Saturday, July 25, 2009

Lime, Garlic and Pepper Chicken

A lime and pepper chicken recipe has been calling out to me ever since I clipped it from an issue of Sunset magazine. And every time I think about it, I'm running short on time or it's raining. Rain or shine, I was determined to try it today. (Turns out I had rain.) It is probably one of the easiest recipes I've ever tried and it had lots of subtle flavor. Of course, I had to adapt it to create the subtlety I wanted. The original version called for 2 tablespoons of ground pepper. I cut it drastically and added garlic. My version is presented below.

Lime, Garlic and Pepper Chicken
1/2 cup lime juice
1/4 cup water
3 tbsp sugar
1/2 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
4 boneless chicken breasts, halved

1. Combine lime juice, water, sugar, pepper, oil, salt and garlic in a large bowl or resealable plastic bag. Stir to dissolve sugar and salt. Set aside.

2. On a flat surface, lay 1 chicken breast half between 2 large pieces of plastic wrap. Using a mallet, pound chicken to an even 1/4- to 1/3-in. thickness. Put chicken in bowl or plastic bag with marinade. Repeat with remaining breasts. Cover or seal; chill 30 minutes.

3. Preheat a grill to medium-hot (you can hold your hand 1 to 2 in. above cooking-grate level only 3 to 4 seconds). Remove chicken from marinade and grill 4 minutes (cover if using gas). Turn chicken over, and grill until cooked through (chicken should feel firm when poked), 3 to 4 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Lessons Learned: I actually took two large chicken breasts, cut them in half and then filleted them. It was more than enough meat for the marinade. If I were to do four chicken breasts, I'd increase the marinade quantity.
I didn't feel like grilling in the rain, so I stuck it under the broiler for about 10 minutes, flipping it halfway through the cook time. The flavors lacked the smokiness I had hoped to get from grilling and the chicken looked a little pale (no grill marks), but it still had a really nice flavor. Next time, I'll use chopped garlic and throw it on the grill.
ETA: OK, we grilled it and it was FABULOUS! It works great hot or cold in a pita with some cheese, lettuce, tomato and a little low-fat mayo.

Seared Peaches with Balsamic Glaze

I went peach picking yesterday and now have a counter filled with ripe and almost ripe peaches. The original goal was to grill some with dinner, but Mother Nature rained out my plans. So, I had to go with Plan B. When I read that Cooking Light billed this recipe as one that would taste straight out of an upscale restaurant, I figured it was worth a shot. Too bad I was missing half the ingredients and didn't feel like a run to the store in the rain. Never fear. I'm getting good at substitutes, so that's what I did here. Below is the original recipe in case your pantry and fridge are better stocked than mine. In Lessons Learned, I detail how I altered it to make it my own.

Seared Peaches and Figs with Balsamic Glaze

1 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 teaspoons butter, divided
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme, divided
4 firm ripe white peaches (about 1 3/4 pounds), halved and pitted
8 firm ripe Black Mission figs, halved lengthwise (about 1 pound)
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup crème fraîche
1/8 teaspoon salt

1. Cook peppercorns in a small skillet over medium heat 6 minutes or until fragrant and toasted. Cool. Place peppercorns in a heavy-duty zip-top plastic bag; seal. Crush peppercorns with a meat mallet or rolling pin; set aside.

2. Melt 1 teaspoon butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat; stir in 1 teaspoon thyme. Add peaches, cut sides down, to pan. Cook 2 minutes or until browned. Remove from pan. Place 1 peach half, cut sides up, on each of 8 plates. Melt remaining 1 teaspoon butter in pan; stir in remaining 1 teaspoon thyme. Add figs, cut sides down, to pan; cook 2 minutes or until browned. Place two fig halves on each plate.

3. Add vinegar to pan; cook over medium-low heat until reduced to 3 tablespoons (about 3 minutes). Cool slightly. Spoon about 2 teaspoons crème fraîche into the center of each peach half; drizzle about 1 teaspoon vinegar mixture over each serving. Sprinkle each serving with about 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Sprinkle evenly with salt.

Serves 8

Lessons Learned: I didn't have figs or creme fraiche and I didn't feel like roasting pepper corns. So, here's what I did: After mentally halving the recipe, I cut the peaches into quarters. I had semi-cling peaches, so separating them into pretty halves just wasn't an option. They were firm enough, however, that I could separate them into quarters. I tossed them into a saute pan with 1 teaspoon of butter. (I forgot to add the thyme.) They didn't quite reach the carmelization that I wanted, so I tossed them into a cake pan, added a dash of salt over them and stuck them under the broiler for a few minutes. Perfect results -- nice carmelization and color with just the right amount of natural sweetness.
As stated, I didn't have creme fraiche, but sour cream will work as a quick substitute. I mixed in about a tablespoon of sugar to a half cup of sour cream and let it sit until the sugar dissolved. I didn't feel like reducing balsamic vinegar, but I have an absolutely decadent and concentrated balsamic glaze from Williams Sonoma. I served up the peaches with a few drops of that glaze on each peach, then topped them with the sour cream mixture (no pepper). Simply divine and ready to go in less than 10 minutes! This will definitely be a go-to recipe in case I need a quick dessert for unannounced guests.
One final note, don't ever bother buying the $2 bottle of balsamic vinegar. It's cheap and completely lacking in balsamic flavor. You'll use three times as much of it as you will a more concentrated version and you still won't like the results. I won't buy anything other than the Olivier brand at Williams Sonoma. It is thick, fruity and not very vinegary, unlike that cheap stuff you find on the top shelf of the salad dressing aisle at the grocery store. Sure, it's $24/bottle, but one taste and you'll never want to use anything else again.