What to Do With Leftover Chicken- The Best Potato Skins Ever!


What to Do With Left Over Chicken

As I mentioned in my previous post highlighting my Oven Baked Whole Chicken Recipe, I often buy and cook a whole chicken just so that I can use the leftovers. Today I am happy to share with you my favorite thing to do with leftover chicken. This is my secret recipe for the best potato skins ever!

Although I have been making these for like 20 years, they are originally inspired by a recipe from a restaurant we used to frequent when I was a kid, named Peppers. It was in Monrovia or Arcadia, CA. It is probably still there, but I wouldn’t be confident that they still make things like they used to. They might, but nevertheless, I live very far away from there, so I make my own potato skins now.

The SearchChasing the Dragon

Since my love for these delicious treats began when I was under 10 years old, I have ordered potato skins at restaurants all over the place for many years. Pretty much every time I see them on a menu I order them in hopes that I can find somewhere to get that meal I remember loving so many years ago. Needless to say, I am chasing the dragon, and have never found anything even close. Thus, as I said, I am forced to just make them at home for myself.

The Sadness

Nothing is more disappointing to me than ordering potato skins somewhere in excited anticipation, just to receive slivers of overcooked skins with hardly any toppings or substance. Not to mention, they are usually way over priced. A few months back I ordered some at a local restaurant for the first time. They were like $12 and it was literally the skin of one small potato sliced into 6 crescents, with burnt skin, and maybe half a piece of bacon crumbled over it. Infuriating!

The Good Stuff

Luckily though, I can and do make my own wonderful and hearty potato skins. My skins aren’t these wimpy pathetic versions restaurants try to sell me. They are so good, they can be served as an appetizer, or as a meal in themselves.

What You Will Need:

  • 4 Potatoes (not tiny, not giant…like a regular baked potato size)
  • 4 strips of Bacon
  • Leftover Chicken
  • Cheddar Cheese
  • 2 Green Onions (optional)
  • Baking Sheet

Preparation

ChickenLeftover Chicken

I generally attack my leftover whole chicken beforehand and strip any meat left on it and put into a Rubbermaid container for potato skins and often times chicken tacos.

Potatoes

Then, because I don’t like to wait long for things, I generally cook my potatoes in the microwave for about 10 mins first. If you have the time and the patience to bake your potatoes in the oven, they really do seem to come out better that way. You just have to plan ahead about an hour instead of ten minutes.

Once your potatoes are cooked you will want to let them cool a bit before attempting to move on to the next steps. You can go ahead and cut them in half at this point to help them cool faster, but you will probably want to use an oven mitt.

Make sure you cut them lengthwise in the center of the potato. You want to end up with as symmetrical and evenly sized halves as you can.

BaconBacon Bits

While your potatoes bake, or while they are cooling, you can go ahead and cook your bacon. Pull your bacon out of the frying pan before they get too crispy, as they will continue to cook once you assemble and reheat your skins.

Pat dry the excess grease from the bacon with a paper towel. Once the bacon is cooled enough to touch, cut it up into little pieces, or crumble it by hand. You can also cut it up before you cook it. I change my mind on which way I like to do it every other time I cook bacon for a recipe where I need small pieces of bacon. It works either way, so it is up to you which way you prefer.

Cheese

You will want to shred 1-1 1/2 cups of cheddar cheese. I usually just shred a bunch of it, and if I have too much I put in a container in the fridge and save it for taco night.

Green Onions (Optional)

These were not in the original recipe from my childhood restaurant, but I have added them over the years because I love them. It adds color and a nice flavor to the skins. So, feel free to just dice up a couple green onions or chives.

Putting it all together

The Scoop

Now that your potatoes are cooled down enough to touch, you can cut them in half if you haven’t already. Again, for presentation and so that friends and family members don’t have to fight over bigger and smaller portions, make sure you try to cut them as evenly as possibly down the center lengthwise.

Then you want to scoop out some of the potato from the center of each half. You will want to leave about 1/4 inch of potato around the inside of the skin. I know they are called “potato skins”, but you really want some potato in your skin or they will be like the lame burnt skins restaurants serve. I use a regular metal spoon to scoop out the center of the potato. If you didn’t cook your potatoes long enough to begin with this step can be difficult.

If the potato isn’t coming out easily then you should cook them longer. Pop them in the microwave for a couple more minutes until they are cooked.

Fill ’em up

Now you should have your 8 potato halves scooped out and ready to go. Now is the easy part.

Place your skins on a foil covered baking sheet, for easy clean up later. I don’t always do this, but you may want to rub oil over the skin of the potato to help them crisp up a little in the oven, and just to make sure they don’t stick…just in case.

Now you take your leftover chicken and kind of shred it up as you put it into the potato if you haven’t already. If your chicken is bland at all you can add salt and pepper as necessary to the chicken or to the inside of potato.

Fill the each potato cavity with chicken, then top each one with a good helping of the shredded cheese, add some bacon crumbles, and sprinkle on the green onions. You can push the crumbles and green onions into the cheese a little so they don’t fall off.

See how easy that is?! Now you are ready to heat them up and melt that cheese.

Heat up your skinsSalsa and Guacamole

Put the baking sheet of potato skins into your oven preheated to 400 degrees. It should only take about 10-15 minutes to heat them up. You want the cheese to melt and the skins to get a little crispy around the edges. Just keep an eye on them so you don’t over cook the cheese.

Serve with a side of sour cream and salsa! You can also add guacamole if you have some.

Spicing it up

As a kid, and even now I go with the basics on this dish…Tabasco all the way!

But I think if you added some diced jalapenos (or even habaneros) to the chicken while assembling that could add a really nice spice to the recipe. Actually, I will try that next time I make them. I will only do half of the batch that way, so the wimpy people in my house don’t get burned. I’m nice like that…

I hope you now know what to do with your leftover chicken. Enjoy the best potato skins ever! If you have any questions, suggestions, or comments, I would love to hear from you. Please feel free to leave a comment below, and I will get back to asap!

 

 

 

 

 

Why Do Some Cultures Eat Spicy Foods?


Why Do Some Cultures Eat Spicy Food

Why do some cultures eat spicy foods while others lean toward a milder fare? You may have noticed that even food that comes from regions near each other may vary greatly in the spice levels of their food. For example, at a typical Chinese restaurant (here in America) you can find instances of this phenomenon. Most Chinese food is fairly mild, but the Sichuan (aka. Szechuan) region often lends some spicier dishes to our Chinese menus.

Why does this happen across the globe you may ask? This article will take a look at a few examples and explore the reasons behind such occurrences.

Where do chili peppers come from?Central America Cenote

Although there are several cultures and cuisines around the world that we now associate with spicy food, it is important to understand that all peppers originally came from South and/or Central America. Peppers were one of the items that made its way from the Americas back to Europe after Columbus made his journey across the Atlantic.

Once peppers were brought back to Europe they were then able to make their way across Europe and into Asia by traders and missionaries. I find it really incredible that something that is now considered a staple in some countries and regions was actually only introduced to them four or five hundred years ago.

Why did some countries

adopt chili peppers so wholeheartedly?

Without much investigation at all, it is fairly evident that most areas that use a lot of hot peppers happen to be in warmer climates. If you have spent as much time reading and learning about hot peppers as I have, it seems that this may be due to the natural ability of spicy chilis to kill certain bacteria and micro-organisms.

Dried PeppersAs mentioned in an article by thedailymeal.com in 2015, research by Cornell University says that this benefit of spicy peppers to lower the incidences of food-borne bacteria, especially in times before refrigeration, would have been extremely useful. Particularly in warmer climates where bacteria can thrive much more easily than in cooler climates.

That article also proposes that the reaction of your body to sweat while eating spicy food may have added a cooling affect for people in hot regions. (To understand why this happens you can check out my article about how and why chili peppers react with your body.)

Another theory that I have, adding to the attractiveness of peppers, is that they are easy to grow. I don’t have much of a green thumb, sadly, but I have had pretty good success growing hot peppers. Also, you can get a lot of peppers from even one small bush, and a little bit often goes a long way with these spicy little fruits.

Sichuan region of China

Snipped from Google Maps

One more thing to add to this is that most chili pepper plants also need a warmer climate to grow and flourish. This is an obvious explanation of why they are more popular in warmer regions. No matter what part of the world you talk about, the people would have obviously been eating plants that can grow there- whether they are native or brought there, they need to grow well to consistently make it in to the regions’ cuisine.

This is the most likely explanation for the phenomenon I mentioned earlier of areas like the Sichuan region of China having spicier dishes than other parts of the same country. The Sichuan region is in the southwest area of the very large country of China, and this area is much more humid and warm than other more northerly areas, making it a perfect place to grow peppers.

Spicy Countries

South American countries, like Mexico, that have had chili peppers available to them from the beginning, have incorporated peppers into almost everything. Although they have often found ways to tame the heat of the pepper in many dishes, the flavor and health benefits of them are invariably in every meal.Trindad Moruga Scorpion

Many of the hottest peppers in the world come from Caribbean islands such as Trindad and Jamiaca. Needless to say, these island nations have some deliciously spicy recipes. Due to cultural cross overs from Europeans bringing people from Africa and India to the islands, you can find quite creative dishes…really the original fusion food. Seemingly out of place, you will find that many of Jamaica’s most popular local dishes actually contain curry.

Thailand probably stands out to many of us as one of the spiciest cuisines. I have talked with several people from Thailand or who have lived there, and seems to be fairly common place for people to grow hot peppers in their yards. Here in the US we often even call the small, potent chilis found in much of Asian cuisine “thai” peppers or chilis. FYI, they are actually called bird’s eye chilis.

Spicy Thai FoodMost of China’s cuisine does not make us think of anything spicy, but as I was saying earlier in this article, parts of China are famous for their spicier fares. The Sichuan (where my favorite, Kung Pao Chicken comes from!) and Hunan areas in particular, are most well known for spicing it up. Of course these somewhat southwestern areas are nearer to other Asian countries that also showcase spicy dishes, i.e. ThailandTibet, Bhutan, and Nepal.

Another country famous for its heated dishes is India (This is where the infamous Ghost Pepper comes from). Like Jamaica, not only do some Indian dishes contain hot peppers, but also hot currys. Jamaican heat is often tamed down by the addition of something a little sweet, but this isn’t really the case in Indian food.

Many African countries also have great spicy dishes, such as Ethiopia, Liberia, Nigeria, Ghana, and Morocco. If you have ever seen the Ben Stiller movie, “Along Came Polly” you may know that Moroccan food is not for people with week stomachs.

Building up a Tolerance

The countries listed above have been eating hot peppers for centuries. It is part of who they are. They have most definitely built up a tolerance to spicy foods. Many of their regular everyday dishes would probably be much too spicy for many Americans. Especially older Americans whose families have been here for a few generations, or that come from mild Northern European or Northern Asian countries.

Even though the United States borders Mexico, the birthplace of hot peppers, most of our country’s cuisine is oddly mild. Luckily, in recent decades food from other countries has gotten more and more popular, allowing some heat to infiltrate our menus.

Some of the southern US states do have a spicier array of regular meal options than the rest of the US. The Cajun cuisine of Louisiana shows its spicy influences from South America and the Caribbean.Buffalo Wings

More recently the addition of Buffalo Wings to american culture as helped spur the growing popularity of spicy foods, at least with young men. Of course, there are plenty of us women out there who love those saucy, spicy little wings too, but oddly, it does seem to really entice more men. Maybe it’s because they can get a little too messy for some prissy chicks. Not this lady, I love me some hot wings!

For chili pepper loving Americans like me, it is really exciting that spicy food is finally making waves all across America. One of the big jump starters for the spicy food craze, that is helping us to build up a tolerance nationwide, was the introduction of the Indian Ghost Pepper as the hottest pepper in the world. Taking first place in the Guinness Book of World records in 2007 as the first chili to be tested at a Scoville rating of over 1,000,000 Scoville Units.

Ghost PepperThe clever and haunting name seemed to elicit much excitement among many people. Most people, even people who don’t like spicy food are now familiar with this famous little pepper. Its real name is bhut jolokia, but that just isn’t as catchy as Ghost Pepper now is it? The popularity of this pepper spawned an explosion of all kinds of spicy sauces, and encouraged cultivators to find and create the hottest peppers on earth. (Check out my article on the Top 10 Hottest Peppers in the world for information and history on this topic, and also my recommendations for the best and spiciest hot sauces.)

In Conclusion…Why Do Some Cultures Eat Spicy Foods?

I hope this article gave you some insight into the spread and use of hot peppers across the world, and answered the question of why some cuisines are spicier than others. Chili peppers are really an interesting topic for so many reasons. The history and health benefits are seemingly never ending.

Please feel free to explore this website and read more about the awesomeness of chili peppers. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions I would love to hear from you. Please feel free to leave a comment below or you can reach me through the contact form in the main menu above. I will get back to asap! Thanks for reading, see you next time.

Spicy Cuisine

 

 

Oven Baked Whole Chicken Recipe- Juicy and Delicious


Oven Baked Whole Chicken

Sometimes when I need chicken meat for something else I want to make, which is often the case, I just lazy out and buy a precooked whole chicken from the grocery store.

Cooking a whole chicken is something I only do two or three times a year for some reason. I really should do it more often though, because it comes out so juicy and delicious every time. Oddly, whenever I think about making one I talk myself out of it because it sounds like too much work. But every time I just do it, it isn’t hard at all. A few minutes of prep and in the oven it goes. It is actually much easier than other meals that I make way more often.

So, today I will share with you my easy oven baked whole chicken recipe. I cooked my most recent whole chicken the day before yesterday, and it came out so great I thought I should write about it. And my next article will be about what I am doing with the leftovers tonight. I can’t wait!Cost of Whole Chicken

One thing that does hold me back at times is the cost of the chicken. Many times I have gone to the store with the intention of buying and cooking a whole chicken, and then quickly changed my mind when cooking my own chicken costs more than buying the store’s precooked chicken. In those instances I either buy a cooked one, or just change my dinner plans altogether.

But when everything aligns… I am in the mood to cook one and the price is right, we get to enjoy one awesome chicken!

This last one I bought was $1.59/lb. Which is still a bit higher than I prefer, but I really wanted one, so I went for it. As I have mentioned in other articles, I have set prices in my mind for different products. It doesn’t seem to matter that inflation occurs, or that my perfect price is probably based on my ideals from 15 or more years ago. I just don’t feel good about spending certain amounts on certain things. I am weird that way. I have almost completely stopped buying cereal because of this self induced phenomenon.

The Preparation

  • First thing you want to do is rinse the chicken and get the gizzards and things out of the middle.
  • Then it is best if you pat it dry.
  • Put it in a baking pan. I typically use a 9 x 13 glass baking dish, but this is pretty flexible. You just want the chicken to fit comfortably and make sure it is at least an inch or too deep, so that the juices don’t overflow.

Seasoning

First I start with the inside cavity of the chicken:

  • I always take some softened butter (or margarine will work if that’s what you have) and rub it all over the chicken for flavor, moisture, and help with browning, and put about 1/4 stick of butter inside the chicken.
  • I add a good amount of salt and pepper to the inside of the chicken.
  • Depending on the size of my chickens cavity, I put 1/4 to 1/2 of a lemon inside (you can give them a little squeeze as you are putting them in there.
  • Also inside goes 1/4 to 1/2 of a yellow onion and
  • 3-5 halved cloves of garlic

Then I do the outside of the chicken:

I try to season the bottom of the pan while holding the chicken up so that the bottom gets seasoned too. Then while holding the bird with one hand by cupping the edge of the cavity I season the top and sides as best as I can. Don’t get all crazy trying to get every nook and cranny, unless you want to. It isn’t worth stressing yourself out. Here are the seasonings I use, and I always do it in this order.

  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Garlic powder
  • A little lemon pepper if you have it
  • PaprikaSeasoning For Whole Chicken

I typically leave tiny lumps of butter above the legs (or wings depending on how it is positioned) and push half a clove of garlic into the butter for good measure. I am sure this is not necessary, and may not actually do anything, but it’s my thing and I always do it.

Cook Upside Down?

You can’t really discuss cooking a chicken (or a turkey) with out mentioning which way to position the bird…Breast side up or down?

It really comes down to preference. Personally, I am a dark meat girl. So, in general, I prefer the breast on top so that the dark meat is as juicy and flavorful as possible. But since I am not cooking for just myself anymore, the past few years I have typically put the bird breast down.

One other reason I prefer the breast up is so that the skin on the breast gets crispier. I think it makes bites of the breast taste better, but many people would disagree with the importance of that, and want the naturally dryer white meat on the bottom to add some juiciness.

But, honestly, either way, it will be delicious.

Cooking

I cooked this chicken for 15 minutes at 450 degrees then for 20 mins per pound at 350 uncovered.

Spicing it Upjalepenos

You could easily give this some spice by cutting up your favorite hot pepper and adding it into the cavity before cooking. Because I am the only person in my house that likes spicy food, I used hot sauce to spice up my plate after it was cooked.

My favorite hot sauces for chicken are tangy types like Franks original or Ol’ Delta. Also, if I am in a BBQ sauce mood, I sometimes dip my chicken in my favorite BBQ sauce Kinders Exxxtra Hot. Mega good BBQ sauce!

Oven Whole Baked Chicken- Eat Up!

Now you can go ahead and dish it up along with your favorite side dishes. We typically eat the legs, thighs, wings, and a little of the breast meat. We save the rest for a different meal in days to follow. I will be doing a follow up article on one of my favorite things to make with leftover chicken.

I hope this article was helpful and you enjoy your juicy, delicious, oven whole baked chicken! If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions I would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below, or in the contact form in the main menu above. I will back to asap…See you soon!

Lump Charcoal vs Briquettes- Which Charcoal is Best?


Hot Coals

A lot of people have been asking me, “Which charcoal is best?” So, I decided to take some time and go over the pros and cons of Lump Charcoal vs Briquettes.

The Truth About Charcoal

If you are like me, you probably grew up with a family that used charcoal briquettes and lighter fluid. Honestly, I wasn’t really aware that there were any other options till probably when I was in my late 20’s. When I was a kid it seems like the choices were Kingsford or some off brand of cheap stuff. We must have always sprung for the Kingsford (My Grandpa believed it was the best), because I can still see the bag in my memory.Charcoal Briquettes

My first insight into the controversial world of charcoal came in my mid 20’s. At that time I had a friend who worked in a charcoal packaging plant. Although I was already an avid BBQer, I had always just stuck with charcoal. Even when I was broke I always tried to buy Kingsford. I just thought the other brands wouldn’t light up right.

To my shock and dismay I soon found out that was not true. My friend, who worked at the charcoal plant, lived in the same apartment complex as I did. A group of us apartment neighbors used to gather in the corner of the parking lot, drink beer, and BBQ all the time. One day, early in my adventures at that apartment building, I went over to his apartment and saw a stack of charcoal (Not exactly sure how he got this stack of charcoal…). But anyways, they were all different brands, including Kingsford, different grocery store brands, etc. I asked about it, and he said that at his work they packaged charcoal. The same charcoal into all different brands’ bags!

I was appalled. All these years that I had been spending extra money on Kingsford, I was literally just paying for the name on the bag. I have no idea how long this had been going on, but I felt super ripped off, sad, and stupid. I am sure at some point Kingsford was a legit company, but we all know how big business works. At some point they sold their name, and whoever owns that charcoal monopoly just puts the same charcoal into different bags.

Needless to say, I never bought a bag of Kingsford ever again (unless there was some mega sale going on). Only the cheap stuff for me! Just to be fair, maybe Kingsford was putting their “high quality” charcoal into all the cheaper brand bags, instead of vice versa, but either way…it’s the same stuff!

Over the past 20 years I have grilled many, many times with a variety of charcoal. Although I started with only using standard charcoal briquettes, over the years that expanded to the pre-soaked varieties, different shaped briquettes, and lump charcoal. I am happy to share all that I know with you all. So, here is my honest break down of your charcoal options.

Pros of BriquettesCharcoal Chimney

  • Cheap– Briquettes typically cost less than lump charcoal. There are also more choices, so you are more likely to find a good deal.
  • Easy to find– They are available everywhere, even at pretty much any corner convenience store.
  • Easy to stack/charcoal chimney– Their small and consistent shape make them pretty easy to stack in your grill if you are using lighter fluid (which I do not recommend). If you are lighting your coals using paper and a chimney (much better for you), it is easy just to pour the charcoal in.
  • Burns longer/steadier– Briquettes burn at a slower less intense heat than the lump variety. So, they tend to be better for things that take longer to cook, or something you are trying to slowly smoke.

Cons of BriquettesReady To Use White Coals

  • Unhealthy– The number one reason why I would steer away from briquettes is what they are made of…They contain some wood stuff, mixed with chemicals and additives. The details of which I choose to not delve into for when I am in a pinch and need to use them, I don’t want to be totally freaked out.
  • Smokey– They can be fairly smokey, but when you burn something there is generally smoke. It’s just that with these, the smoke probably contains some pretty nasty chemicals.
  • Cleanup– Briquettes do not totally burn away. So you always have to let them cool completely and then dump them.
  • Can leave a flavor on your food– It is important to let the coals get white so that most of the chemical smell and flavor has burned off, but I am not convinced it’s ever completely gone. Don’t get me wrong though, I have made a multitude of delicious meals over charcoal!

Pros of Lump CharcoalLump Charcoal vs Briquettes

  • Healthier– Lump Charcoal is the purest you can get. It is literally wood coals created by burning wood without oxygen. So, it removes the water and other stuff in wood that makes it smoke and burn fast like it does in a bonfire.
  • Burns away– When you use lump charcoal, it pretty burns completely away to nothing. It is really amazing! No clean up!
  • Less smoke/ash– As stated above, these coals are made by removing most of what makes wood smoke and ash. Briquettes would probably do the same if they weren’t made of a bunch of weird stuff.
  • Use less (not useless lol)– I find that a big bag of lump charcoal lasts longer than its briquette counterpart. Because of the odd shapes you can’t stack it as compactly, so you automatically use less.
  • Tastes better– This stuff is natural, so you don’t run the risk of the contamination that briquettes can cause…that is as long as you don’t use lighter fluid.
  • Lights faster– It gets hot fast. So if you are used to briquettes, keep an eye on it till you get used to the lighting time.
  • Burns hot– Even though I am using less, and having less total surface space of heat with these, my food still cooks, and it cooks fast. In most cases this is just fine with me.

Cons of Lump CharcoalLump Charcoal Burns Hot

  • Costs more than Briquettes– Lump Charcoal does cost more than briquettes (usually about $3 more a bag), and you get less. But as I mentioned above, you also typically don’t need to use as much for the same affect.
  • Awkward shapes– In my experience the shapes of the lump charcoal are the biggest negative about them. You get these huge pieces mixed with little tiny pieces. It makes it hard to stack, and can make it difficult to have an evenly distributed heating surface area. Also, I can only fit like 5-10 chunks in my lighting chimney, which bugs me at the time, but it always ends up working out just fine.
  • Burns fast– If you are trying to do a slow cook, or trying to smoke something, lump charcoal may not be the best choice. It burns hot and fast, but generally this is plenty of time to cook a typical meal, like chicken, steak, carne asada, etc.

Lump Charcoal vs Briquettes- Which Charcoal is Best?

As you can see briquettes and lump charcoal have about the same number of cons on my list, but the pros of the lump charcoal heavily outweigh the pros of the briquettes. And, for me, health outweighs the slight cost difference by far.

In the end I definitely recommend lump charcoal over briquettes. They are hands down better for you, provide a easier clean up, and generally cook a better, more natural tasting food. If however you need to cook something at a steady temp for a longer period of time, briquettes may work better for you.

But even with all of this said, if I am out camping and I forgot to pack my lump charcoal and I have to run to the little camp store, I will not hesitate to by that trip saving bag of briquettes. I will just make sure I let them get nice and white hot before slapping my meat over them.

Another notable mention, is that I have recently started to see “All Natural” briquettes at the store. So far I have only seen Kingsford brand of these and they are super expensive. I have not tried them yet, but it is on my to do list. I am hoping they get more popular and the price comes down soon. I do like the idea of having all natural and the convenient shape of briquettes in one product. I am curious to see how fast and clean they burn.

As soon as I break down and spend the money to try them out, I will be sure to do a post about them for you all.

A Word About Lighter FluidBonfire

I do need to add here though that I will never use lighter fluid to light coals ever again. I used it religiously for years. Then a few years ago I read about the health hazards of this chemical fluid, so decided to try using a chimney with paper instead. I liked using the chimney, so I kept using it. After using this natural lighting method for a year or two, I got lazy one day while camping and decided to use lighter fluid….Big mistake! (FYI, I carry lighter fluid in case I need to start a bonfire with damp wood.)

All those years I was using lighter fluid, even my family did when I was a kid, I had no idea. My now purified pallet from using the chimney for so long was very aware of the taste residue lighter fluid put onto the food. It wasn’t just me either, we could both taste it. It was inedible and gross. It was really disturbing to know that I had been unknowingly eating that crap all those years, and no doubt ingesting some nasty chemicals.

The Matchlight charcoal briquettes come pre-soaked in lighter fluid (or some sort of combustible chemical), and therefore should also be avoided for the above reasons.

I highly recommend trying and using a charcoal chimney. I have one or two listed on my Hot Sauce Shop page if you would like to check it out.Charcoal Chimney

I hope this article was helpful. I f you have any questions, comments, or suggestions please let me know. I would love to hear from you! You can leave a comment below or in my contact form in the main menu above. I will get back to asap. Thanks for reading, talk to you next time!

 

Salsa Hecho in Pacific Northwest and Juanita’s Tortilla Chips Review


The Best Tortilla Chips

Today I am going to let you in on one of my hands-down favorite snacks. These two gems have only entered my life in the past couple years, but I can’t imagine how I lived without them for so long. With this review of Salsa Hecho in Pacific Northwest and Juanita’s Tortilla Chips you will find out what you’ve been missing, and hopefully feel compelled to run out and get some for yourself!

Local and Organic

Sadly, if you do not live in the Southern Oregon area, you may have trouble finding this salsa. It is made locally, and is available at the local stores I go to that specialize in local and/or organic products. I am not sure how far this product has made it outside of our area, but I am hoping telling the world about it here on my website, gives it a little push in popularity, so that others can get the chance to indulge in this awesome salsa too.Salsa Hecho in Pacific Northwest

From what I can tell, Salsa Hecho in Pacific Northwest comes out of little town called Central Point, with their mailing address in Talent, OR. According to manta.com it is owned by the Berryman family, but a quote on the container itself lists a Dustin Knapp…not sure who that is. Also, this company has apparently been around for 23 years! Boy have I been missing out!

I love, love, love salsa! I am always trying new brands and styles. In the past couple years, though, I have gotten a lot more into all things organic. My goal to eat chemical free food has led me to spend a lot more time (and money) at specialized stores that focus on organic and local meats, fruit, veggies, etc. And through this I was able to discover, this most delicious and fresh salsa I have ever purchased.

Fresh and Natural

For many years I have made my own Pico de Gallo, but I have yet to figure out how to get it to the point where I would call it salsa instead of a drier Pico type salsa. Don’t get me wrong, it is super tasty, but it doesn’t always give me the moisture I am looking for to accent certain dishes. And that is just one of the reasons why Salsa Hecho in Pacific Northwest is so awesome.Salsa Hecho in Pacific Northwest Ingredients

As the container it comes in notes, this product is 100% natural and not cooked, and with that first bite you know that is true. It is so fresh and wonderful. I have no idea why I can’t make it myself. Maybe I haven’t tried hard enough, but most days spending 3 or 4 bucks on a tub of this is way easier than trying to make it myself. Especially when I know it is made locally and naturally.

The only thing I could possibly say negatively about this salsa is that some of the vegetable chunks are pretty big. Most of the time this doesn’t bother me, but if I am using it for say a street taco, I take the bigger chunks out because it affect the texture of my food in a way I am not wanting. But that is not a major sacrifice for the most delicious salsa ever.

Chips and Salsa!

That being said, when this salsa shines the most is when you go back to basics, good ol’ chips and salsa! This is when every chunky, juicy, fresh and wonderful bite makes you fall in love with every mouthful. Oh boy, this stuff is good! I cannot even express how great it is, really.

And this brings me to the second half of this review…the best, most addicting tortilla chips I have ever tasted: Juanita’s Tortilla Chips. These two paired together is truly to die for!

Best Tortilla Chips Ever

I don’t know if you have tried Juanita’s Chips, but if haven’t, you should! Just as with the salsa, these are also made in Oregon. But instead of Southern Oregon, Juanita’s comes from Northern Oregon, near the beautiful Columbia River.Juanita's Tortilla Chips Review

Unlike the salsa, Juanita’s seems to have made its way out of the Pacific Northwest. They are even available on amazon.com or at juanitasfinefoods.com. I am proud of Juanita’s for their success, they deserve it. They make some barn good tortilla chips! Hopefully they available at your local grocery store. If not the prices on their website are pretty good too.

These chips are perfect. They are light and crisp, but not fragile. They have a bit of oil, which makes the salt stick and somehow makes them seem more fresh than other, drier packaged chip brands. It really fells and tastes like these were made just down the road.

Although I just usually buy their original tortilla chips, they do actually have three additional flavors. These include: Chilipeno, Jalapeno, and Sweet Chili. So far I have tried the Chilipeno, but not the other two. These were also very good chips.

For the purpose of a snack or appetizer of chips and salsa, I prefer the original tortilla chips. No need to have extra flavors to mix with the already superb salsa. But if you just want a tasty chip to eat alone, the Chilipeno are really good. Little bit of spice and tang. A good zippy, light and crispy chip.

One more thing

And for all you gluten intolerant people out there, all their chips are Gluten Free.

One thing that I have noticed over time with Juanita’s is that you need to be careful when opening the bag if you do not plan on eating the whole thing in one sitting. For some reason the bag is fairly easy to tear the wrong way. Even when if you are eating the chips out an already opened bag, you need to be a little delicate with your entry and exit if you don’t want to tear the bag. It is fine before it is opened. It’s not like it just rips open when you pick it up in the store. It is just the top edge tears down once opened easily, so be aware.

When I have torn the bag (which I have done multiple times), I usually just put the remainder in a Rubbermaid (or Tupperware) container to retain freshness if the tear goes too low for a chip clip to cover. (side note- I use this technique for cereal too. I never seem to get through a box without it going stale, so the tupperware trick is a really helpful tip.)

Salsa Hecho in Pacific Northwest and Juanita’s Tortilla Chips Review In Summary

If you live in Oregon you should seek out this salsa. I guarantee you will want to buy a case of it once you taste it. It is super fresh! It doesn’t have fake ingredients or preservatives, so it doesn’t have a long shelf life, but it doesn’t matter, because it is nearly impossible not to eat the whole thing in one or two sittings. It is just too good to stop.

The perfect chip to go with this killer salsa is Juanita’s! If you don’t live around here, and you can’t get the salsa, at least you can get Juanita’s Tortilla Chips to go with whatever your current favorite salsas are. This light, perfectly salted, fresh tasting chip also goes great with bean dip or nacho cheese sauce, and makes a great base for your favorite nacho toppings.

I hope you have enjoyed this review and are as hungry for chips and salsa as I am right now! If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions please let me know. You can leave a comment below or on the contact form in the main menu above, and I will get back to you asap.

Easy Carne Asada Recipe- Addictingly Good and Inexpensive!


Easy Carne Asada Recipe

I absolutely love Carne Asada, but I don’t love the price. You may have noticed that the price at the market, or even at your favorite Mexican restaurant, can be a bit outrageous. So, today I will share with you my work around to enjoy this mouth watering favorite without breaking the bank! Here is my surprisingly low cost, Easy Carne Asada Recipe.

The Meat

At my local meat market they sell thinly sliced flank steak as carne asada. It is an typically priced at and incredible $11.99 per pound unseasoned, and a ridiculous $14.99+ per pound for the pre-marinated variety. In the past I was sucked into the later of these, only to find out that you could barely taste that it was marinated at all. What a waste of money.Slice Your Own Carne Asada

A few years ago, I decided to do an experiment. I picked a cheap chuck roast from the case- only $5.99 a pound, and asked the butcher to slice it up. The meat market I go to charges 50 cents a pound to slice it on a slicer, or slices it by hand for free. I went with by hand. The slices weren’t as perfect, but hey, who cares?

I took it home, and did my own marinade, and it came out awesome! Due to carne asada being a very thin cut, it is hardly noticeable that you are using a cheaper cut of meat. And when you season it right, and get that tasty grill char around the edges, you will be drooling in satisfaction for a fraction of the price!

I have done this many times now. the only issue I have had is that some butchers slice the meat better than others, but the majority of the time it hasn’t been a problem.

Why Did I Wait So Long?

This Christmas, however, all my carne asada dreams came true. We received the gift of cutlery! Finally sharp knives. I know it probably sound really stupid that someone who loves to cook as much as I do, and especially someone who loves meat as much as me, wouldn’t own a nice set of sharp knives…but it’s the truth.Sharp Knives

Apparently, my (future) brother-in-law, has had to endure our dull knife issue for one too many cook out, and this last Thanksgiving pushed him over the edge, and he did what we should have done years ago. He bought us a nice new set of knives!

They are awesome, and we love them! One of the first meals that came to mind after receiving this great gift was getting to cut my own carne asada! I went out and bought a bottom round for $4.99/lb, and sliced that puppy up (that’s just a saying, it was beef, not an actual puppy).

It was so easy, it was amazing. Now I don’t even have to bother the butcher, and I can cut it perfect every time. I could not be happier! I am able to slice it a little over 1/8 inch thick, which is awesome!

The Marinade

Alright, so we have discussed the meat, lets get on to the flavor!

Here is what you will need: (This is based on about 2 lbs of meat- we like leftovers!)

  • Thinly sliced Meat
  • 2 limes
  • 6 medium/large cloves of Garlic
  • 1 bunch Cilantro
  • salt
  • pepper
  • garlic powder
  • paprika
  • a splash of beer (optional)
  • cayenne powder (optional)cilantro

I like to take a large Rubbermaid container and put a layer of meat in the bottom. Season, flip, add layer, season, flip, add layer, etc. until all the meat is seasoned on both sides and in the container. I usually end up with about 4 layers.

If you try to season the meat and then put it in the container you will lose a lot of your marinade on the first dish. You want every ounce of that good stuff to be in with the meat.

Applying the Marinade

As I mentioned above, I do this process in layers. I will explain the first layer, then just repeat for each layer.

 

  1. Squeeze juice of half a lime
  2. Shake on salt- just a light shake, so that all parts of the meat get some.
  3. Light shake of pepper- again apply evenly, but lightly.
  4. Shake on garlic powder- you can go heavier with this than salt and pepper, just try to spread evenly.Carne Asada Marinade
  5. Shake on paprika and cayenne- again, a light even dusting.
  6. Take 1 or 2 garlic cloves and use a garlic press to squish onto each layer and side of meat. Again try to splash it on there somewhat evenly.
  7. Use about 1/8 of the bunch of cilantro. I just rip off a small handful of the leaves (wash first). Then I hand rip it up into pieces and sprinkle evenly on meat.
  8. Flip and repeat.
  9. In the middle layer and on top at the end I often add just a splash of light beer.
  10. Then when you have it all seasoned, if you feel that you did a great job evenly spreading the flavor over every part of the meat, you can just put the lid on and put in the fridge. Or if you want you can dig in and mix it all together…flipping, mixing, rotating the meat. I try not to do this though because a lot of the good stuff sticks to your hand or utensil.

Let it Rest

If you have time to let it sit over night, that is awesome. It will help get the meat super tender and flavorful. But if you are like me, I rarely plan that far ahead. So I typically get to let it sit for 1 to 3 hours, and it still comes out great. Then I try to take it out and let it get closer to room temperature for about 30 mins prior to cooking.

Grill it UpGrilling Carne Asada

Grilling carne asada is about as easy as it comes. You don’t have to worry about getting that perfect medium rare, or really even worry about over cooking it if you are watching it. You just want each side to get a good grilling.

It is all about keeping an eye on it and flipping regularly. You don’t want it to get totally fried in a flare up, but a little char tastes awesome. If you have good hot coals, it takes about 3 minutes or so per side. This can vary a little if you are on a hot spot, or cool spot.

Because I am usually cooking more pieces of carne than fit on my grill at one time, I just keep rotating and flipping the pieces to the good spots until they are all done to my liking. It is a fun and fast paced meal to cook on the grill.

It is nearly impossible for me not to sneak a piece while grilling. It smells so good, and tastes so great, it is irresistible!

Spicing it upjalepenos

You can use cayenne powder instead of or in addition to paprika. You could also use a spicier pepper dust if you have it. Another way to add some heat is to dice up your favorite hot pepper and add it to the marinade. It will soak in with all the other flavors and add heat.

Just like the garlic and cilantro, most of the bits and pieces will fall off while grilling, but the flavors will have already soaked in.

Easy Carne Asada Recipe- Enjoy!

Now you are ready to enjoy this addicting meal. You can make some guacamole or cilantro cream sauce, cut up some fresh pico de gallo, warm yourself up some tortillas, maybe add a squeeze of fresh lime and enjoy! You can even add a side of rice and beans for a full meal deal.

Well, now that I am sufficiently starving, I think it is time for me to go get started on tonight’s dinner! I hope you all truly enjoy this easy carne asada recipe. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, I would love to hear from you. Pleas feel free to leave a comment below, or you can reach me through the contact form link in the main menu.

17.5 inch Backyard Grill Review- Not What We Expected


17.5 inch Backyard Grill Review

Hello everyone! Today seems like the perfect day to share this 17.5″ Backyard Grill review with you all of you. I received this charcoal grill for Christmas a couple weeks ago.

First, let me say that this was bought with the best of intentions, but did not end up being what was expected at all. I have been needing to get a new grill for a few weeks now. However, we have been on a bit of a tight budget lately, especially with Christmas shopping and all, so I haven’t been able to spend money on a grill for myself.

The Gift17.5" Charcoal Grill

With that said, I was super excited when I unwrapped this super thoughtful gift from my other half. We had to really limit what we could spend on each other this year, so I was really surprised to get this gift. My initial excitement quickly became slight concern as I examined the size of the box and surmised that the depth of the cavity which holds the charcoal appeared to be quite shallow.

First thing the next morning, super excited to get my grill on, I decided to take it out of the box and start putting it together. It was obvious that it was not a big cooking area (hence the 17.5″ part of the description), but I wasn’t too concerned. Most of the time we are just just cooking for the two of us, and we can always get a bigger grill later when we have more cash on hand.

AssemblyCharcoal Grill Assembly

I joyously followed the instructions and put on the handle, the lock, and the vents. Pretty simple assembly and easy to follow instructions. Almost all of it is held together with those butterfly wingnut things, which are very easy to attach. I love them.

The only two minor issues I had with the initial assembly was that the front vent did not slide well, and some of the nuts and bolts were difficult to get out of the packaging. But other than that, pretty smooth sailing.

The next step of the process was to put the legs on…here is where the big surprise came. Of course, if the dimensions on the box would have been better examined by either one of us, it would not have been such a comical shock. But that was not the case.

Surprise!Not Average Grill Height

So to our dismay, not only was the 17.5″ cooking surface only slightly bigger than an average hibachi grill, the height of the whole assembled grill was not much higher than knee level! It is just under 30 inches tall…It was truly sad and hilarious. It was not built for average human sized people in any way. It is basically like the Easy Bake Oven of charcoal grills.

Luckily I am not a tall person, and am also pretty desperate for a grill at this point. So we continued the construction of the tiny apparatus. It didn’t take too long to put together. Maybe an hour from beginning to end. The end product is too tall to go on a table top (like a hibachi), but too short to stand alone (like a normal grill).

I would like to add that it did occur to me that it might be the perfect size if you are in a wheel chair or if you are closer to 4 feet tall. Also, could be nice if just like to cook while sitting in a lawn chair. None of these scenarios really line up with our needs, although I guess I could possibly see myself cooking from a lawn chair if I were in a particular mood.

Pros and ConsRack and Wheels

However, for our everyday grilling needs, what we ended up doing was propping it up by putting some cement bricks under it that we happened to have on hand. It is still a little low, but it is reachable.

There is no solution for the shallow base though, it is about 3 inches deep. We use lump charcoal, which can have some fairly big chunks. The grate basically just sits right on top of the bigger pieces. Even if you use briquettes, there would not be a lot of space between the heat and the meat.

Also, the lid only has about a 3 or 4 inch clearance from the grate. So, if you were wanting to cook a thick piece of meat, like a large tri tip or a whole chicken with the lid closed, it may be a problem. It is fine for most other things we grill though, like carne asada, steak, chicken, and pork chops.

I must say, this grill is very easy to move around. I have struggled with moving bigger grills around, from the front to the back, and vice versa, or loading them into the truck for camping trips. But this little guy is light weight and small enough that isn’t too awkward to carry around.

It also has a rack on the bottom and two small hard plastic wheels.

17.5″ Backyard Grill Review- Final ThoughtsAssembled 17.5" Charcoal Grill

Overall this is not a grill I would probably recommend. But if you need a low cost grill, and possible have any height related issues, this may be the grill for you.

If you are interested in see what grills I would actually recommend, you should check out my three part article from a couple months back. Part One reviews a fancy, high end charcoal grill. Part Two (my favorites) takes a look at my number one (low cost) basic grill picks. I personally will be taking my own advice and going back to buying my old stand by grill again very soon! If you are doing things a little different than the average Joe you should check out this article about some unique grill ideas.

I don’t know how much was spent on my personal 17.5 inch charcoal grill, but I have looked up the pricing online. At Walmart.com it is listed for $40.99. On Amazon.com it is $33.32. If you happen to want to take a look at it on Amazon you can click on the picture below and it will link you to the page.

click pic to see page

If you have any questions, suggestions, or comments please feel free to contact me by leaving a comment below, or through the contact page in the main menu above. I would love to hear from you!

 

 

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. Purchasing through any provided links supports our cause and has no effect on the cost of products or services. Thank you for your loyal readership and support.

 

Super Moist Banana Bread Recipe-My Favorite!


Super Moist Banana Bread Recipe

Even though this delicious comfort food would be wonderful year round, for some reason every time the cool fall and winter days roll around I suddenly begin to crave banana bread. I suppose it is due to spending more time indoors and not minding the warmth from the stove. Regardless, my craving has begun, and I thought this would be a great opportunity to share this Super Moist Banana Bread Recipe with you all.

This is actually my girlfriend’s recipe. She has been making it for years, but I decided, with her approval, to present it to you here on my website. It is a little different than the banana bread my Grandma used to make when I was a kid, but it is equally delicious and, sorry Grandma, even more moist.

Go Bananas!Over Ripe Bananas

First thing I want to cover, in case you aren’t aware, is that your bananas need to be over ripe. Which is something I think is really awesome. Most things that we forget about or don’t eat fast enough have to be thrown out, but not bananas! Anytime you look over at those once yellow potassium filled fruits (actually they are a fruit, herb, and a berry) in dismay at the brown and black spots, do not shed a tear…Make Banana Bread!

If you do not wait till your bananas are overly ripened your banana bread will not come out well at all. This is a crucial step. They won’t look pretty on the inside either, but just believe, it will taste great in the end.

I am really picky about fruit and vegetables. They pretty much have to be perfect for me to eat. Which I realize is probably some side effect of growing up in America, but nevertheless, that’s how it is. Any blemishes, browning, or squishiness grosses me out. So, this is the one exception to the rule.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 Over Ripened Bananas (1 cup smashed)
  • 8 oz pkg Neufchatel Cheese (a softer, lower fat cream cheese substitute)
  • 1/4 Cup Butter
  • 1 Cup Sugar
  • 2 1/4 Cups Flour
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 1/2 Baking Powder
  • 1/2 Tsp Baking Soda

Putting it all Together

This is pretty straight forward.

  • Mix the sugar, the neufchatel cheese, and butter until well blended
  • Then mix in the eggs and bananas
  • Pre-mix the flour, baking powder, and baking soda
  • Then mix into the wet batter until it is all moist
  • Grease a bread pan with Crisco and lightly coat with flour
  • Pour in finished batter
  • Pre Heat oven to 350 degrees
  • Bake for 1 hour. Check with toothpick. If batter sticks cooks for 10 more minutes, and check with toothpick again.

 

Enjoy Your Super Moist Banana BreadMoist Banana Bread

This banana bread is so moist and wonderfully tasty. Not overly sweet, just perfect. My favorite way to eat it is to cut a slice, at least an inch thick and put some butter on it. Make sure the slice is warm and then the butter just melts into it and creates a magical combination of flavor!

Keep any leftovers in the refrigerator. Heat and serve later, or eat it cold. Whatever makes you happy! It is so great to have this recipe in your repertoire for anytime you don’t eat your bananas in a timely fashion. If you always gobble up your bananas while they are still perfect, just make sure to set 3 aside a several days before you plan to make your banana bread.

Super Moist Banana Bread RecipeOn a side note, you can also add 1 cup of chopped nuts to this recipe if you want. Personally I like the smooth, dense texture of the bread without the little interruption of nuts. But if you are a nut lover, go ahead and go nuts!

Spicing it Up

What? Spicy Banana Bread? Well, that is the point of this website, so I thought I would offer a suggestion for those crazy people like me that just like to make everything spicy.Spicy Sugar

My suggestion here would be to use a Spicy Sugar Powder and sprinkle it on top of your slice with the melted butter. I actually have the perfect product for this in my cabinet right now. Terana Habanero Seasoning Mix. I was disappointed when I got this because it was so sweet, but turns out is a great way to add some spice to desserts and breads.

Another option, that I haven’t tried yet, would be to add finely minced hot peppers to the batter prior to baking. Which may change the flavor slightly. However, if you just added the seeds of a hot pepper, it shouldn’t have too much affect on the taste and you would just be adding the spicy part of the pepper.

You could also add a hot pepper dust/powder, that doesn’t contain sugar, directly to the batter. You can check out some varieties of Volcano Dust found in my Hot Sauce Shop. This is a great way to add spice to many foods without changing the flavor of your food much at all, if any.

I will have to experiment with these ideas a little, but at least you have a starting point for some ways to give some heat (and healthy capsaicin) to your banana bread.

I can’t wait for you to enjoy this super moist banana bread recipe in your own home. I would love to hear from you. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions please feel free to leave a comment below, or reach out through the contact form in the main menu.