken gets its great flavor via a marinade.  And it only needs to marinate for 20 minutes.

The recipe calls for ‘toasted sesame oil’ but if all you have on hand is regular sesame oil, by all means, use that.  It will still be delicious!  And, like all stir-fries, have your ingredients prepped and at-hand when ready to cook.

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Chicken in Cider Glaze

This apple cider chicken recipe was such a pleasant surprise.  With few ingredients and quick prep and cooking time, it delivered a delicious meal that was full of flavor.

Keys to success for this fall recipe are to 1) pound the chicken thin for quick and even cooking (I usually cut each chicken breast in half before pounding; they are a bit easier to handle and cook faster than larger pieces) and 2) watch the cider-Dijon mixture as it reduces; it only takes a few minutes to reduce into a luscious, syrupy glaze.

I have added bacon pieces to the recipe – it was a wonderful compliment to the glaze.  However, by all means, leave it out if you would like to.  Another delicious addition that could be added to the sauce right before serving would be chopped and toasted walnuts or pecans.

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Moroccan Spiced Chicken

Diva Entertains Moroccan Spiced Chicken

This has fast become a favorite of ours.  Not only because of the exceptional taste, but also because this dish comes together fast.  Really Fast.  Perfect  for a weeknight; impressive enough to serve to company.  I’d recommend doubling the sauce and serving the chicken with rice, making sure to drizzle some of that extra sauce on the rice.

The recipe came from a Gourmet magazine and was entitled “Moroccan-Spiced Chicken Paillard”.  Paillard is a French term that means pounded thin and quickly cooked.  Which is the key to success with this dish.  Do both (pound thin, cook quickly over med-high heat) and you’ll have succulent, tender piece of chicken every time.

 

Pistachio Crusted Chicken with Mustard Cream Sauce

Diva Entertains Mustard Cream Sauce

A friend told me about this Bon Appetit recipe from 1998 and said that it had become one of her favorite chicken dishes of all time.  And I can understand why! It is, in a nutshell, “scrumptious”!  Between the tender chicken, crunchy crust and the delectable mustard cream sauce  – what’s not to love?

Further – with a bit of advance preparation the actual cooking time is only minutes.  Here’s the game plan for the prep:  1) Make the pistachio-panko crust in food processor ahead of time (up to a day) and keep well covered (ziplock bag would be perfect or plastic wrap secured tightly over a bowl).  2) Make the mustard sauce before you cook the chicken.  This can also be done a day in advance – just keep covered and refrigerated. Reheat before serving.

Some keys to success: 1) Although you are going to make the crust in a food processor – don’t chop too finely.  You want to see little bits of the green pistachios in the crust.  Not only for the visual contrast but also for the terrific crunch. 2) Pound the chicken to a 1/4- 1/3″ even thickness.  This way they will cook evenly and quickly which is important – you don’t want a burned crust and nuts tend to brown very quickly. 3) Don’t add salt to the crust mixture – the pistachios will contribute enough on their own. 4) Use Panko, not regular breadcrumbs, for the crust mixture.  Panko is a Japanese breadcrumb that is extremely dry and has much larger flakes.  Which results in a bigger ‘crunch’.

Diva Entertains Pistachio Crusted Chicken

Pistachio Crusted Chicken (adapted from Bon Appetit, June 1998)

Serves 4

  • 1 cup shelled, raw, pistachios (about 4 oz.)
  • 1/2 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh basil (or 2 tsp. dried)*
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh dill (or 1 tsp. dried)
  • 4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
  • 4 T. olive oil, divided

  1. In a food processor combine nuts, Panko and herbs.  Pulse (using on/off turns) until the pistachios look like very small pebbles (so not finely ground).  Put mixture in a large plate or shallow dish.
  2. Pat the chicken breast dry. Pound the breasts 1/4″ – 1/3″ thickness (If the breasts are very large cut into 2 pieces).  Spread one side of the breast with the Dijon mustard and then put that side down in the panko mixture.  Press down to ensure that mixture adheres.  Flip chicken breast over and pat mixture over the remaining side.
  3. Spray a 12″ pan with non-stick cooking spray.  Add 2 Tbsp. of olive oil to the pan and place over medium heat until the oil shimmers.  Then add 1/2 of the chicken breasts to the pan, mustard side down.  Cook for 2 – 4  minutes and take a peek (at 2 minutes) to see if they browned nicely.  When they do (don’t let them burn) turn them over and finish cooking them, another 5 – 8 minutes. Remove to plate and tent with foil.
  4. Remove pan from heat and, with wadded up paper towels, wipe out the pan.  You don’t want to have any burned bits in the pan.  Spray again with non-stick spray and then return to heat and add the remaining 2 Tbsp. of olive oil.  Cook remaining chicken as described above.

Mustard Cream Sauce

  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped shallots**
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil (or 1/4 tsp. dried)
  • 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh dill (or 1/4 tsp. dried)

  1. Boil white wine and shallots in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until liquid just about evaporates, a few minutes.
  2. Reduce heat to medium-high.  Add whipping cream and simmer 2 minutes.  Add Dijon mustard and herbs.  Simmer another 2 minutes to blend flavors.  Season sauce with salt and pepper.

*  Herbs, fresh or dried, can get pricey.  Feel free to use only basil or only dill.

**Shallots are a relative of the onion but have a milder, sweeter taste.  They are often used, finely chopped, in salad dressings and sauces.

Unbelievable Chicken Marinade

Diva Enterains Grilled Chicken
I remember laughing at the name of this recipe when I first came across it.  But after just one bite I understood.  It is unbelievably delicious.  I think the original recipe was posted on Allrecipes.com and it called for a considerable amount of oil in the marinade (6 T.)   That much wasn’t necessary and, in my opinion, diluted the flavor of the marinade.  So in this version of the recipe I have brought the amount of olive oil down to 1 T.

The other thing I’ve changed is I call for chicken that has been pounded thin (1/4 inch or so) so that the chicken breasts cook evenly and quickly.  Once a breast is pounded I also typically cut it in two before adding it to the marinade.  That way there is more surface area to drink in the marinade and caramelize when it hits the grill.

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