Smoked Spatchcock Cilantro-Garlic Chicken (now that’s a mouthful!)

I smoked all day today.  I woke up and went straight to the backyard to smoke.  I was jonesing, so much so that I woke up at 7 a.m. today, when I should’ve slept in on a Saturday morning.  I hope my neighbors didn’t mind my early morning smoking habit.  My hair, clothes, and skin smells of smoke.  I’m amazed that my lungs were able to take that much in, as if I were still in my early 20s.  It even kicked up some of my allergies.  I can’t wait to shower and scrub this smell off.  The problem, though, is that I’m addicted.  I love smoking… food, that is.

Smoked Spatchcock Cilantro-Garlic Chicken

1 (3 lb) whole chicken, spine removed
1 bunch cilantro, rinsed and finely chopped
4 jalapenos, sliced
12 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 tablespoons sea salt or kosher salt

Place spatchcock chicken in a large glass bowl, breast side down, filled with water. Add the cilantro, garlic cloves, and sea salt. Carefully “stir” the water to mix all the ingredients. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

1/2 bunch cilantro, rinsed and finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Combine all the ingredients into a paste in a small mixing bowl. Set aside.

Remove the chicken from the brine and pat dry with paper towels. Rub the cilantro paste underneath the skin and the entire exterior of the chicken. Set aside.

Heat the smoker per the manufacturer’s instructions to 250 degrees F. If you are using a BGE, place a drip pan on the inverted plate setter. Place the chicken in the smoker, and smoke [I used applewood] until the breast reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F and the thighs reach 175 degrees F, or when the juices run clear, about 3-4 hours. Remove the chicken from the smoker, and allow it to rest for 15 minutes tented with foil.

Baked Chicken Taquitos

My brother and I grew up in the back of the kitchen of our family restaurant.  No joke.  We had our own little study/play area.  It was pretty sweet, as I look back in retrospect.  [The play area, that is.  Not growing up in the back of the kitchen.] We had our own 13 inch TV with our old-school Nintendo unit hooked up to keep us entertained, out of trouble, and out of any danger from the kitchen chaos itself.  My parents had very little time to spend with us because they worked all day long.  Well, except for the fact that they still found ways to breathe down our necks to finish our daily homework assignments.  Ahh, Asian parenting.  So quality time was limited in our family.  As I was growing up, I longed for the “normal” family units that my friends had.  But my parents did their best to spend time with us.  My parents would take us to [insert fast food chain] after they closed up the restaurant for the night, order food, and we’d eat in front of the TV.  This was our way of spending quality family time.   So food, albeit it wasn’t always the healthiest, was our way to spend time together.

One fast food chain we used to frequent as a family was Jack In The Box.  Do you remember when Jack In The Box used to serve beef taquitos (and tacos)?  It was probably during the early 1990s when they rolled out with this menu item.  I can’t believe I’m going to say this, and am a little embarrassed to admit this, but I thought they were really, really tasty.  They were the perfect snacky, greasy, finger foods.  I’d ask for an order of taquitos (I think it was five taquitos to a box), and beg my parents to buy the guacamole and sour cream on the side for an additional charge.  I think Jack In The Box was my first introduction to guacamole and sour cream, and possibly even “Mexican” food.  Hysterical, yet pathetic, right?

I don’t know if they still sell them or not, but I do crave them from time-to-time, like I crave french fries from McDonald’s.  Mmmmmmm.  But I haven’t had fast food since 2006, and won’t start now.     So I’m always on the hunt for healthier alternatives…

Baked Chicken Taquitos (adapted from Our Best Bites)

1/3 cup Toffuti cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup salsa verde
1/2 lime, juiced
1 teaspoon chile powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
3 tablespoons green onion, chopped
2 cups cooked and shredded chicken
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
10-12 (6-inch) corn tortillas
Salt, to sprinkle
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with foil and lightly coat with cooking spray.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine softened cream cheese, salsa verde, lime juice, cumin, chili powder, minced garlic, cilantro, green onion.  Stir to combine.  Add chicken and shredded cheese, and combine thoroughly.  Season with salt, if necessary.

Heat corn tortillas until soft and pliable, about 30 seconds, on a plate with damp paper towels inbetween and on top of the tortillas to “steam.”   Spoon about 3 to 3 tablespoons of the filling onto the lower third of each tortilla, and roll tightly.  Place taquitos, seam-side down on the prepared baking sheet.  Repeat with remaining tortillas and filling.

Lightly spray the top of the taquitos with cooking spray, and sprinkle with salt. Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until the tortillas are crisp and golden.  Serve with your favorite salsa, guacamole, and greek yogurt.  Yum!

Makes 10 to 12 taquitos.

Roasted Sweet Potato Cube Skewers with a Cilantro-Jalapeno Aioli Dip

roasted sweet potato, sweet potato, cubed sweet potato, roasted sweet potato skewers, sweet potato skewers

My first introduction to fine dining (which I wouldn’t call fine dining anymore nowadays) was when my parents took us to Max’s Bistro when I was in high school.  It was for no special occasion, but to try this restaurant that had just opened up, which was trying to introduce this town to “California cuisine.”  It was one of the only “upscale” restaurants that I could recall at that time when I was younger.  So we were all very excited.  We even got all dressed up for this non-special, special occasion.  We salivated as we looked over the menu.  I saw sweet potato fries with a cilantro-jalapeno aioli and begged my parents to order it.  They were a little reluctant partially because they aren’t too keen on appetizers, but also because the price tag on the dishes were a little high at that point in time for the city we live in.  But hellooooo?!  Fried sweet potatoes?!… Yes, please!  Anything with the word fries was magic to my ears (and it still is!).

Mmmmm.  Sweet potato french fries.  I can still recall how amazing it was the first time I tried a sweet potato fry… crispy panko coating on the outside, and just the right about of tenderness on the inside.  It was perfect.  But then dip it into that aioli, and oooooooh weeeeeee!  It was 100 times even more amazing.  The aioli was tangy, cilantro-y, and had just the right amount of heat from the cilantro.  Yum.  Unfortunately, the only thing that impressed us that night was the sweet potato fries, and dessert.

Coming from a family history of the restaurant business, I grew up with the mantra of “the customer is always right.”  Service.  It’s a really important part of any business dealing with customer relations.  In my humble opinion, if the service sucks, then the food sucks.  I know the logic may seem oversimplified to some, but it can really ruin the mood of a great meal.  If the entree costs more than $25, I expect to be wined and dined by the wait staff.  And of course, the service that night was snooty and unattenative, which completely turned my parents off.  My dad actually vowed never to go back to the restaurant because of the poor service, and he still hasn’t to this day.

I have found myself at the restaurant a few times here and there over the years for business and pleasure, and find the food a bit of a hit or miss.  But it’s those sweet potato fries and the aioli that I crave.  So I did what any other foodie would do, and that was to recreate one of my favorite appetizers.  But in a more healthy matter.  I still haven’t been able to bring myself to fry anything in the house.  I’m afraid of the smell of fried oil lingering around the house for days.  So I’d rather not.  But trust me, I really want to fry foods like fries and chicken.  I’ve tried the oven-”fried” sweet potato fries, but we weren’t a big fan of them.

My solution… roasted sweet potato cubes.

Roasted Sweet Potato Cube Skewers with a Cilantro-Jalapeno Aioli Dip

3 medium-sized sweet potatoes, peeled
Extra virgin olive oil
Paprika
Salt and pepper
Skewers

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Dice the potatoes into 1 inch cubes.   Place the cubes in a medium sized bowl, drizzle with olive oil, and season with paprika, salt and pepper.   Toss with hands to coat evenly.  Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet.   Roast for about 30 minutes, or until tender, but slightly crispy in the outside.   Stir the sweet potatoes once or twice during roasting.   Remove from oven, and allow to cool just enough to be easily handled.  Skewer the cubes, and enjoy with your favorite dip!

Cilantro-Jalapeno Aioli

1/2 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise (we really like the Trader’s Joe brand)
1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
2 jalapeno chiles, seeded (if you like it less spicy) and chopped
Juice of one lime, plus more to taste
Salt, to taste

In a food processor, combine the mayonnaise, cilantro, and jalapeno; pulse until smooth. Remove the mayonnaise and pour into a bowl. Add half of lime juice and salt, to taste. If you like it more citrusy, add more lime juice, which is how we like it. Cover and refrigerate for one hour before serving to allow all the flavors to develop. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 to 4 days.

This is the perfect prescription for sweet potato fries, or with fish or shrimp tacos.

Makes about 1 cup of aioli.

Spicy, Lime-y, Cilantro-y, Chunky Guacamole

I looked in my refrigerator yesterday and freaked out over all the container-filled left over foods.  Usually that’s a good thing right?  Most people probably wouldn’t get stressed out over left overs.  In fact, most people probably think it’s a good thing to have left overs.  But I have a fear of left over foods.  It all started when I moved away for Pharmacy school.  My parents would come visit me in San Francisco and would stock my refrigerator with good ol’ Mom’s home cooking.  It was truly a great and generous thing that they did.  I think they thought I was starving and/or didn’t have enough time to cook for my own.  Little did they know that I gained a lot of weight partying, and eating.  Anyhow, after they went back home, I would freak out about all the foods that I would have to eat before it spoiled.  I grew tired of left overs after 3-4 days of straight left overs.  It wasn’t even an enjoyment.  It was just a process of shoveling food down my mouth for lunch and dinner.  And trust me, I LOOOOOOOOVE my parents’ cooking!  I also hate wasting food period.  Wow.  I just went off on a tangent.

I had a lot of cilantro from over the weekend that I didn’t know what to do with.  I also had a lot of limes, tomatoes, and avocados hanging out on my kitchen counter waiting to be hacked up for my weekly sandwich wraps for work.  But the avocados and tomatoes were getting just a little ripe, and I knew I wouldn’t eat the tomatoes because I hate mushy tomatoes.  It’s true.  The texture is just gross.  Luckily, I found half of a red onion in a tupperware container in the refrigerator, and decided to make guacamole… the perfect way to NOT waste these ingredients!

Just a side note, do you remember how expensive avocados were about a decade ago or more?  I was just reminiscing recently how expensive some fruit and vegetable items were and how difficult they were to find at times.  I used to beg my parents to spend some money to buy me two or three avocados for $4 per avocado just so that I could make guacamole.  I’d maybe get to taste half an avocado once or twice a year.  But now that the prices have come down significantly, I can make guacamole any time and any day of the year.  There’s always an abundance of avocados no matter what grocery store you shop at now.  It’s absolutely wonderful and convenient.

So getting back to my original post, I love my guacamole extra lime-y.  And spicy, and chunky, and cilantro-y.  It’s the only way to eat guacamole.  No garlic, no cumin.  Just love.


Spicy, lime-y, cilantro-y, and chunky guacamole

4 avocados
2 roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/2 red onion, minced or finely diced (about 1/2 cup)
1/3 cup cilantro, chopped
3 limes, juiced
2 jalapenos, minced (remove the seeds and pith if you don’t like it spicy)
1 teaspoon salt

Cut avocados in half, and remove seed. Scoop out avacado from the peel, put in a mixing bowl.

Using a fork or potato masher, mash the avocado, while leaving it chunky. Add the chopped red onion, cilantro, tomato, and salt. Mix together. Next add half of the lime juice, mix well, and adjust to your likings. I like a really lime-y guacamole, so three limes is perfect.

Chili peppers vary individually in their hotness, even with the seeds and pith removed. So, start with a half of one chili pepper and add to the guacamole to your desired degree of hotness.

Enjoy immediately with your favorite tortilla chips. I cut and baked my organic corn tortillas at 400 degrees in a small toaster oven for a few minutes, and they turned out perfectly.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Tomatillo Chile Verde Sauce

One of my partner’s only vices is that she loves Mexican food, and that’s just an understatement.  When I say love, I mean an obsession, an infatuation.  My partner made a statement that she was no longer go to eat Taco Bell with her friend, who is also a teacher right next her classroom.  I call them double trouble.  They both enjoy Mexican food.  If it’s not burritos and tacos from the Mexican restaurant down the street from their work place, then it’s Taco Bell.

I’m on this healthy food, and diet kick, which was inspired by my partner (she asked that I give her credit for this).  She, too, is on a diet kick and eats healthy for the majority of the time.  Well, I just about died when I heard they went to Taco Bell for lunch yesterday.But my partner rationalized it saying she ordered a chicken taco off their “Fresco menu.”  I don’t care how fresco it is off their “Fresco menu.”  It’s still Taco Bell.  It’s still fast food.  It’s still unhealthy.  So I made a deal with my partner that if she would stop eating Taco Bell, I’d make her some healthy Mexican food.  Deal.  Done.

I wanted to wean her off of Taco Bell, and restaurant-made Mexican food, and replace it with healthy homemade Mexican food.  So I set off to the grocery store for some items, and the first item on my list was green enchilada sauce.  I headed to the “Asian / Hispanic” aisle, and found a big can of the green enchilada sauce.  I looked at the nutritional content and freaked out.  For a serving size of 1/4 cup contained 330 milligrams of sodium.  WHAT?!  Exactly.  I immediately put the can down, got on my iPhone, and set out for a search on a healthier, homemade chile verde sauce.  I thumbed through a few recipes, and found one that was suited to my liking.

I immediately started on the recipe when I got home from the grocery store.  The recipe was extremely easy to follow, and didn’t require a lot of time to make.  Once the ingredients started to simmer, the fragrant aroma of chile verde sauce filled the entire house.

For those who like a good chile verde sauce, make it yourself.  It was so easy, a caveman… nevermind.  You get the point.  It’s not time consuming.  It’s healthy.  And it’s not laden with sodium like a can of store bought sauce.  Just make it.  Enough said.

Tomatillo Chile Verde Sauce (adapted from Our Best Bites)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, minced
8 cloves garlic, minced
3 roasted, peeled green chiles (New Mexico, Anaheim or California or poblano chiles)
3 jalapenos (remove the seeds if you would like a mild sauce)
2 pounds tomatillos, husked and quartered
1/2 bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoons black pepper
2 teaspoons cumin
5 cups chicken broth

Place tomatillos and peppers under a broiler for about 5-7 minutes to lightly blacken the skin. Remove from oven, let cool enough to handle. Remove the skin from the green chiles, not the tomatillos.

Combine tomatillos, green peppers, jalapeno peppers, and cilantro in your blender.  Process until smooth.

In a large saucepan or stock pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat.  Saute onions and garlic until tender and fragrant.  Pour the tomatillo mixture over the onions and garlic.  Add chicken broth, salt, pepper, and cumin.  Simmer for about one hour, or less, depending on the consistency you want.  I like the sauce thick, so I usually turn the heat to a medium to medium-high heat for about one hour.

Serve over tacos, as an enchilada sauce, inside burritos, or simmer with some pork shoulder for chile verde carnitas.  Yum.

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