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Okay, Okay, no picture today. This blog thing is getting in the way of my life! haha

I started to workout again this week and so far so good. Eating good and working hard, well for the past two days at least. We started drawing plans for the interior of the restaurant today and spent a good hour talking with the head architect last night about the place. Things are looking great so far.

I almost decided tonight that I was done blogging, but I’m having too much fun to quit. Though I did disappoint myself with the lack of a picture. I was trying to prepare dinner and watch the debate and Nancy worked late so by the time it all rolled around I just wanted to eat and be done with it.

For those of you who write blogs how often are you discouraged and ready to quit? Help me out!

Okay here is a picture of some cupcakes we just made in the restaurant today. I need something colorful in this post!

This recipe is adapted from the book Cafe Beaujolais, which is where I found the INCREDIBLE recipe for pate a choux gnocchi. If you haven’t checked it out you should for sure. It wasn’t too hard to make and the results were restaurant quality.

Getting back to the Chicken and Nut Stew. The sauce was really good, if you like peanut butter – I do! I didn’t eat much though since I didn’t want my workout to go to waste. I served it over jasmine rice and everyone loved it.

Enjoy and sorry again for the lack of a picture.

Chicken and Nut Stew (serves 4)

Ingredients:

  • 2.5 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 medium-sized onions, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 6 medium-sized tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 (8 oz) pound of smooth peanut butter, almond butter or cashew butter

Season chicken with salt and cayenne pepper. Saute the chicken in a heavy-bottomed dutch oven or large saute pan in olive oil oil with onions and garlic for 15 minutes. Watch to make sure you don’t burn the garlic.

Add tomatoes and saute an additional 5 minutes.

Whisk together nut butter with tomato paste and chicken stock until fully combined. You may try heating the peanut butter in a glass bowl in the microwave for a few seconds to get it soft first. Pour into pan with chicken. Stir constantly for 5 minutes over medium heat. Add salt to taste, temp chicken, looking for 160 degrees, remove from heat and serve over rice.

I made 2 cups of rice which was a perfect amount for the meal. Save the leftover sauce to use with noodles.

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Well, where did I leave off. Refrigerators breaking and my body fat percentage increasing. Things seem to be going better this week so far. Business has picked up on the catering side and unfortunately I had to turn down some business because we were slammed a few days.

Many people ask me what our typical day is like and most think we work nonstop, which we don’t. Most of the time we have it made. Once every few weeks I might work a day from 6:00 in the morning until 6:00 or 7:00 at night, but I would guess on average I work from 7:00 in the morning until 5:00 in the afternoon, which isn’t really too bad. We could definitely work more hours and make more money, but I’ve been there in the past and have come to the conclusion that family and free time is much more important that money.

So how does my average day play out? It’s not glamorous but it pays the bills. I always get to the restaurant by 7:00, the moment we open the doors. Megan gets there much earlier to get the place up and running, make the coffee, make the days soup, bake off scones and breads, etc. Next comes Lisa our sandwich maker and prep cook at 7:30, not long after Joannie our baker and Nancy come in. At 9:00 our counter person, Cassie, comes in unless it’s Wednesday in which case Sarah is our counter person.

Most of my mornings, from 7:00 to 11:30 I spend working on the caterings (making salads, putting together platters, cutting bread, etc.) along with dealing with the customers who come in the door. There are days when I don’t have time to think from the moment I walk in until the moment I leave to deliver catering orders. Other days I might spend time talking to the regulars, though I rarely spend more than a few minutes with any one customer.

From 11:30 to 12:30 I’m oftentimes out making lunch catering deliveries. Half of our revenue comes from catering orders so I really think at this stage of our business, it’s important to go out and make deliveries and see the clients and the offices. It gives me important contact with my customers and also lets me see their response to the food. Honestly it’s also nice to get out of the restaurant before the craziness of lunch starts.

By the time I get back to the restaurant the lunch rush is usually going in full swing and I then spend the next two hours working the counter, taking orders, bringing food out to tables, refilling drinks, handing out napkins and everything front of the house. If we are really busy and we get backlogged then I will head back to the kitchen and start washing dishes. Basically I do anything that needs to be done with the exception of making the sandwiches. If it’s slow I take pictures…

After we close at 2:30 I usually will do the drawer, count the money, pay out the tips and reconcile the numbers. Then many things have to be done depending on the day. I might spend a few hours on the phone working with customers on their orders or just selling new catering gigs. Other days Nancy and I have to brainstorm on new marketing ideas or talk about how to handle specific situations with customers, respond to bids or talk about how to handle situations with our employees (fortunately this part is rare). Some days I end up going to Costco, Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s to pick up food we don’t get from our normal suppliers. Once in awhile I just leave and go home!

Most of the time the day ends here, but once per week I spend an hour or two working on Quickbooks. To save us money I do all of the books for the business…I took two years of accounting in college so I know a bit of what I’m doing.

Lastly if something big is going on I should be spending another 5 to 10 hours per week working on projects. Currently we are getting ready to build the business plan for the new location and we need to figure out what our retail marketing plan is for the holidays in short order. All of this work has to happen outside of the normal day unfortunately, but most of the time it’s a blast!

So this last Monday I had one of those days that didn’t end too quick and I needed to make something fast that would taste good. I looked through my book of ripped out recipes from the magazines I read and found one for Chicken Shawarma from Cooking Light.

The picture doesn’t do it justice. I really need to start experiment with some other backgrounds and purchase some different plates. The meal was great and both Randy and Jacob went back more than once to fill another pita.

Here is the definition of Shawarma from Wikipedia – Middle Eastern-style sandwich usually composed of shaved lamb, goat, or chicken. Less commonly, it contains turkey, beef, or a mixture of meats. Shawarma is a popular dish and fast-food staple across the Middle East, it has also become popular world-wide.

Chicken Shawarma (serves 4 to 6)

Ingredients

Chicken

  • 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 4 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into strips

Sauce

  • 1 cup of plain Greek yogurt – I used Fage
  • 4 tablespoons tahini
  • 4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced

Other

  • 8 pitas
  • 1 head romaine lettuce, chopped
  • 16 tomato slices

Combine the ingredients up to the chicken in a large bowl. Add the chicken, toss to coat and let stand at room temperature for 20 minutes.

To make the sauce combine the yogurt, tahini, lemon juice, salt and garlic, combining with a whisk or a fork.

Heat grill pan on stove with medium-high heat. Alternately you can grill the chicken outside on your gas grill. Place all of the chicken on the grill pan and cook for five minutes, turn and cook for another five minutes or until internal temperature is 160 degrees.

If using a outdoor grill, place pita on rack and grill for one minutes on each side or until lightly toasted.

Assemble pita by topping with lettuce, tomato slices, chicken pieces and sauce to your liking! Devour!!

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I’ve been gaining some weight lately.  I can’t really attribute it to the blog or anything in my life.  I just love to eat and have been doing a bit too much lately.  For those of you new to the blog, I’ve lost about 45 pounds in the last year and now I’m in good shape.  I need to maybe lose about 15 more pounds, but I’m mostly happy at this weight.  Everyone who comes into the restaurant who know me well tells me I should be done…I don’t believe them.  I unfortunately can be a perfectionist sometimes and I oftentimes just plain reject compliments.  Oh well, we all have our faults.

This week was fairly slow catering wise – we didn’t have any events for a change and of course it was a short week with the holiday.  The restaurant was fairly busy, but still below my goals.  It was a good week to catch up on things though and we continued to do some organization and deep cleaning.  It’s a funny business.  We are really slow in January, start to pickup up in February, will be pretty busy through May, super busy June, July and August, slow in September and October and then nuts for November and December.  It works out that we make a ton of money for a few months and think, wow lets go buy something or go on a trip, then we have a slow month and the extra money seems to disappear again.  It keeps us on our toes though and Nancy and I have a trip scheduled for San Fran later this month that we are really looking forward to.

We are known around town for our baking and I did have some fun taking pictures for our website this week of a few of the cakes we make.  We did a Red Velvet Cake, our Signature Carrot Cake along with a Pumpkin Spice and Vanilla Layer Cake.  Here are few pics for the fun of it!

So, back to eating too much!  I have and so tonight I decided to cook something simple out of Cooking Light.  I found this recipe in the recent issue and adapted it to meet my needs.

I thought it might be too spicy/hot at first glance, but it turned out perfect.  It reminded me more of a soup though than a traditional chili, but what do I know?  I can tell you though that Jacob never eats any chili I make and he said he really liked this one and in fact went back for seconds which is always the telltale sign that he likes it.

So give it a try and let me know how it goes. I think this might go well as a starter to some brisket or pulled pork or better yet as the main with some corn bread.

Also for those of you who cook a lot or have a food blog…how do you keep your caloric intake down? Especially those of you who bake!

White Bean Chili / Soup (serves 4)

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cups less-sodium, chicken broth
  • 5 teaspoons of Tabasco (if you desire a less spicy version lower to 2 teaspoons)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless, chicken breast
  • 2 tablespoons cornmeal
  • 2 15 oz cans cannellini beans or other white beans, rinsed and drained
  • Greek or Plain Yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onions for garnish
  • Lemon wedges from one lemon

Heat oil in a dutch oven over medium heat.  Add chopped onions, cook for five minutes until onions are softened, stirring often.  Add garlic and cook for one more minute, make sure to stir so as not to burn the garlic.

Add chicken broth, Tabasco, salt and the chicken to the dutch oven.  Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove chicken and place on a plate to cool.

Add the cornmeal and beans to the broth.  Using a whisk mix well.  Simmer for another 15 minutes with the lid off.  Mash about one quarter of the beans on the side of the pan.  Shred the chicken with your hands and add to the pan.  Simmer for another five minutes or until the chili thickens, stirring frequently.

Top each serving with yogurt, sprinkle with green onions and serve with lime wedges. Devour!

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Well things are going well. The restaurant has been super busy with the great weather and we are catering two large events this weekend, both high-end events, one a wedding and the other a big lunch for one of the non-profits here in Reno. I think the count is at a bit over 300 at this point.

Everyone has been calm until today and now the stress is starting to work its way around the place. Menus are being finalized, shopping lists are starting to be made and we are trying to figure out where to put everything. We have no space in the restaurant and even less refrigeration as many of you know.

The great thing about this business though is that you don’t have any choice but to get it done. You can’t be late, you can’t skimp on the ingredients and you have to bring your A game every time or you quickly find yourself out of business. Fortunately for me, Megan and Nancy have been doing this, with limited resources, for the past 6 years. All I really need to do is to do as I’m told and not ask questions. Ha ha.

So with the stress of the week I decided I would handle the cooking for the family last night. I bookmarked a chicken curry recipe from eatingwell.com not long ago and I thought it was time. I love curry, and especially enjoy the smell when we make our chicken curry salad for the restaurant.

For a bit of background on my first first-hand curry encounter we need to go back a bit over a year ago. I had started at Dish, most important was the fact that I was coming from a sales and marketing background. Other than working at Lyon’s Restaurant when I was 18 as a dishwasher I had no experience. Granted I heard all the stories from Nancy for the prior 5 years, but as Megan still says “Joe you always find the hardest way to complete a task”.

When I first started it was hard to be the co-owner of the place when I didn’t even know what the heck I was doing. Granted I increased our catering business at a drastic rate in the first few months, but I didn’t have a good grasp on how to complete the day-to-day activities of the business. Yes I knew how to do some cooking and I could handle the customers and the cash register, though I didn’t write tickets too well, still don’t actually.

So one day, trying to help out, learn and garner some respect from the employees, I told our prep cook that the next time the chicken curry needed to be made I would take care of it for him.

Well soon enough the day came and in typical Dish fashion they threw a half written recipe at me, yelled out a few instructions and said thanks and all went back to doing whatever it was they were doing. Now not only did I not have any idea what chicken curry was all about, I had four lunch caterings I was trying to organize that day. I knew I didn’t have enough time to complete it, but I was trying to get respect from my employees and get in the trenches with them. So I said, “Sure, okay, I’ll do it”.

I then surveyed the place trying to find somewhere to prep and put my portable burner so I could get going. My usual space, behind the front counter, was being used by another employee who was making Greek Salads en masse for the caterings. Somehow I found a small place with a table that would do. Unfortunately it was about as far away as you could get from everyone else in the restaurant and far from the kitchen. Resulting in… back and forth to the kitchen to ask questions, get spoons, knives, etc. DOH!

Needless to say about 20 minutes into it, I had completed about 5 minutes of work and beads of sweat were starting to appear on my forehead. My employees, who could see I was stressed and in over my head just watched in amusement as I fumbled around and generally made a fool of myself. None of them said a word though. Finally Nancy came over, thank God, and told me to get back to the counter and finish overseeing the catering orders and she would finish the curry.

It took me another month or so until I tried again… I came in on a Sunday night when everyone was gone and made it for Monday morning. Everything worked out well and I saved face.

Back to present time. This recipe worked out great. It was super easy to make, which I like since I made it after work. It didn’t take long and it tasted great. Both boys ate two helpings and neither are super curry fans. I really enjoyed the yogurt sauce as well instead of a coconut-milk-based sauce, which Randy has some issues with.

Definitely give it a try! I made it with brown basmati rice which I cooked for 45 minutes after it started to boil. To spice it up as well I added a teaspoon of coriander and half teaspoon of cumin along with a tablespoon of butter and a good pinch of salt to the rice and water before it started to boil. Nancy made some steamed rainbow chard with salt and butter to serve alongside. The boys said this was not bad, and ate some. These are “greens” and are high in nutrients, so steam some up and serve ’em to the kiddos.

Low Calorie Chicken Curry with Yogurt Sauce (serves 4)

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped – I like onions so I used a large onion
  • 1.5 pounds boneless chicken breasts, skinned and cubed into 1.5 inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup of water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom (can sub 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon & 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg)
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper or more if you like
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1/4 cup apricot preserves
  • 2 cups low-fat or nonfat plain yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Toss in onions and garlic and saute until golden, about 5 minutes. Make sure to not burn the garlic. Just reduce the heat if it’s cooking too fast. Add the chicken and saute until browned. Add the water, coriander, ginger, cumin, cardamom, cayenne, raisins and apricot preserves.

Simmer uncovered until chicken is cooked and the liquid is mostly absorbed and/or evaporated, 15 to 20 minutes.

Slowly stir cornstarch into the yogurt until dissolved. Add mixture into the pan and stir to incorporate. Simmer gently, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens. Do not boil or the sauce will separate. Season with salt and pepper.

Eat it and enjoy. Please pass on other ideas to help me with my Curry Cooking Quest!

Thanks!

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I started this post last Wednesday. The past few days have been a bit rough. The restaurant has been very busy and we were down one person for the past few weeks. This changed today though, as we had someone start who worked for us in the past and she was able to plug right in.

To give you a bit of background our restaurant is small. We have 38 seats inside and 12 outside. Total square feet is 1,200 and there are 6 of us. Nancy is the creative genius and overseer of the operation, baker and chef. Myself, chef dishwasher. Megan, our superstar chef de cuisine has been with us for almost 4 years. Lisa, is the focused prep and line cook. Joannie the great baker (who probably doesn’t need to work, but does because she loves working with me so much) and our counter person Anna who just started back with us today. Last, but not least is Mike who handles a ton of deliveries for us and makes sure the lunch caterings are ready to go out the door.

With only 5 employees in the cafe, if you are missing one person you can really feel it. On average we have a full restaurant everyday and most days we handle 3 to 5 catering delivery orders that go out before the lunch rush. We make all of that food in the midst of steaming milk for the latte people, scrambling eggs for the breakfast burritos and corralling pastries for the “just coffee ma’am” men who change their minds when they see a tray of hot scones hit the counter. The best part is, we do it with a 87 square foot kitchen. Imagine that if you can. Most of you probably have a larger walk-in closet than our kitchen.

Anyway getting back to food… you can tell by the last few posts we’ve been eating pretty rich lately and I’ve missed a few days of exercise. We had frittata last weekend as well as spare ribs on Sunday (post coming on that one) still doing some research. We had a lasagna with an excellent bolongese sauce Nancy made as well.

I was hoping to get home a little earlier last Wednesday, so I could try out some low calorie chicken tacos. I love tacos plain and simple and believe me I need to start making some lower calorie, lower fat food for a few days and get myself back in line. Nancy leads a bible study and was going to be heading out early, so the goal was to get home, work out and make dinner so we could eat together before she had to leave. The evening didn’t work out as planned.

Nancy left while I was working out, said she would pick something up on the way. I had no desire to cook anything so I pulled out one of my standbys… a Trader Joe’s, Trader Ming’s meal in a box. There are three different versions, Pad Thai, Kung Pao and Peanut Satay. They are actually pretty darn good.

The noodles are in one package, the sauce in another. You open the box, remove the noodles from their package, put back in the box, mix with the sauce and warm in the microwave for 2 minutes. Viola! You have a meal. The best part is they are only about 550 calories, which is what I’m shooting for at dinner.

So, if you haven’t tried them, give them a shot.

Okay, back to chicken tacos. The recipe is inspired from a few different versions I looked at on Food Network. I was able to make them on Thursday of last week, but due to chaos and craziness it has taken me until today to get the text done. They were excellent, so easy to make and tasted great. You can literally make them in 1/2 hour after work and enjoy a filling and low calorie meal.

Low Fat Chicken Tacos

Ingredients

  • 8 corn tortillas
  • 1 1/4 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast cut into small cubes or strips
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 teaspoons canola oil
  • 1 large yellow onion
  • 1 bell pepper, seeded and sliced into strips
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced or not seeded if you like it really hot
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 cup store bought salsa or make your own
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 sliced scallions and 1 large tomato chopped for garnish
  • 1 cup low fat sour cream, or the real stuff
  • 1/2 cup of shredded cheese

Pat chicken dry with paper towels to remove moisture. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet, preferably not non-stick (the chicken will not brown as well), over high heat just until oil starts to smoke. Add the chicken and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until browned on all sides. This is going to take about 4 to 6 minutes. If the bottom of the pan becomes full of liquid and the chicken is poaching instead of browning, pour off the liquid. You want the chicken to brown, not steam or poach. If the chicken starts to burn you can add more oil and/or turn down the heat. You want the brown bits to form on the bottom of the pan, this will add flavor later.

When the chicken is browned remove from pan to a bowl and set aside. Reduce the heat to medium and add remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. When hot add onions and cook, stirring until they are tender, about 5 minutes. As the onions release their liquid you can start to scrape up the browned bits that have formed on the bottom of the pan. You will notice that they mix in with the onions and your mouth with start to salivate at this point.

Now add the bell pepper, garlic, jalapeño and cumin. Continue to stir so as not to burn the garlic, and cook for 3 to 4 more minutes until peppers are bright, but still remain crisp.

While this is finishing up, take your tortillas, place them on a plate, cover tightly with plastic wrap and place in the microwave for 1 minute. This is the quick way to warm through your tortillas without having to warm up the oven. It works fine! The plastic wrap holds the moisture in as they warm.

Now stir in the salsa and the chicken you set aside. Cook, stirring and bringing up the remainder of the brown bits on the bottom of the pan until the chicken is hot, about 3 or 4 more minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the cilantro. Spoon into the warmed tortillas and garnish as you see fit. Pig out!

Let me know how it goes and what changes you have made! -Joe

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