Follow by Email

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Chicken Patties/Loaf

Several weeks ago, I had cooked several pounds of chicken quarters in my largest slow cooker, with poultry seasoning, some "aromatics" (chopped onion, garlic, and celery) and salt. The result was a huge quantity of rich and flavorful broth and a whole lot of chicken that was falling off the bone tender.

...A little too tender, at least for giving the "right" texture for the casseroles I had envisioned. I did make some chicken, rice and vegetables, and the flavor was superb. Still, it just seemed a little too, well, soft. Not quite hospital food but definitely not as good as I really wanted it to be. (Actually, the consistency was very similar to canned chicken, something that you could substitute if that is something you keep on hand.)

Now that I had a couple of pounds more of this "over-cooked" chicken to use up, I froze the meat in one pound portions while I gave the matter more thought. I ended up adapting a chicken croquette recipe I made decades ago and ended up with a lovely loaf and some deliciously light and crispy patties--enough from just one pound of the meat for two or three meals for a family of four or five. 

This is old-fashioned food, but, with a food processor, the preparation was quite easy. You will note that there seems to be an inordinate amount of egg compared to the amount of chicken. This is necessary because the pre-cooked meat will not hold together as well as a meatloaf made with raw ground meat.

With all these other ingredients, this could easily be adapted for using up that leftover chicken that isn't quite enough on its own for another meal. I have included the amounts for a half recipe at the end of this post, in case you find yourself in that situation.

The patties were good for serving right away and the loaf could go back into the freezer after baking for another day--as a main dish or sliced and served on crusty rolls.

 Chicken Loaf and Patties

1 lb boneless, cooked chicken
1/2 to 1 c onion, diced
1/3 c diced bell pepper
1/2 c diced celery (optional)
2 c finely shredded carrots
2 c dry bread crumbs
1 to 2 t mixed herbs (I used rosemary, sage, and thyme)
1/2 c yogurt
6 eggs
salt and pepper to taste (NOTE: If the chicken you are using was seasoned while cooking, omit salt completely)

1.  Shred the chicken in a processor or pull it into fine shreds with a fork and/or knife. If the chicken is as overcooked as mine was, you will want to pulse gently and be sure you don't let it process too long!

2.  Prepare the vegetables and bread crumbs. The carrots and crumbs can be processed in the food processor as well, but chop the onion, celery, and pepper to provide more texture.

3.  Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, mixing until well blended. 

4.  Cooking:

Chicken Loaf
Put about half the mixture into a very well-oiled loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes, until the top is golden and the edges begin to turn a toasty brown.

OPTIONAL:  You may wish to lay a few strips of bacon across the bottom of the pan in place of oiling it, before adding the chicken mixture OR you could lay a couple of strips of bacon across the top of the loaf.

Heat a small amount of canola or other vegetable oil in a cast iron or other heavy skillet over medium high heat, until the fat is just shimmering.  Using a large spoon or spatula, scoop out about one third cup of the meat mixture and, using your fingers, press it together and place in the hot fat. Press down lightly with a spatula. Repeat with the remaining patties but don't crowd the pan. (You may need to cook these in a couple of batches.) Cook for about 4 to 5 minutes, until the bottom is very well browned. Turn, press lightly on each patty, and continue cooking until the second side is also browned. Be sure you have flattened the patties a little so that the middle will be completely cooked by the time the outside is golden and crusty.

Serving suggestions:

Both patties and loaves go well with cole slaw or tossed garden salad and mashed potatoes--a classic "meat and potatoes" meal. While there is no gravy for the potatoes, sprinkle them with a bit of good grated cheese or top with a little light sour cream and chives--or any other toppings you might put on a baked potato. As noted above, they also make great sandwiches. Condiments that you like on other ground meat dishes will go well here too--ketchup, barbecue sauce, lettuce and tomato, even salsa, cheese, etc.

Half recipe amounts

1/2 lb boneless, cooked chicken
1/4 to 1/2 c onion, diced (one small)
2 to 3 T diced bell pepper
2 to 3 T diced celery (optional)

1 c finely shredded carrots
1 c dry bread crumbs
1/2 to 1 t mixed herbs (I used rosemary, sage, and thyme)

1/4 c yogurt
3 eggs

Monday, February 20, 2012

Update on the Cookie Fails

Never let it be said that I waste perfectly good food. After making a pan of each of the Valentine cookies noted on the last post, I put the rest of the dough in the refrigerator to regroup. After thinking about it a bit, I let both doughs warm just enough to be malleable. The "hearts" were still wrapped in waxed paper, so I gently rolled them on the counter, in the wrapper, to try to get them as circular as possible. Then I patted the chocolate dough into a flat rectangle the length of the other cookie roll. That was then wrapped around the roll, pinched and prodded to make a pretty even, and sealed, covering and then the entire thing was returned to the refrigerator to chill completely.

Sliced and baked like any refrigerator cookie (350 degrees, about 8 to 10 minutes), they came out looking like this:

Arranged on a plate as above, they were okay--and the flavor was excellent, though the chocolate was not very strong. If I were to deliberately make a cookie like this again, I'd a) omit the baking soda in the white layer completely, b) add more cocoa--maybe double?--or melt some chocolate chips to stir into the dough or c) increase the ratio of chocolate dough to white dough.

To be honest, I probably won't make these again--they were okay but not all that special looking to me--but I wanted to demonstrate that even things that seem to be failures can be salvaged, sometimes in "creative" ways.

What are some of the things you have done to "fix" a baking or cooking mistake? I'd love to hear more ideas.

Monday, February 13, 2012

A Last Minute Dessert Idea

Whether you are faced with a need to make a last minute potluck dessert or have impulsively invited friends over for coffee and need something to go with it, here is a solution that takes little more than 5 minutes to prepare and another half hour or so to set up. Of course, that short time of prep means that the ingredients are already in the house. Following the recipe are some comments about how to be ready for desserts like this.

Pudding and Berry Pie

2 c dried chocolate cookie or cake crumbs
2 T softened butter
1/2 c finely chopped or ground almonds or walnuts (optional)

1 package instant vanilla pudding
1 c plain yogurt (or fat free sour cream)
1 c milk

1 to 2 c individually frozen raspberries, blueberries, or strawberries

Using a fork, blend the crumbs, butter, and nuts and pat and press into an 8 inch pie pan.

Combine the pudding with the yogurt and milk according to package directions. Pour into prepared crust and refrigerate half an hour or more. Ten minutes or so before serving, press the still frozen (or barely thawed) berries into the top of the pie. Serve.


With both the recipe above and any of the following variations, use crumbs from white or yellow cake (or sugar cookies) instead of chocolate crumbs.

Banana split pie:  Slice a banana or two and cover the crumbs with a layer of banana slices before pouring in the pudding. Drizzle a little chocolate sauce over the berries if you have some and if you like the extra kick of chocolate.

Peanut butter pie:  Omit berries. Substitute peanut butter for the butter in the crumb layer. Use chocolate pudding in place of vanilla pudding and sprinkle the top with chopped peanuts.

Rocky road pie:  Omit berries and substitute chocolate pudding for vanilla in the filling. Spread a mixture of miniature marshmallows and chopped walnuts, almonds, or peanuts over the crumbs and then pour the pudding over.

Citrus pie:  If you have some lemony cake or cookie crumbs, this one is really refreshing. Use them to make the crust and then make the filling. Reduce the milk to one half cup and add a tablespoon of grated lemon or orange rind. Spread over the crumbs and then cover with a layer of thinly sliced orange wedges. A few green grapes, cut in half and pressed into the filling cut side down can be interspersed for an even more attractive topping.

Any of these variations can make last minute desserts whatever the season. Just be sure to keep a few packages of instant pudding mix in the cupboard and some berries (whole, not the ones frozen in syrup) in the freezer.

Oh, and don't forget the crumbs.


One of the great ways to save money is to dry stale brownies, cake, even cookies, crumble and dry them, and then store them in airtight bags in the refrigerator (or on the shelf for up to several weeks). I know, I hear you saying that there is no such thing as a brownie or other dessert getting to the stale stage in your house, and you may be right. However, have you ever had a big pan with a pile of crumbs and one or two misshapen parts of the last few pieces of cake left? And so you decided to just eat those leftovers (no calories in leftovers like these, right?) or, regretfully, tossed them in the trash. The last cookie and the crumbs in the cookie jar often share the same kind of fate.

Instead of seeing these tasty bits go to waste (waist), they can be dried and used to substitute for any graham cracker crust recipe. Crumbling the last bits and pieces into even sizes, they can be spread on a baking sheet and left on the counter to dry for a day or two--or put them in a 200 degree oven for 10 to 20 minutes (depending on how moist the cake or cookies had been). Be sure they are thoroughly dry before packaging. It only takes a cup and a half or so of crumbs to make a nice small (8 inch square or round pie pan) crust. If you don't have quite enough from one batch, put the crumbs in the freezer (CLEARLY LABELED!) and add similar ones later. Don't worry if there are nuts in the crumbs, though you'll want to salvage the raisins from those leftover oatmeal cookies. Different chocolate crumbs can be combined, and another container of crumbs can include white or lemon cake crumbs along with plain sugar cookies. Spiced crumbs (oatmeal cookies, carrot cake, etc.) would be a third category.

...Of course, if you don't yet have any crumbs, you can always fall back on the old graham cracker standby, but once you've had a chocolate crumb crust, you may find yourself making an extra cake layer just to dry it for this kind of dessert!

Some Major Valentine Cookie Fails!

Last year, I posted a couple of Valentine's Day cookies that have become family favorites, at and The time had come to make these again, so I stirred up the doughs and invited the kids over to help.

After washing their hands thoroughly, two of the grandkids carefully sorted a package of Christmas M &Ms into a bowl of green and a bowl of red pieces, discussing the proportion of green to red and contemplating what kinds of green M & M goodies we might make for St Patrick's Day. Then it was time to unwrap the Hershey's Kisses--"this is taking a lot of self-control" remarked the seven-year old as they finished the tasks without even one snack.

In the end, it was good that we were doing this for family fun and not preparing to impress someone not attuned to our cooking and baking! As you can see below, the visual results were hardly stunning. ...and if you can see any heart shapes on this pan, you are probably a cardiac surgeon or nurse! The flavors, however, were still wonderful, and the cookies disappeared so quickly I had hardly anything left to photograph. No, that cookie up in the left corner doesn't have a bite out of it; the rest of it was the only part we could get chiseled off the baking sheet at this point!

So here are the problems that led to the less than attractive results, and some ideas on what to do differently next time.

The candy kiss cookies:

At the last minute, I realized that I had only "cherry cordial" Hershey's Kisses. We adults contemplated these briefly (contemplating here means tasting a few, just to be sure of what we might be using!) and decided the flavor combination should be wonderful, so why not use them.

The reason why not is that the lovely cordial filling melted almost immediately in the oven, leaking out of the chocolate candy, then out of the cookie coating, leaving puddles and flattened cookies in their wake. Kind of like little molten volcanoes as we took them out of the oven, but so soft and sticky they fell apart when I tried to get them off the pan while hot. As soon as they cooled, they were stuck tight. A little experimentation and we were able to get them mostly on to a plate where the gooey mess congealed into a larger mass. Pretty ugly but so tempting that I couldn't get a photo before they were gone.

Bottom line:  Eat the cordials alone and go buy some real Hershey's Kisses if you're going to make these cookies. 

The refrigerator cookies:

Just too much in a hurry here. Instead of putting maraschino cherries in the dough, I simply rolled it into a log and then tried to make it heart shaped by pressing a wood spoon handle along the top. That may have worked a little for the "crease" at the top of the heart, but my half-hearted (pun not intended but there it is--sorry) attempt to make a point was too hurried and too forgetful of the fact that these cookies do raise quite a bit in the oven.

Bottom line:  While the idea of just topping each cookie with a red M & M instead of doing the cherry thing worked well, I probably should either just make them round and forget the heart shape idea OR omit the small amount of baking soda in the recipe and then take a little more time in developing the heart shape before chilling the dough.

Bottom, bottom line: Not every recipe turns out perfectly, but that doesn't mean the results need to be thrown away. If you don't achieve a picture-perfect product, savor the flavor anyway. And if the flavor is the problem, there may still be some ways to salvage your efforts. I found a 1997 cookbook at my library, Anne Willan's Cook It Right, that is fascinating for the inclusion in every section of ways to recover if things don't turn out just right. It's worth checking out just for some of these hints, and I'll try to include more of my make lemonade out of lemons thoughts in future posts. Believe me, I've had lots of experience in learning to make do with less than perfect!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Give Thanks for Thanksgiving Soups

(2-11-11: Not quite sure what happened here, but an editing comment I entered moved this November 2010 entry up to February 2012! I decided not to delete it, just in case you find some help in the comments on broth and stock, along with some really good soup recipes. Still, just want you to understand the out of season commentary at the beginning!)

For the last couple of years, I have been a guest at the big Thanksgiving meal for our extended family. Since I haven't been making the turkey myself, I have become the "carcass catcher," offering to "take it off your hands" when the clean up process begins.

This year, I brought the bones home in the roaster where the bird had been prepared, so I also received the benefit of a large amount of rich drippings left after the gravy had been made. Popping all of these into my electric roaster (breaking up the bones so they could all be immersed in liquid), I added just enough water to cover before setting the roaster to simmer overnight. The next day, I put the bones in a large colander and had a gallon of rich, rich broth (or stock, whichever you prefer to call it*). I then pulled over a pound of easily salvaged meat off the bones before wrapping them securely for the garbage.

[*Wikipedia currently contains the following "distinction" between stock and broth:
The difference between broth and stock is one of both cultural and colloquial terminology but certain definitions prevail. Stock is the thin liquid produced by simmering raw ingredients: solids are removed, leaving a thin, highly-flavoured liquid. This gives classic stock as made from beef, veal, chicken, fish (court bouillon) and vegetable stock. Broth differs in that it is a basic soup where the solid pieces of flavouring meat or fish, along with some vegetables, remain. It is often made more substantial by adding starches such as rice, barley or pulses. Traditionally, broth contains some form of meat or fish: nowadays it is acceptable to refer to a strictly vegetable soup as a broth.
My usual practice is to call either of these broth, but you can split hairs as much as you'd like on this one!]

Our weather over Thanksgiving weekend was perfect for soup, so we gathered again for another meal with friends and family. (I had threatened to put out a Facebook invitation for a "Carcass and Carcassone" game night, but cooler heads prevailed!) I made my daughter-in-law Amy's wonderful tortilla soup with part of the extremely rich and concentrated broth. Since I wasn't sure that everyone at the table would be a fan of cilantro, I used another quart of broth for a vegetable soup. Those who came brought their leftover desserts; along with plain old saltines and some spiced apple rings I had made as an experiment, we had a quick and complete menu.

There was still broth left, so that went into the freezer for a large pot of potato soup on a very snowy night and the basis for a non-vegetarian but very good black bean and vegetable soup. Four great menus, serving lots of people, and all from the part of the turkey that is so often thrown away.

Here are some of the recipes used. As with all good homemade soups, however, the list of ingredients can and should be varied, based on what is in the refrigerator at the time.

Amy’s Tortilla Soup

Amy usually starts her soup by boiling a chicken. The soup then can be an appetizer course for the wonderful burritos she makes from the deboned chicken, but it is so good we often turn it into the main course and save the burritos for another meal. The recipe that follows is my adaptation of her wonderful recipe.

2 to 3 c rich chicken or turkey broth
2 to 4 chicken bouillon cubes or packets, depending
2 T cumin
1 to 2 t garlic powder OR 5 to 6 garlic cloves, minced
2 bunches cilantro, well washed and chopped fine--I include all but the coarsest stems and set aside about a third cup or so of the chopped leaves for garnish

cilantro--see above
cubed Monterrey Jack and/or cheddar cheese
2 to 3 diced avocados
salsa of your choice
diced tomatoes if in season
tortilla chips

Combine the broth, bouillon, cumin, and garlic with enough water to make about three to four quarts of liquid. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Add the cilantro, simmer for another half hour or so.

Meanwhile prepare the mix-ins and place in small bowls.

To serve, diners break some tortilla chips into the bottom of their soup bowls and then add whatever other mix-ins they wish. The boiling hot soup is ladled over the top. Hot sauce and plain yogurt or sour cream can be added if desired.

Winter Vegetable Soup--with Turkey Broth

Here's a wonderful thing to consider in making vegetable soups--finely shredded cabbage makes a nice sweet addition to the finished product, without anyone (especially those who usually eschew cabbage) really noticing it as a specific flavor. Cabbage is generally reasonable in price year round, and it is always near the top of those vegetables we are encouraged to include more often in our menus.

1 large onion, about 2 cups chopped
3 stalks celery, diced
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced OR garlic powder to taste ( 1 teaspoon?)
3 large carrots, diced
1 c butternut squash puree
2 to 4 cups rich turkey broth
2 to 3 cups finely shredded cabbage
12 to 16 oz frozen corn OR 15 oz can kidney beans OR both
1/2 cup pearl barley
seasoning--I like to use a mixture of dried basil, rosemary, thyme, and marjoram as a start, along with a basic seasoning salt and black pepper; alternative choices could include cumin (with cilantro chopped in), hot pepper flakes, or poultry seasoning
1 tablespoon cider or wine vinegar

Saute the onion, celery, and garlic in a little oil, cooking slowly until the onions are translucent and lightly golden. Put in a large slow cooker and add the remaining ingredients. Add water to make the volume about 3 to 4 quarts.

Simmer together on LOW for four to six hours, depending on your slow cooker.

After an hour or two, taste for seasoning. If the broth is not as rich as you would like, a bouillon cube or two can be added for more flavor.

Variation: If desired, add 2 to 3 cups of diced leftover turkey or chicken about an hour before serving.

Non-Vegetarian Black Bean Soup

You may be starting to see a trend here: almost all my vegetable soups start out with lots of onion, garlic, usually celery (unless there is none in the refrigerator) and carrots. After these, the directions you can go are almost endless. Always check out your produce drawer and freezer to see what is available to throw in and don't be afraid to experiment.

1/2 onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, sliced
1/4 bell pepper, diced (or use dried bell pepper)
chicken or turkey stock—about 2 to 4 cups, depending on what you have
3-4 c black beans (2 15 oz cans if not using beans you have soaked and cooked yourself)
10 oz frozen chopped spinach
2 t cumin
1 t Cajun seasoning
1 t oregano
2 t cider vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Saute the onions and carrots in a little oil or fat skimmed off the broth, until the onions are translucent and the carrots are barely tender. Add the pepper, stock, beans and seasonings., along with enough water to make the consistency desired—more liquid for soup, a little less for a side dish or stew. Simmer for up to an hour, allowing the flavors to blend. Taste for seasoning and add the spinach about 15 minutes or so before serving. 

Alternative seasonings—if you would like to move away from the “Mexican” seasonings of cumin and oregano, substitute Italian seasoning and a mixture of basil, thyme, and rosemary instead.