My favorite thing about going back to Oxford is that I always get to cook for my friends, and since we all live broke the majority of the time- I have to find ways to do it fairly cheap. Since the New Year, I’ve been on this crazy health kick. I have almost completely cut out bread and pasta, and I don’t drink any coke products anymore. If I want more substance than just protein- I’ll make a salad, and if I’m craving a sandwich- I’ll make a wrap. Soda water and lime do just fine instead of syrup-stricken cokes.
While enjoying one of the most fun, Bloody Mary Sundays ever, we brainstormed some great ideas for dinner- keeping it healthy, light, delicious, and a little different.
Hummus (pre-made IS that much cheaper if you aren’t going to make it all the time)
Pita Bread – 1 pack
Chicken Breasts – 3 (if you like dark meat more get some thighs, but I’m trying to somewhat stay healthy
Cous Cous – 1 box
Spinach – 1 bag
Olives – 1 can, sliced (a small can is only $0.58!!)
Lemons – 3 whole
Diced Tomato – 1/2 cup
Red Onion – 1/2 onion, small chopped
Feta Cheese – 8 ounces
Chicken Stock (optional)
First, you always want to have an appetizer or snack waiting if guests are coming over. If you do, it doesn’t leave them wondering when you are going to start cooking, and it’s a good ice breaker (so is alcohol- it’s the lubricant for social anxiety).
We started with a three olive hummus. What easier way to spruce up hummus than with a little drizzle of olive oil on top? Nothing is, and if you have it, a dash of cayenne wouldn’t hurt! Take your pita bread, cut it down the middle, then slice each side into either 3 or 4 individual pieces. Remember, less looks like more, and the less you have before dinner, the better dinner will be.
Put your pita on a cookie sheet and lightly drizzle olive oil on them. Bake at 350 until they’ve gotten slightly golden brown and they’re ready!
When cooking for other people, there are two important things to remember: 1) make sure what you’re cooking smells out of this world and 2) don’t serve something cold that is supposed to be warm.
Any time I am cooking with chicken or beef, I always, always, always marinate it. The point of marinating something is to use the ingredients in the marinade to break down the protein to make it more tender and not so “tough.” Also, chicken and pork are very easy to dry out and a nice marinade keeps them juicier and holds more flavor in.
Some great, household, already-in-your-fridge products that can be used to make your own marinades at home are the following:
– any vinaigrette dressing (basalmic, Italian, citrus)
– salt, pepper, and any spice in your spice cabinet that follows your flavor genre
– soy sauce (GREAT substitute for salt!)
– jalapeño juice or pepperoncini juice
– hot sauce
– lemon or lime juice
One day I’ll write down different marinades I use for different proteins and separate them based on their ethnicity- Italian, Asian, Greek, New American, etc.
Marinate your chicken in juices and spices of your choice, and give them about 30-45 minutes in the fridge. While the chicken marinates, it’s time to get your mis en place in order. Mis en place means “putting in place” and it’s a word used in many kitchens to give their establishment a more professional atmosphere. Some people use it to sound over educated and it’s quite annoying, but it’s a phrase every foodie should know.
Set aside your 1/2 cup diced tomatoes, 1/2 cup small diced red onions, spinach, olives, and feta. Get a sauté pan and put a few teaspoons of oil, or butter, and turn the heat to medium. When the butter melts or the oil is sliding loosely over the pan, throw in the red onions and turn down the heat to just above medium-low. Sautéing was not necessarily meant to be a speedy procedure. The longer and slower it cooks, with more patience, the more flavor is extracted and the better the onions caramelize.
While the onions cook down, pull your chicken from the marinade and place in an empty casserole dish. Now, as much as I’d love to write out how to make your own blackening seasoning- it’s cheaper to buy it- trust me. The two brands that I trust for blackening seasoning are Zatarain’s and Paul Prudhomme’s. They really are the best! So cover each side in blackening seasoning while another skillet is heating (on medium-high) a few teaspoons of oil. We aren’t looking to fully cook the chicken on this skillet; we just want to give it a nice blackened color! After a few minutes on each side, move the chicken to a casserole dish and put in the oven at 350 for about 13 minutes. Each piece of chicken will cook differently, so be sure to learn how it feels when it’s close to being done, and if you aren’t sure, cut it and find out!
When you throw the chicken in the oven, you should have plenty of time to cook your Cous Cous. (Meanwhile, don’t forget to be stirring and not burning your red onions!). 1 box of Cous Cous should be enough for 4-5 people. The box will call for maybe two cups of water. My suggestion- use chicken stock instead, and squeeze two lemons into the stock as well (the other lemon I used in my marinade). Bring the water to a boil and pour in the Cous Cous. Remove from the heat and cover for 5 minutes.
The onions should be nice and caramelized by now, so add the tomatoes and stir. Once the Cous Cous is finished, fluff it with a fork and add your tomato/red onion mix, olives, and the spinach. Spinach takes very little heat to wilt, so adding it to the Cous Cous while it’s hot, has enough heat to make it wilt. Re-cover your Cous Cous to make sure it stays warm, and pull your chicken from the oven.
The chicken should be ready. Take it out of the oven and slice it on a bias about 1/4″ thick. Plating and presentation is EASY. Scoop a pile of Cous Cous on your plate and arrange the sliced chicken on top. Sprinkle feta cheese over the top and serve. It will be delicious.
This Bloody Mary Sunday was made possible with the help of Alex Key McLelland, Juliette Lawrence, Allyson Cartwright, and Nick Keeling. If only it could happen every Sunday.