Apple Cider Chicken

The Cider Braised Pork Chops were such a hit, when I saw this recipe for Apple Cider Chicken I knew I had to try it. The levels of flavor that come from using apples, cider, apple brandy, and cider vinegar combined with the crispy skinned chicken make this dish a hit. And, unlike the chops, it requires only a few minutes in the oven, so it’s great for a weeknight meal. This recipe is from the same source as well, our friends at Cook’s Country from America’s Test Kitchen, so you know it’ll be good!

Apple Cider Chicken

  • 3 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces (I used thighs, but other pieces are fine, adjust cooking times as needed)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, chopped fine
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
  • 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 large Golden Delicious, Cortland, or Jonagold apple, peeled, cored, and cut into 3/4-inch chunks
  • 1 cup apple cider
  • 1/4 cup apple brandy (see note)
  • 1 teaspoon cider vinegar

Heat your oven to 450 degrees with the rack in the middle position.

 

In an ovenproof skillet or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat until just smoking. Rinse and pat the chicken thighs dry with paper towels. Season with salt and pepper. Cook the chicken, skin side down, until well browned, about 10 minutes.

 

This is a good opportunity to use a timer. Don’t be like me. I have no concept of time. Five minutes, ten, twenty? I don’t know. But the timer does and it will help keep you on track.

Brown the thighs skin side down

Flip the tight and brown on the second side, about five minutes.

Brown the second side

Transfer the things to a plate and pour off all but 1T of fat from the pan. Cook the onion in the fat until softened, about five minutes.

Soften the onions

Add the garlic, thyme, and flour and cook, about one minute, until fragrant and flour is absorbed.

Add the thyme, flour, and garlic

Add the apple, cider, and 3T brandy and bring to a boil. Deglaze pan with spoon (remember, deglazing is just a fancy word for scraping up the browned bits).

Add the apples, cider, and brandy and deglaze

Nestle the chicken, skin side up, into the sauce and roast uncovered until white meat reaches 160 degrees (175 degrees for dark meat), about ten minutes.

Nestle the chicken in the sauce and bake

Transfer the chicken to a platter. Add vinegar and remaining brandy to the sauce, stir. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Serve, passing sauce at the table.

Finish the sauce with brandy and cider vinegar

I served mine with some braised collard greens. But a baked sweet potato, butternut squash, stewed apples, or spinach would all be lovely.

Apple Cider Chicken

This was a quick and tasty weeknight meal! What do you like to cook up on a weeknight? Any seasonal flavors that you’re loving right now?

Lentil Stew

Do you still have ham from the holidays? I do. And I’ve put it in every bean soup known to man. I’ve also made quiche. Fried ham steaks. Made sandwiches. And guess what? It’s STILL NOT GONE! Holy mother of ham.

But the soup has been good. And this stew is great. Since I still had ham to spare (in the freezer, of course) and am working to incorporate new proteins into our diet, this was the perfect Friday night meal. By the time I got around to starting this stew I was beat.

The day started early with the police finding a vagrant in the shed of the vacant house next door to mine. Needless to say, it was not the way I wanted to start the day. It caused a lot of stress to wonder how long he had been there, why he was there, were we in danger at any time? I also decided not to tell the little Bundt. She plays outside after school in the back yard, so it had me pretty freaked out.

I worked all day baking cookies which you’ll see in the Valentine’s post coming up soon. And I handled some everyday business. Took some orders, ran to the store, the usual. Usually, Mr. Bundt turns up around 8pm on Friday, tired and hungry. Often he wants me to meet him in town for dinner. But by 8pm on Friday night I want to be in front of the TV with my friends from Say Yes to the Dress. I do not want to go into town for dinner. Plus, we’re both starving and generally look pretty gross. But this particular Friday, he didn’t roll in until after 9pm. I gave up and ate my stew without him. And I was grateful to have it! With one of the Honey Butter Wheat Rolls it was the perfect hot dinner after a long day.

If you’ve never eaten lentils, do not fear. They’re great. Not super beany. They’re thin so they don’t need to be soaked overnight and they’re not meaty like a larger bean might be. Even if you’re not a bean fan, give these a try.

The recipe is from Cooking Light. I love their recipes and use them a lot. Tasty, healthy meals!

Lentil Stew with Ham and Greens

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 5 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup dried lentils
  • 1/2 cup chopped carrot
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 cups chopped Swiss chard, collard greens, or spinach
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped baking potato
  • 1 cup chopped smoked ham
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Saute the onions and garlic

Heat the oil over medium high heat. I like to use my Dutch oven, but you can use a large soup pan. Sauté the onions and garlic about 5 minutes. Add the broth, lentils, carrots, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil and partially cover; reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Starting your lentil stew

Add your greens, diced potato, and ham, and return to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer again for 15 minutes, or until potato is tender. Add the tomatoes, basil, thyme, and pepper. Simmer 10 more minutes.

Lentil stew part 2

I was concerned that the stew would have that unsavory gray color that lentils often lend to things. But with the addition of the vegetables, it turned out to be a pretty bright stew.

FInished Stew

Discard bay leaves. Serve hot with crusty bread.

Has anything crazy happened to you lately? What easy hot meal do you like to serve up at the end of a long day? Have you tried any new ingredients in the new year?

Here’s what I’m going to do with the ham next. Let’s hope to goodness that that’s the end of it!

Honey Butter Wheat Rolls

We’ve had some nasty weather here the last three days. The kind that makes you want to stay in your jammies and never leave the house. Perfect weather to warm up the kitchen and fill the house with the aroma of fresh baked bread. And I have the perfect recipe to get you started!

These rolls are sooooo good. So good. And so easy. I’ve made them twice in the last three weeks and people keep asking for more! The recipe comes from Cook’s Country from America’s Test Kitchen. Regular readers know that I love America’s Test Kitchen! You can catch episodes of the show on PBS on the weekend or find them on the web. The rolls don’t require a lot of work, but there is time for rising. Start in the morning and have them in time for lunch!

Honey Butter Wheat Rolls

  • 1 3/4 cups whole milk, heated to 110 degrees, plus 1 tablespoon
  • 6 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon honey
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 1/2 cups (13 3/4 ounces) whole wheat flour
  • 1 3/4 cups (8 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon instant or rapid-rise yeast *
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons salt
*This is more than one packet of yeast contains. Buy multiple packets or a jar of yeast.

 

Heat the oven to 200 degrees with the rack in the lower-middle position. When the oven temperature reads 200 degrees, turn the oven off and leave the door closed.

Grease a large bowl and a 13×9 baking dish.

Get all your ingredients together before beginning. Melt and cool the butter. Warm the milk. Measure the flours. I like to use a scale to measure the flour. Since I’ve started doing this I feel that my baked recipes are turning out better. Plus, if you’re working on weight control, it’s a great way to ensure accurate potion sizes. Weigh a few of those grocery store chicken breasts. You’ll be shocked at how many portions they turn out to be!

Wheat flourWhite flour

Combine 1 3/4 c milk, 6T honey, 4T melted butter, and the egg in a large liquid measuring cup. Coating the tablespoon with cooking spray before measuring the honey will allow the honey to slide out without sticking!

Mix the butter, honey, milk, and egg

Put the dough hook on your stand mixer  and mix the whole wheat flour, white flour, yeast, and salt on low speed until combined. Slowly pour in the milk mixture and mix until dough comes together, about 1 minute. Stop the mixer and check to make sure there is no unmixed flour at the bottom of the bowl. Increase the speed of the mixer to medium and mix until the dough is smooth and almost clears the sides of the bowl, but still sticks to the bottom. This should take about 6-8 minutes. You can see the evolution of the dough below.

Evolution of dough

Transfer the dough to your greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Place the bowl in your turned-off oven. Dough should double in size after about 45 minutes.

Let the dough rise

On a lightly floured surface, punch down the dough. Divide into quarters and cut each piece into quarters. You should have 16 dough balls. Form the rolls by pulling the edges under until the top is round and smooth. You can use the counter to form each ball into a smooth, tight round by cupping the dough with your hand and rolling it. Arrange the rolls in your prepared pan and cover loosely with the plastic wrap. Place the pan back in the oven and let the rolls rest until doubled in size, about 20 minutes.

Remove the rolls from the oven and uncover. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Brush rolls with remaining 1T of milk. Bake rolls until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Rotate the dish halfway through baking. Combine the remaining 1T melted butter and 1T honey in a bowl. Brush tools with honey butter and let cool in the pan for 10 minutes on a wire rack. Serve!

Perfectly done rolls!

You can serve them with regular butter or with honey butter for a special touch. Store in a plastic container for up to a week. I reheat them for about 10 seconds in the microwave before serving.

I love the smell of baking bread in the house. What’s your favorite thing to cook on a rainy or snowy winter day?

Weekly Meal Planning Made Easy

This one’s going to be wordy friends, but chock full of information. Hang in there with me and I promise something good at the end!

I read somewhere that the average family would save 50% on food costs by eating at home! 50%! In this economy that’s a lot of money! Plus, eating at home is healthier. And not just healthier for your waistline. There is a list of statistics a mile long about how families who eat together function better. At my house, eating meals together is non-negotiable. Not only does it allow us to share hot food, it helps us reconnect after a long day apart. It’s super important to me to do this, so I make it a priority. But it doesn’t have to be hard. You don’t need to spend hours in the kitchen or make a fancy meal.

This is how I do it. But before we start . . .

I’m assuming a couple of things:

  • You currently have no meal plan
  • You can’t/don’t want to cook every single night
  • You can get yourself to the grocery store at least one time during the week (Wednesday night is best!)
  • You can follow a recipe
  • You have an average number of family members (scale up for more than 4 peeps)
  • A meal generally has a protein, veggie(s), and starch
  • You can afford to buy some convenience foods
  • You might have time one night or on a weekend to prep stuff ahead

Here is a sample meal plan I put together for next week. I have modeled this after one of our weeks, but I understand you might have other things going on. No problem. Move the easiest meals to your worst night. For example, we have piano on Monday’s, so I choose something that’s easy and quick or I plan a slow cooker meal for that night.

Let’s look at the chart. Across the top are the days of the week, along the left side are the meals. I assume that you eat pretty much the same thing every weekday for breakfast. I write in the items we usually have for breakfast so that I can restock what has been depleted in the past week. You might not need to shop for all these items, but I find it handy to post this on the fridge so other people in the house can prepare a meal without my help. My daughter can look at the chart and see her breakfast options.

The same goes for lunch. I assume that you will eat the leftovers if you have somewhere to prepare them, or you will pack a cold lunch from a list of common ingredients. My daughter eats the same lunch four days a week. I know I will need bread, peanut butter, jelly, juice boxes, yogurt, carrots or something crunchy, and a fruit. Mr. Bundt is happy to eat leftovers. I’ll snack on whatever is around, so we keep hummus, yogurt, and soup handy. I also like to have a cup of tea and a snack with my daughter when she gets home from school, so I make sure to have something (peanut butter on graham crackers or apples, for example) for us when she gets home.

You can see I also added in events that require food or that meant I didn’t need to cook. You might have family dinner, supper club, girls night out, or spirit night for your school. Note these things on your chart. You may also need to take food to school or work, note these on here as well. This will help you organize your shopping so you don’t make that dreaded trip back to the store!

Now the tricky part. Dinner. Except it’s not tricky at all. My mother used to cook for at least six people every night. Every. Single. Night. No kidding. And we were poor. We never ate out. I seriously don’t know how she did it, but it can be done.

The first thing I do with my chart is mark the nights I know something’s going on. Earlier, I mentioned Monday is a piano day. Your days may be different. That’s fine. Busy nights will be slow cooker or leftover nights. How do I come up with menu items? There are standards, like the spaghetti, which are always an option. Some others might be meatloaf, tacos, chicken breasts (pounded flat and sautéed), chili, etc. I always have a list of recipes I want to try pulled from cooking shows, magazines, and cookbooks. The internet and library are great resources. Make sure to check the blogroll to the right for some great food blogs full of wonderful recipes!

Cost might be a factor in what you choose as well. Meat usually accounts for about 20% of a family’s grocery budget. You can choose what to buy and cook by using the sale circular at your favorite grocery store. If you see an item on sale but don’t know what to do with it, Google it! Type in “best recipe for _____” and see what comes up. You should have lots of choices.

I put rotisserie chicken on Monday because it’s easy to run to the store during lunch and pick up two chickens. Why two? We’re going to eat off these chickens twice or even three times. If you have extra, great! Soup! Rotisserie chickens cost about the same (don’t pay more than about $5/ea) as an uncooked whole chicken so it’s a great value. Same price but you didn’t have to put in the time.

Tuesday night is leftover chicken on quesadillas. Serve with a salad with fruit and you have a complete meal. Tuesday night you will prep the items for the crock pot beef stew on Wednesday. If you want an excellent slow cooker cookbook, try Slow Cooker Revolution by America’s Test Kitchen.

By the time you get home Wednesday, the house will smell wonderful and all you’ll need to do is serve up some stew and slice some crusty bread. If you have time Wednesday night, you can bake off your meatballs for Thursday.

Thursday night, start the sauce, heat the water for the spaghetti noodles. Toast up some garlic bread and toss the salad. But wait! Maybe you don’t get home until six every night. You’re too tired to do all this. Gotcha. Do you have a spouse, kids, handy dog? Okay, so the handy dog won’t help, but the others can and should! It is not solely your responsibility to create a meal. Maybe you did the shopping. Your spouse or older children can help with the rest. This is another good reason to post the menu where everyone can see it. Whoever gets home first should start dinner. Even a handy sitter can boil water for noodles or rice!

Friday is another night of repurposed leftovers. Cook extra meatballs on Thursday and feast on yummy meatball subs toasted with provolone cheese for an easy Friday night dinner.

Saturday is a night off! You can certainly eat out, but if you prepare the meals most other nights, have another family member choose a meal to prepare and put them on kitchen duty. Any child over the age of about 10 should be able to do this. If you haven’t taught them how to shop for and prepare a healthy, affordable meal by that age you need to get cracking!

You could also do a family meal night. Prepare pizzas together have a leftover buffet!

If you have time on the weekend, it’s a good time to cook some extra things to keep in the freezer or to make your weeknight easier. I always have quiche and soups in the freezer. I also package up leftovers into single serve portions so they can be grabbed for a quick and easy lunch.

I’ve included links to some of the recipes that I like below. Remember, you don’t have to make these exact recipes. You can also purchase convenience ingredients like pre-chopped onions or celery, or meatballs (fresh, not the frozen ones, gross). These may cost a bit more but are still cheaper than eating out.

Slow Cooker Beef Stew

Spaghetti Squash with Turkey Meatballs

Want a blank copy of my chart? Here you go!

Meal Planning Chart

What are your go-to weeknight meals or tips for getting dinner on the table in a hurry?

Is there an ingredient you’d love to see featured? A meal you’ve eaten but aren’t sure how to make? I’d love to hear your ideas!

Cider Braised Pork Chops

Here’s a tip. America’s Test Kitchen. Watch it. Best cooking show. Ever. And it’s on PBS. Which I think makes it even better. Especially if you like to feel intellectually superior.

Actually, I love America’s Test Kitchen for a variety of reasons. It’s not the flashy, celebri-chef stuff you see on Food Network. This is honest-to-goodness cooking science. Cooking for nerds. If you want to know the how and why that something works (or doesn’t), this is the place. There’s no glamour here, just real cooking tips and information.

Another reason to love America’s Test Kitchen? Founder and host, Christopher Kimball. He created America’s Test Kitchen and its companion, Cook’s Country, from scratch and has built it into a reliable TV and print production. While he does make TV appearances outside of his own shows, he’s still the Bill Nye the Science Guy of cooking and charmingly dorky. Here’s a video of him demonstrating today’s recipe on the TODAY Show.

Cider Braised Pork Chops. Amazing! And easy! My family loved it, and as one of my customers said, “I know if it says ‘braised’ I’m going to love it!” So true. If you haven’t braised before, give this a try!

Here’s the recipe, courtesy of Cook’s Country:

  • 6 bone-in blade-cut pork chops, about 1 inch thick (I used thick, boneless chops from Costco and they worked great)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup apple butter
  • 1 cup apple cider
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley (I omitted)

Before you begin, adjust the oven rack to below the middle oven position. Make sure to leave enough room for your Dutch oven’s lid. Heat oven to 300 degrees. If you don’t have a Dutch oven, don’t fret! Use a large, oven-safe pot and cover the top tightly with foil. It’ll be fine. Promise. If you’re dying to get a Dutch oven and have been put off by the price tag of some of the big name brands, try this one. It’s the one I have and it’s great!

Heat the oil in the Dutch oven over medium-high heat.

Rinse and pat your chops dry. Sprinkle with salt and pepper on both sides.

Pat dry and season pork chops

Once the oil is hot (just smoking), add the pork chops in two batches and brown on both sides. About four minutes per side. TIP: If your meat won’t pull away from the pan, it’s not brown enough. It’s hard to over brown, so even if they seem a little too done, don’t worry.

Brown the chops on both sides

Once they’re all browned, transfer to a plate. Reduce the heat to medium. Pour off all but about 1T of fat. Add the chopped onion. Cook until soft, about five minutes.

Add the onion

See all that brown stuff in the bottom? That’s flavor. It’s going to make the dish even more awesome.

Add the garlic, flour, and 2T of the apple butter. Cook until the onions are coated and the mixture is fragrant. About one minute.

Add the garlic, apple butter, and flour

Add the cider and thyme and deglaze the pan. Now, don’t freak out, deglaze simply means to use the liquid to loosen up and scrape all the browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Remember before when I said browned bits=flavor? Now’s the time to get those flavor bits into your broth. The broth is what will gently cook the chops and make them tender and wonderful.

Add the cider and deglaze the pan

Bring the liquid to a boil and return the chops and any accumulated juices from the meat to the pan. See how they all snuggle together?

Return the chops to the pan

Cover with lid (or make a lid from foil) and transfer to the oven. Braise about 1 1/2 hours or until chops are completely tender. My thicker chops were better after two hours. Transfer the chops to a platter and strain the sauce. Use a shallow spoon to skim off the fat. Or use one of these.

Strain the sauce and separate the fat

Whisk together strained sauce, vinegar, and remaining apple butter. Add the parsley. Taste, season with salt and pepper as needed.

Whisk the remaining ingredients into the sauce

Serve sauce on the side, or pour over the chops and serve.

Cider Braised Pork Chops

I like to serve these with a side of stewed apples which pick up on the apple cider flavor, and sautéed spinach which provides a contrasting flavor.

Do you braise? What are your favorite things to braise?