Just because the days are getting shorter doesn’t mean we need to hunker down and stay inside. This time of year, the nights are cooler but the sun is still warm and shining. Even with the cooler temperatures, one can still feel the warmth of the sun on their back and soak in all the rays. Sit back on a picnic blanket with friends and family and close your eyes to the sun and relax. A late summer/early fall picnic is a wonderful way to enjoy the season. Gathered here is a collection of easy picnic food ideas and recipes to inspire you for your next outing.
Picnic food and your spread do not need to be a Martha Stewart event. In addition to serving fresh and delicious food, great picnic food should be easy to transport, have minimal prep work, and keep its freshness over time. You can make it as fancy as you want, but eating outside is a relaxing casual affair, so the food prep should be easy and relaxed too.
In my childhood, the standard picnic food was sandwiches or hot dogs cooked over an open fire. There is a reason these items are still popular. Sandwiches are perfect picnic food. You can make them gourmet, or PB and J, and they do not require plates or utensils to eat them. Wrap them up in parchment or wax paper, then later the paper performs double duty as the “plate”. You can eat half, then cover them up in the wrapping it came in. Then run off for a game of Frisbee.
I included a recipe for grilled chicken sandwiches made on focaccia, with smoked mozzarella, avocado, arugula and basil mayonnaise. Use your favorite bread, but make sure it will last for a couple of hours without getting soaked or smashed. Smushed sandwiches are never fun to eat so pack your sandwiches carefully.
What is it about the fresh air that causes people to want to snack on salty food? I don’t know, all I know is I am right there with everyone else chomping down on chips when I play outside, go to the beach or hike. Nibbles or snacks are always great picnic food, but you don’t have to go crazy and buy out the store. I recommend, one item for an appetizer, and one salty crunchy snack, like chips. It is easy to go overboard with the snacks, but they are not the only food items at the picnic. No one will return home hungry.
A terrific picnic appetizer is tapenade. Pictured in my picnic photographs is artichoke tapenade, a recipe I made from My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz. The recipe I used from this book is a little different from the recipe on his website, but it is still delicious and easy to make.
Another great spread or dip is muhammara, roasted red pepper dip. Muhammara is one of my favorite vegetable spreads. Both spreads are gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan. Serve either with crusty bread, pita chips, or cut vegetables.
I believe every picnic should include some fruit. Ripe fruit is great picnic food because most fruit is naturally designed for individual servings. Fruit provides a bright and fresh taste to counterpoint the rich sandwiches and salty snacks. It is very refreshing. I am craving watermelon now so I included it for this blog post, but any fruit will suffice. You can either slice the watermelon, cut it up into chunks for easy picking, or make a fruit salad.
For this article, I decided to make a fruit salad made with watermelon, nectarines, mint, basil, with a honey lemon and chili pepper vinaigrette. I love herbs with fruit and adding the bit of hot pepper brings out the sweetness in the fruit. Included in the post is the recipe for this fruit salad. Making a fruit salad requires having serving utensils and plates, or you can bring additional beverage cups to use. Then all you need are utensils.
Dessert should be simple and there are many options. One option is a light unfrosted loaf or single layer cake like gluten-free Nifty cake. This cake is made with oat flour and has a slightly nutty flavor. It is a light sponge cake that everyone will enjoy. For ease of transporting it, make it a single layer cake, (and without the whipped cream frosting as pictured in the recipe), and serve with the watermelon fruit salad.
Another dessert option is cookies. Children young and old love cookies and they travel well. Kitchen sink oatmeal cookies are perfect for picnics. They are loaded with rolled oats, raisins, butterscotch chips, and chocolate chips. They can stand up to the heat of the day without melting and falling apart. Also pictured is, Ginger Molasses Cookies from Flour by Joanne Chang. Joanne is the owner of Flour Bakery in Boston. I love molasses cookies and wanted to test her recipe. In the link from the Boston Globe, her recipe is the second cookie recipe on the first page.
If you plan on bringing beer or wine, also include a non-alcoholic beverage like lemon-cucumber water or strawberry lemonade. Picnics are a time to drink responsibly, so keep your beer and wine on the low alcohol level.
Helpful Tips for Prep and Picnic Food :
If you are picnicking with friends, divide and conquer the food preparation. I have found people really like to participate and help.
Tapenade or Muhammara can be prepared the night before your picnic. You can also prepare the chicken and dessert the night before. This leaves making the sandwiches, fruit salad, and packing for the morning of.
Along with your choice of beverage, bring water for drinking and cleaning scrapes or sticky hands. Also paper towels come in handy if something spills. They are light weight and easy to stuff into a pocket.
Pack everything in a couple of insulated tote bags with ice packs. Keep your load light in case you need to hike to your picnic spot. Also bring a blanket to sit on.
Don’t forget the trash bag. A lot of places are carry-in / carry-out parks, and often it is hard to find a trash can when you need one.
Bring a First-Aid Kit, especially if you are traveling with children. At a minimum bring Band-Aids and an antiseptic lotion. They are easy to carry in your wallet or zip-lock bag to store in your picnic basket.
Bee stings are common at picnics. The general advice is to get the stinger out quickly and apply ice, (or cool pack). Read the link for more bee sting information.
If you are serving alcoholic beverages, please drink responsibly.
Easy Picnic Food Ideas for Summer and Fall- Grilled Chicken Sandwiches and Watermelon and Nectarine Fruit Salad
Category: Lunch Picnic
Grilled chicken sandwiches with smoked mozzarella, avocado and basil mayonnaise Is perfect picnic food for an afternoon outing. Also included is a recipe for a fruit salad made with watermelon, nectarines, fresh herbs with spicy honey lemon dressing. In the notes is my recipe for the basil mayonnaise and a pesto. Feel free to use your favorite basil pesto recipe or follow mine, just omit the grated cheese and pinenuts. It may look like a long list, but there are several food items here for you to make and enjoy.
Depending on how large your bread slices are will determine the amount of chicken, mozzarella and avocado you need to cover your bread slice. I made my sandwiches with focaccia about 4 x 4 inches in size.
The prep time varies for each food item. The grilled chicken takes about 20 minutes to cook not counting the overnight marinating and cooling. The sandwiches take about 10 minutes once everything is cooked and prepped.
The fruit salad takes about 15 - 20 minutes to make.
For the tapenade and muhammara recipes, and dessert recipes - click on recipe links in blog post.
About 4 oz (125 g) of Smoked Mozzarella, sliced into 1/4-inch thick slices
1-2 avocados cut into thin slices
1-part basil sauce*
Watermelon, Nectarine and Basil Salad with Spicy Lemon Honey Dressing
1/4 (3 lbs / 1 k 406 g) Seedless watermelon, cut into big bite size chunks
3 ripe nectarines, each sliced into 12 wedges
Small handful of Fresh Mint leaves
Small handful of Fresh Basil leaves
About 2 TB fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp honey
1/8 tsp ground chili pepper
The day/night before pound the chicken breasts to an even thickness, then season both sides of the breasts with the salt, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, dried oregano, and lemon zest. Place the seasoned chicken on a plate or container and cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. There should be a light and even coating of seasoning over the chicken breast, but not too heavy. Use your judgement about how much seasoning you want.
Bring the chicken out of the refrigerator and add the juice of half a lemon. Mix to coat the chicken. Allow the chicken to rest on the counter 30 minutes before you want to grill it, to come to room temperature.
Prepare your grill and proceed as you like, or use a grill pan on the stove top. Turn the heat up to medium-high.
When the grill or grill pan is hot, add the chicken breasts skin side down on a diagonal in the pan or on the grill. Cook for three minutes, then adjust the chicken breasts to the opposite diagonal position and grill for another 3 minutes. Turn the chicken breasts over and grill on the other side following the same procedure as before. After 12 minutes of cooking, If the chicken is not done move the breasts to an indirect heat source on your grill and cook until done. If using a grill pan, turn the heat down to medium and continue to cook until done, about 5 minutes more depending on how big the chicken breasts are. The chicken breasts are done when the juices run clear after being pierced with a fork. Internal temperature is 170°F ( 77°C). Remove from the pan or grill and rest the chicken for 10 -15 minutes. Cool before making sandwiches.
Assemble the Sandwiches
Smear a good coating of the basil mayonnaise (see recipe in notes) on both pieces of bread. Evenly cover one piece of bread with chicken slices, then add one slice of smoked mozzarella, or enough to cover the chicken if your bread slices are large. Layer the sliced avocado over the mozzarella. Add a small handful of arugula to the top and cover with the top piece of bread. If your sandwiches are large, cut in half and wrap in parchment paper or wax paper. Refrigerate until ready to eat or go on your picnic. Pack the sandwiches in an insulated bag with a cold pack or ice to keep cool and fresh for your picnic.
Watermelon Nectarine and Basil Fruit Salad
Mix the fresh lemon juice, honey, and ground chili powder in a small bowl. Keep stirring until the honey is completely dissolved. Taste and add a small pinch of Kosher salt. Set aside.
Add the prepared watermelon and nectarines to a mixing bowl and gently stir to combine. Tear or snip the leaves of the basil and mint over the fruit and mix together. Add the honey lemon dressing and stir. Taste and add more herbs if needed. Place in a plastic container with a tight-fitting lid and keep in an insulated bag with cold pack, or refrigerator. The fruit salad is the last thing to make for your picnic, because fruit releases a lot of juice after it is sliced and with a dressing.
To make the basil mayonnaise, I use a 1 - 1 ratio of mayonnaise to basil sauce. The basil sauce is essentially basil pesto without the cheese and pine nuts. Use your favorite pesto recipe without the grated cheese and pinenuts and mix together 3-4 TB of mayonnaise and 3-4 TB basil sauce until combined.
My general basil pesto recipe is 2 cups (500 ml) of basil leaves, 1 cup (250 ml) arugula or spinach, 1 garlic clove - minced, 1 TB lemon juice, 1/2 tsp kosher salt, and 1/3 (75 ml) to 1/2 cup (125 ml) extra virgin olive oil. In a food processor, process the basil, arugula, garlic, lemon juice, and salt until the basil and arugula are finely minced and combined. Use a thin rubber spatula to scrape everything off the sides of the bowl. With the motor running slowly add in the extra virgin olive oil. You might not use the whole amount. I do not want it too oily or runny so I stop adding the olive oil when I reach a smooth and slightly thick consistency. I do this because I store the pesto in a container with a layer of olive oil over the top of the pesto.
If you want traditional pesto, add 1/2 cup grated roman cheese and 1/4 cup pinenuts before you add the olive oil, and process until smooth. Then add the olive oil. Pesto is best used the same day it is made, but will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of days. Use can freeze pesto without the nuts and cheese, for up to 3 months. Pour a layer of olive oil over the pesto before freezing.
Several years ago I discovered two cookbooks that opened a new world of food and cooking, Jerusalem and Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. When first published, I resisted reading these cookbooks because of the hype surrounding them. It is my experience, hyped-up media often disappoints and does not live up to the claims. Later, when I got around to reading the books for myself, I realized how completely wrong I was. These cookbooks and all their other publications, are worthy of all the praise they receive. Jerusalem and Ottolenghi cookbooks changed the way I approach learning about new ingredients, cuisines, and cooking.
There are many recipes between these two books that I love, like Roast Chicken with Clementines and Arak, and Basmati Rice with Saffron Barberries Pistachios and Mixed Herbs, just to name a couple. However, I wanted to feature their recipe for Saffron Chicken with Herb Salad. I just learned this recipe and believe is perfect for this time of year. I renamed it, Grilled Chicken Salad with Orange Saffron Dressing. This recipe is fresh and vibrant and easily prepared. Perfect for the days when the warm sun is beckoning you outside.
Grilled chicken salad with orange saffron dressing shows how well bitter and sweet flavors blend to form a perfect union. To start, a whole orange simmers for an hour with honey and saffron until soft and the liquid is reduced. The bitterness of the orange peel mellows when combined with grilled chicken salad, crisp fresh fennel, and handfuls of fresh herbs. This is a well composed salad and with each ingredient plays an important role. The grilled chicken provides the backbone and mellows the concentrated flavor of the orange dressing. A composed blend of fresh herbs brightens and lightens the salad with sweet aromas and a refreshing bite. The finishing touch that ties everything together, is a spark of heat from the fresh hot red pepper.
Additionally, this recipe taught me a new trick. The secret to making this dressing is to blitz the whole cooked orange in the food processor with the reduced syrup. Using the whole fruit developed intense orange flavor that reminded me of concentrated frozen orange juice. Also, the best orange popsicle you ever had on a hot summer day. It is amazing how bittersweet fruit flavor can cut the heat of summer in an instant like diving into a mountain pool.
Personally, I hate throwing away citrus rind and am always looking for ways to include the zest in my meals. Citrus zest makes everything taste better so I was more than happy to use the orange rind. There is also less food waste. This grilled chicken salad recipe will turn heads and enlighten taste buds because of a simple and brilliant idea. It is a healthy and refreshing salad with hardly any added fat to weigh the meal down.
The moment I read these two cookbooks, it was love at first sight. Savoring the bold flavors in each tested recipe, inspired me to be more daring in my cooking. I no longer shied away from unfamiliar spices like za’atar and sumac, but embraced them. For the past several years, Jerusalem and Ottolenghi hold an influential spot in my life like The Silver Palate and Marcella Hazan cookbooks did in the 1980’s. Not only are they inspirational, but educational about new ingredients, fresh insights, and different cultures. I am forever grateful.
Grilled Chicken Salad with Orange Saffron Dressing
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Category: Dinner Salad
Cuisine: Middle Eastern
This is a bright and refreshing salad. By itself the orange dressing has a very concentrated bitter-orange flavor lightly sweetened with honey and saffron. The dressing mellows with the other ingredients and the freshness of the herbs are key to the bright flavor. A kick of heat from the fresh red chili pepper ties everything together.
You can mix the salad with arugula if desired.
Best eaten the day it is made.
This recipe is from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, Saffron Chicken and Herb Salad.
2 1/2 TB (50g) honey
1/2 tsp saffron threads
1 TB white wine vinegar
1 1/4 (300 ml) cup water
2 1/4 lbs / 1 k skinless, boneless chicken breasts
2 small fennel bulbs, or 1 large bulb
1 cup / 15 g picked cilantro leaves
2/3 cup / 15 g picked basil leaves, torn
15 picked mint leaves, torn
2 TBS freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 red chili, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Make the Orange Saffron Syrup
Cut a thin slice off the top and bottom of the orange so it will stand flat on a cutting board. Cut the orange in half then cut each half into 6 wedges. Add the orange wedges into a medium sauce pan. Add the honey, saffron, vinegar, and water to the saucepan. If any of the orange wedges are exposed and not submerged under water, add more water so all oranges are covered. Turn the heat to medium-high and bring the oranges to a boil. Then turn the heat down and simmer the oranges for about 1 hour. By the end the wedges will be soft and there will be about 5 tablespoons of syrupy liquid.
Once reduced, add the oranges and syrup to a food processor and process until the orange syrup is smooth. If needed, add water to thin out the sauce and reach a runny and smooth dressing. Set aside.
While the oranges are simmering, preheat the oven to 400F /200C. Gently pound the chicken breast with a meat mallet or the heal of your hand to create an even thickness in each piece. Mix the chicken breasts with 2 tablespoon of the olive oil, 1/2 tsp kosher salt and a couple of grinds of pepper. Sear the chicken breasts for 2 minutes on each side on a stovetop grill pan, or cook on a grill. Transfer to a sheet pan or baking pan and cook in the oven until done. (If you are using the grill there is no need to cook the chicken in your oven.) Pierce each breast with a fork, if the juices from the chicken are clear, not pink or cloudy, then the chicken is done. Internal
temperature of 165F - 170F (74C - 77C). Depending on the thickness of each piece of chicken, roasting time could last for 5 to 15 minutes.
Remove the chicken from the oven (or grill) and set aside to cool.
Putting it all together
Once the chicken is cooled, shred the chicken breasts into decent size pieces and place in a bowl. Mix 1/2 of the orange dressing with the shredded chicken. Cut the fennel bulb in half and slice as thin as possible, lengthwise. Trim off the core if desired. Add the fennel, fresh herbs, remaining olive oil, crushed garlic, and lemon juice to the chicken. Gently stir to combine. Add the sliced red chili. Taste and correct for seasoning with olive oil, lemon juice or Kosher salt if needed.
For an easy shortcut, substitute the grilled chicken with shredded rotisserie chicken, or any leftover chicken.
What to eat over the weekend? I complied a list of three menus for the holiday weekend to satisfy a variety of food preferences and tastes. One menu for the steak lover. One for food with a little heat. And a menu for a plant-based meal.
My focus for each menu is ease of preparation and the option to cook the main entrée on a grill. Each menu includes an appetizer, main course, vegetable side dish, and dessert. I hope each menu inspires you to cook for yourself and don’t be shy to mix it up a bit. The recipes are easy to scale up or down depending on your crowd. Or enjoy your leftovers for a later date.
Of course you don’t have to limit yourself to only these menus. Just search my archives listing the food you crave and hopefully you will find something to your liking.
It still feels like spring here in the Northeast, but now that it is Memorial Day, the summer has officially started. Let me know if you make any of these weekend menu ideas. I would love to hear from you.
Hope every one has a fun weekend with friends and family. It looks like a sunny weekend is in the forecast, perfect for lots of outdoor activity and grilling. If you make any one of my recipes post a picture on Instagram and tag me @lemonthymeandginger and #therecipename. You can also post a photo on my Facebook page. I would love to see what you create.
Growing up in California I got an early introduction to Mexican Cuisine. My first introduction to Mexican food came from Mom, but was by no means authentic. We all loved Mom’s tacos despite the fact her secret ingredients were McCormick’s spice mix and store-bought crispy taco shells. At some point, she fried fresh tortillas and that is when her tacos were really delicious. Regardless as to how bastardized her tacos were, they caught my attention to learn more. If I’m truly honest, my love for Mexican food really generated from my love for avocados.
As I acquired more experience in the kitchen, it became clearer just how complex and exquisite Mexican cuisine is. All one has to do is analyze a mole sauce to understand the intricacies of this delicious cuisine. The ability to balance and blend layers of spices, nuts, seeds, chilies and cocoa to taste as a single sensation, requires a lot of time, nuance and skill. Mole sauce is the shining star, not one specific ingredient. Bravo Mothers and Sisters of Mexico, I tip my hat.
Years ago, I gave myself the challenge to study and learn how to cook Mexican Cuisine. However, after reading the book and seeing the movie, Like Water for Chocolate (one of my favorites), it occurred to me how much effort is involved preparing Mexican cuisine. As much as I love to cook, the prospect of spending my whole day doing it, lost its appeal. Since then, I felt the weight of this daunting task, so I am taking baby steps.
Several years ago, I started cooking with fresh chili peppers. Either fresh or roasted, green chili peppers have a bright flavor that reminds you of summer even on a blustery cold winter day. I love cooking with fresh chilies, especially in White Chicken Chili. The recipe may have its origin in the US, but it uses techniques found in Mexican cuisine to make the most of the chili flavor. I love the bright, grassy-pepper taste.
Recently, I was looking for a recipe to share that was not too complicated to make. Several of my Mexican food recipes require extensive preparation and multiple recipes to pull it off. Luckily, I made a discovery of a creamy poblano chili sauce. This is a recipe that will give you honest Mexican cuisine flavor without having to spend all day making it. I’ve read, poblano cream sauce originates from an “essential” Mexican food foundation, Poblano Rajas. Rajas means slices in Spanish, and this fundamental dish is composed of slices of roasted poblanos and white onions.
This recipe is from, More Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless. Rick Bayless has done a lot to educate Americans about the qualities of Mexican food. From the first time I watched his PBS TV show, it was apparent how much he loves Mexican cuisine and respects the culture and people. Rick Bayless, Diana Kennedy and Alex Stupak are my current go to references for learning about Mexican food.
What I love about Poblano Rajas and turning it into a creamy sauce is how easily it fits into modern cuisine and everyday life. Turning vegetables into a silky sauce is a brilliant idea. Roasted poblano chili sautéed with onions and puréed with Crema Mexicana, or crème fraîche, makes a delicious and luxurious sauce without being too rich or heavy. Despite smoke from roasting the poblanos, it is a bright tasting sauce. The poblanos come through distinctly. A perfect accompaniment to spoon over chicken. It’s tempting to add more herbs, like cilantro, but that would mask the poblano chili flavor. For this recipe, less is more.
Three ways to roast a Poblano Chili
The best tasting method is to roast poblano chilies over an open fire on a grill. Place the chilies on the grill and turn them over every few minutes. The goal is to get an even all over char without over cooking the peppers.
Another method is to place a poblano chili directly on a burner of a gas stove. Turn the pepper with tongs, as you would on the grill, to evenly char and blister the poblano on all sides. This method creates a good char like you get from a grill, but you can only roast one pepper at a time.
The third method, is to place the poblano chilies on a sheet pan and roast them under a broiler. The only drawback is, it takes a little longer to get a good even blister around the chilies and can cook the peppers more than desired.
If you want to have great Mexican food without spending all day making it, then Poblano Chili Cream Sauce is a great way to start. This sauce dresses up any grilled meat or fish for a party or weeknight dinner. Next, I am going to try this sauce for breakfast with scrambled eggs and avocado toast. Something tells me I will not be disappointed.
I would love to hear the creative ways you serve Crema Poblano Rajas.
Taste of Mexico: Poblano Chili Cream Sauce with Grilled Chicken
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Category: Sauce for Entree/ Entree
Poblano Cream Sauce is a delicious sauce made from Poblano Rajas, a traditional Mexican food. It combines roasted poblano chilies with onions, herbs and crema Mexicana to create a bright and smooth sauce. Crema Mexicana is like creme fraiche and sour cream.
This light cream vegetable sauce is perfect served over any grilled meats or fish.
Poblano Cream Sauce Recipe is from More Mexican Everyday by Rich Bayless
3/4 cup / 185 ml creme fraiche, or Crema Mexicana**
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts*
1/2 - 1 tsp Kosher salt
2 Tsp olive oil
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
Juice from half a lime or lemon
1/2 tsp dried garlic or 2 fresh garlic cloves minced
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp dried oregano
Roast the Poblano chilies
Roast the poblano over an open flame of a grill or stove. Use tongs to turn the poblano peppers over so each side is evenly blistered and charred. You want a good sear over the peppers without over cooking them. The process will take around 5-7 minutes per pepper.
If a grill or gas stove is not available, turn your broiler to high. Place the poblanos on a sheet pan covered in aluminum foil and place under the broiler. Watch the peppers and turn them over to get an even char, about 10-15 minutes total.
Once the poblanos are blistered and blackened, remove from the flame or broiler and cover inside a bowl with a clean kitchen towel. Rest for 10 minutes or until cool.
Remove the skin from the poblanos by peeling it off with your fingers. The skin should easily peel where it was blistered. Remove the stem, core and seeds. If necessary, rinse the stubborn seeds away with running tap water, but only very briefly. You do not want to rinse away the delicious charred flavor.
Slice each pepper into 1/4 inch strips about two inches long. Set aside.
Prepare the chicken
Pound the chicken breast with a meat pounder, or the palm of your hand, to even out the thickness of each breast. Sprinkle each breast on both sides with Kosher salt and set aside.
Mix the olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, lime juice and all the spices in a large bowl until evenly combined. Add the chicken to the marinade and mix with your hands to get an even coating over each chicken breast. Cover the bowl and set aside.
Make the Poblano Cream Sauce
Place a skillet on medium high heat and add the vegetable oil. Before the oil gets to the smoking point add the sliced onion and sauté until lightly browned with some crispiness. About 7 minutes. Stir the onions occasionally so they don't stick to the pan or get too brown in parts.
Add the minced garlic and oregano then stir. When the garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute, stir in the poblano peppers and creme fraiche, or Crema Mexicana.
Cook and stir until the creme fraiche has thickened and evenly coating the vegetables. This should only take a few minutes.
Taste and add salt if needed.
Remove the vegetable mix from the skillet and place in a bowl of a food processor, blender, or high sided bowl if using an immersion blender. Blend the creamy poblano and onions until it becomes a silky-smooth sauce. Add water, a tablespoon at a time, to thin out the sauce if needed.
Once smooth, add the creamy sauce back into the skillet and turn the heat to low. Adjust the seasoning and add water, or creme fraiche, or stock to reach your desired thickness. The water will not dilute the flavor, but in makes it very bright and clean tasting. Add any liquid you are using in small increments to make sure you do not water it down. This sauce has some body to it and not runny.
Grill the Chicken
Heat up a stove top grill pan or outdoor grill. Add the chicken to the pan (or grill) and cook for around 10 - 15 minutes depending on how thick your chicken pieces are and how hot your grill is. For a cross-hatch pattern, place the chicken on the grill at an angle over the rack or pan. After about 2-3 minutes, adjust the chicken at the opposite angle. Cook for 3 more minutes. Turn the chicken over and repeat on the other side. The chicken is done with the juices run clear out of the holes made with a fork. No pink colored meat. You should also feel no resistance from the chicken as the fork goes through the meat.
Putting it all together
Plate the chicken and spread the Poblano cream sauce across the middle of each piece. Pour additional sauce in a container to serve at the table.
Boneless, skinless chicken thighs will work well.
Crema Mexicana is similar to creme fraiche. Sour cream is also a good substitute, but should be thinned with a little heavy cream. To make your own Crema Mexicana heat 2 cups of heavy cream until warm. Do not boil. Pour the cream into an airtight container, like a ball jar with lid, and stir in 1/4 cup buttermilk. Seal the jar and let it steep for 48 hours. You can use after the first 48 hours of fermenting. Store the Crema Mexicana sealed in the refrigerator up to about three weeks.
If using as a condiment, like for tacos, allow the crema to come to room temperature before serving.
Crema Mexican recipe is from Tacos by Alex Stupek
What I love about cooking is its split personality. Cooking requires technical precision, but also a certain amount of flexibility. It seems like an odd arrangement, but both precise technique and the ability to be spontaneous and adapt, happily co-exist when the heat is on. Technique, experience and intuition dance together and enlighten the cook toward a delicious masterpiece.
Inspiration and real-time situations influence a cook’s technical strengths and creativity. How many creative works of art and scientific truths have evolved out of “mistakes”? And, where would the world be without the creative spirit to “fix” them? I do my best to plan and be prepared whenever I start to cook a meal. However, I can’t tell you how many times I started cooking something and realized I was missing one or more of the required ingredients, the chicken went bad overnight, or had the wrong size pan. Damn, now what? A quick survey of the situation and my pantry, something unintended develops and who knows could be a new family favorite.
I rely on recipes I call my foundations. These recipes can easily adapt to any of life’s unexpected adventures, or my creative whims. One foundation recipe is Oven Baked Chicken with Shallots and Fennel. I fall in love with roasted fennel every time I eat it, and this recipe is no exception. The subtle sweetness of the fennel compliments the richness of the caramelized shallots and roasted chicken. I will also seek out any excuse to use fresh tarragon. Still, the bones of the recipe allow me to develop many reincarnations at whim or by necessity.
Oven Baked Chicken with Shallots and Fennel is not complicated to make, or have a lot of speciality ingredients. A total bonus is, it does not require my full attention while it is cooking. Yet, there are a couple of technical factors that will influence the recipe’s outcome. The obvious one is knowing when the chicken is properly cooked. Undercooked chicken will make you sick and overcooked chicken is chewy and dry. The not so obvious influence is the baking pan.
Tips for Success making Oven Baked Chicken
In this instance size, does matter. The size and type of pan will determine how long the chicken will cook, and how it will cook. The higher the sides the more pan juices will develop. Too large of a pan and the juices will dry up. A pan that is too small will not allow for enough air circulation to achieve crispy skin and have the chicken cook properly.
I baked eight pieces of chicken with all the vegetables in a roasting pan that was 16″ x 11” x 1 1/2″ (41cm x 27.5 cm x 4 cm) in size. The finished meal was perfectly baked chicken with crispy skin, caramelized shallots and plenty of pan juices. Yet, being flexible is my mantra so use whatever baking pans you have. The size of the pan is more important, than the type of pan. Hopefully you have a baking dish with sides. If you only have small pans, divide the recipe between two pans. The outcome might be slightly altered, but more importantly you can still make this delicious baked chicken dinner without making a trip to the store.
Second, be observant and listen to the chicken with your senses. The chicken will tell you when it is done. Pierce the chicken at its thickest part with a fork, and take note about how much resistance you feel. The fork will slide through a perfectly cooked piece of chicken with little resistance. You should see clear liquid flowing out of the holes made by the fork. If you see cloudy or bloody juices spilling out of the chicken, the meat needs more time to cook.
Additionally, you can cut open the meat and look inside. It is better to cut across one piece of chicken then serve undercooked chicken to your friends and family. Chicken meat that is properly cooked, is not pink or appears raw. It should be juicy as well. The meat is overcooked if it looks dry and there are no flowing juices. The internal temperature for just cooked chicken is between 165˚F and 170˚F.
I like to follow the recipe exactly as instructed the first time I cook it. I learn about how to prepare a new dish and about the author. Learning new techniques is fun, but so is being creative and adapting to my set of circumstances. So, after the first trial run, I am comfortable adapting a recipe to fit my mood, or to what is in my pantry.
Oven Baked Chicken with Shallots and Fennel is a balanced chicken dinner accented with tarragon, vermouth, garlic and lemon. If necessary you can adjust the ingredients, including the amount of time to marinate the chicken. Don’t like vermouth, no problem switch it with a dry white wine. The fresh herbs are not available at the store, fear not and use dried herbs. Can’t find shallots, regular onions sliced into thin wedges will suffice. No time to marinate the chicken, no worries it will still taste fine if you mix everything together right before you cook it. The depth of flavor may not be as intense, but it will be satisfying and delicious.
Cooking a meal should not be stressful. I always say use what you’ve got and enjoy the process. Technique is your friend that sets the foundation but also allows you to be creative and adapt to any of life’s mistakes and adventures.
The combination of fresh tarragon, shallots, fennel and vermouth add subtle and sweet flavor to the baked chicken. If you have time, marinate the chicken and vegetables for one to four hours. Not to worry if time does not allow for marinating the chicken. The baked chicken will still be delicious.
Use a Pyrex like baking dish, roasting pan or rimmed baking sheet to bake the chicken. The pan should be large enough for all the chicken pieces and vegetables to fit in without being too crowded or too big.
8 Skin on bone in Chicken Thighs or combo of breasts and chicken*
1 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
8-10 cloves of garlic, divided
Zest of half a lemon plus 1 whole lemon cut into 8 wedges
2 sprigs fresh thyme
3 sprigs fresh tarragon
1/2 cup dry vermouth, divided
2 Tbs olive oil
1 1/2 tsp honey
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp fresh ground pepper
1 fennel bulb and fronds
8 small shallots
Trim the chicken thighs of extra skin and if using chicken breasts cut each breast in half. Arrange the chicken on a tray. Sprinkle the chicken on all sides with Kosher salt and let rest on the counter while you make the marinade.
Peel the garlic, remove the green germ, and mince half of the garlic cloves. Place the minced garlic in the mixing bowl. Strip the thyme and tarragon leaves from their stems and finely chop. Add the herbs to the bowl. Add the lemon zest, mustard, honey, olive oil, ground pepper and 1/4 cup vermouth to the bowl and whisk together until incorporated.
Cut the fennel bulb in half, remove the core and thinly slice the bulb, no more than a 1/4 inch. Reserve the fennel fronds and set aside.
Peel each shallot then cut each bulb in half. Set aside with the fennel.
Add the chicken to the marinade then use your clean hands and mix the chicken until each piece is thoroughly coated with the marinade. Add the sliced fennel, remaining garlic cloves, and shallots then mix them all together. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let marinate for 1 - 3 hours. Marinade the chicken in the refrigerator if longer than one hour.
Preheat the oven to 425 F, 15 minutes before you want to bake the chicken.
Spread the chicken, fennel and shallots over a large roasting pan that is just large enough to accommodate all the chicken without crowding the pan. You can slip the fennel under the chicken.
Place the lemon wedges around the pieces of chicken, fennel fronds and the remaining 1/4 cup of vermouth to the roasting pan.
Bake the chicken and vegetables for 20 minutes. Baste the chicken with pan juices and bake for 20 more minutes. Check to see if the chicken is done. The chicken is done when piercing the chicken with a fork, there is little resistance and the juices are clear. The internal temperature should be between 165F and 170F.
When done, remove the chicken from the oven and let it rest for 5 minutes. Serve the chicken with the fennel, shallots and lemon, drizzled with remaining pan juices.
If you prefer, you can make this dish with boneless and skinless chicken thighs. Reduce the oven temperature to 400F. If the chicken did not brown as much as you like put the chicken and vegetables under the broiler for a couple of minutes. I do not recommend making this with boneless chicken breasts because they will cook to quickly and the vegetables will not be done. Boneless chicken breasts get mushy if they are marinated for more than an hour.
The roasting lemon wedges with chicken adds great lemon flavor. You can eat the lemon slice rind and all. Use only lemons with a thin rind. Too much lemon pith does not taste very good.