that’s me at the national chicken cooking contest in 1983!

that's me at the national chicken cooking contest in 1983!

Not many remember I was the 1983 Maine Chicken-Cooking Champion. I won the state contest and was privileged to compete in the nationals in the chicken capital of the US, Birmingham, Alabama. I was given a plane ticket, a $100 check, hotel accommodations, all meals during the three-day event, a chicken tote bag, chicken tea set, and an engraved silver bowl. At the cook-off, we each had our own mini-kitchen. The only thing they did not provide were the pots, pans, and serving dishes I needed to use so I had to lug those on the plane. My recipe was published in the National Chicken Cooking Contest’s yearly cookbook. I didn’t win, but it was so much fun, and I met so many great people!

lemon-mint chicken thighs
Here’s the recipe that won me the state award, inspired by my love of Lebanese food served so often in Caribou, Maine.

  • 8 skinless chicken thighs
  • 2 large lemons
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tsp salt, divided
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • 1 Tbs dried mint
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 4 Tbs cornstarch
  • 3 Tbs cold water
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 2 Tbs pine nuts

In a deep saucepan, place chicken, 2 cups water, 1 tsp of the salt, and the juice and peel of one lemon. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, about 25 minutes or till tender. Remove chicken from broth and set aside to cool. Separate meat from bones. Reserve broth. Discard lemon peel. Add enough water to broth to make 3 cups. In a medium pan, bring broth to a boil over medium heat, add mint, pepper, oil, and remaining salt. Mix cornstarch with 3 Tbs water, reduce heat to low, and stir into broth till thick, about 5 minutes. Add chicken and heat through, then stir in yogurt, heating only till warm to prevent curdling. Serve over rice, sprinkled with pine nuts and garnished with lemon slices.

melt-in-your-mouth chicken
My friend, Pete Freeman, pharmacist extraordinaire at Shop ‘n Save, posted this recipe on his Facebook page. The name of this dish says it all. It is truly luscious and dancin’ good!

Preheat oven to 375°. Mix together:

  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • ¼ cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • ¾ tsp Lawry’s Seasoned Salt
  • ¼ tsp black pepper
  • ½ tsp garlic powder

Spread the mixture evenly over 2 boneless chicken breast halves. Bake 30-45 minutes till fork-tender and meat thermometer reads 165°. So golden good. Serve with rice or potatoes and a green veggie.

TIP: INVEST IN A GOOD MEAT THERMOMETER
With all the warnings about salmonella and E coli out there, be sure your food is safe to eat. Purchase a good meat thermometer. It will pay for itself in peace of mind.

original recipe KFC chicken
This is as close as it gets—11 herbs and spices!

Ingredients

  • 1 whole chicken, cut into pieces.
  • 3 beaten eggs
  • ¼ cup light olive or peanut oil

For the Coating

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp poultry seasoning (thyme, sage, marjoram, rosemary, and nutmeg)
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp tarragon
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp onion powder
  • ½ tsp celery salt

Directions
Pat chicken dry with a paper towel. Salt liberally on all sides. Place oil in a heavy skillet and heat to medium. Sift together all coating ingredients. Coat each piece of chicken with flour, dip in the egg then back into the flour mixture covering thoroughly. Place on a plate. When oil is hot, place chicken skin side down and brown slowly uncovered. When golden. turn over and cover. Reduce heat to medium-low and fry till fork tender, juices run clear, and a thermometer registers 165° when inserted in the deepest area of meat. Serve with KFC-recipe coleslaw.

“secret” recipe KFC coleslaw
There are several of these recipes floating around. Here’s the link to one with a 5-star rating: http://www.food.com/recipe/copycat-kfc-coleslaw-the-real-thing-67284

easy jerk chicken
This scrumptious dish is adapted from the traditional Jamaican recipe. There are many conflicting claims as to how to prepare this spicy sweet chicken. I used to buy a prepared Jerk Sauce, but the store stopped carrying it. This recipe is delicious. The number of ingredients is long, but it is totally worth it. You can use boneless chicken breasts or chicken parts. If using bone-in breasts, be sure to half and then quarter them so all pieces are the same size and cook evenly. Separate drumsticks from thighs. This makes a nice load of chicken with plenty for leftovers.

Ingredients

  • 2-3 lbs chicken
  • ½ cup molasses
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp ground allspice
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsp dried minced onion or onion powder
  • 2 scallions, green and white parts, chopped
  • Non-stick cooking spray

Directions
Mix liquids and spices in a bowl. Pour into a storage container or a zip-lock bag, pop in the chicken pieces, and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight. You can roast or grill.

To Roast: Preheat oven to 375°, remove chicken from marinade, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spray a baking pan with non-stick cooking spray. Place chicken in pan and spray each piece lightly also. Roast till fork tender and a thermometer registers 165° when inserted in the deepest part of meat (20-35 minutes).

To Grill: Jerk chicken is best cooked slowly over charcoal or wood. If using a gas grill, heat to high and cook for 10 minutes to sear. Reduce heat to medium low, turning once or twice till fork tender and a thermometer registers 165° when inserted in the deepest area of meat. Times vary, so you be the judge. Do not overcook, please! Serve with rice and a green vegetable. Pass the lime wedges.

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memorial day ideas

Remembering loved ones, and especially those who have died for us, deserves a special meal and appreciation of family, friends, and country. Memorial Day weekend here is the time for raking the yard, getting the garden in, spreading the last of the snow around to melt, and unofficially welcoming in the summer season. With hopes the black flies haven’t started biting yet, we head outdoors to enjoy the warm air and share a meal or two.

I hope these dishes will bring a smile to your face as they are unconventional but delicious, and can become a tradition you can repeat year after year.

homemade onion dip
Once you’ve made your own, you’ll never go back to the old onion-soup-mix glop again! This one’s much less salty and tastes a lot better, too! All it asks of you is a bit of your time—and it’s totally worth it. Make this a day or two ahead for convenience. It tastes much better if the flavors have time to marry.

  • 2 large Spanish or Vidalia onions (2 cups diced)
  • 2 Tbs light olive oil
  • 2 pinches salt
  • 1 16-oz. container sour cream, brought to room temperature
  • 1 8-oz. block cream cheese, softened
  • 1 Tbs Gravy Master
  • ½ tsp garlic powder or use fresh 2 garlic cloves, finely minced (even better)
  • ½ tsp white pepper
  • Dash or three of your favorite hot sauce (optional)

Remove cream cheese and sour cream from the ‘fridge at least two hours before starting. Brown onions in oil over medium-high heat, taking care not to burn, till brown and well done. Set aside to cool.

Place all other ingredients in a medium bowl and mix well. Add cooled onions. Refrigerate, covered, overnight, or at least 4-6 hours. Serve at room temperature with chips, crackers, or pita bread wedges, then watch it disappear!

chinese chicken salad
I got this recipe from my friend, Dawn King and tweaked it a bit. It is so delicious your kids will gobble it up while getting some veggies in the process! You’ll need a tight-fitting plastic container—low, flat, and rectangular in shape—that’ll hold about 6-8 cups. You’ll need to get a small bottle of toasted sesame oil in the ethnic section of the supermarket, but it is totally worth it. It imparts a most memorable flavor.

For the salad, prepare the following:

  • 2 large or 3 small boneless, skinless chicken breasts, gently poached, cooled, and diced
  • ¼ cup sesame seeds
  • 1 cup slivered almonds sautéed in oil till golden brown and cooled
  • 1 sweet onion (Vidalia, if available, is best)
  • ½ head of medium size cabbage, finely shredded
  • 2 packages of Ramen noodles (discard seasoning pack)

For the dressing, mix together in a shaker:

  • 3/4 cup white vinegar
  • ½ cup light olive or peanut oil
  • ½ cup water
  • 4 Tbs sugar
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 3 Tbs toasted sesame oil
  • 1 Tbs soy sauce

Directions:
In a plastic container, break up squares of ramen noodles into 4-6 pieces. Pour mixed dressing over noodles, then add tossed remaining ingredients over. Cover and shake vigorously. Flip over and refrigerate at least overnight. If you are worried the lid will leak, be sure to enclose in a large plastic bag. Check in the morning to test that noodles are soft. Remove from refrigerator two hours before serving. Can be served in lettuce cups. Crunchy good!

mamie’s blubarb pie
A divine concoction of blueberries and rhubarb makes this pie a true celebration. Serve with a scoop of lemon sherbet!

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup quick-cooking tapioca
  • 3 cups diced rhubarb
  • 3 cups blueberries
  • Pastry dough, for double-crust 9-inch pie*

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400°. Combine sugars, salt and tapioca in a large bowl and mix well. Add fruit and toss until well coated.

Place fruit mixture in 9-inch pie pan lined with pastry dough. Top with second crust, and trim so the top crust hangs 1/2 inch beyond rim, then tuck edge of top crust under bottom crust and crimp or pinch to finish.

Bake 20 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350° and bake an additional 25-30 minutes, until pie is golden and the juices are bubbling. Let cool 2 hours and then serve.

*See my magical pie crust recipe below, OR use prepared rolled pie dough.

tip: crumb topping can replace top crust
My mother didn’t much like using a top crust on a pie. She loved to make a crumb topping—sweet, rich, and crunchy. I’ve kind of gone over to her side. This recipe can be mixed up quickly and doubled or tripled, always ready in your ‘fridge or freezer in a container with a tight-fitting lid. Keeps for a month or more. PLUS it’s delicious.

  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup flour
  • ½ stick soft butter (do NOT use margarine)
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ cup old-fashioned oats (optional)

Mix with fingers till crumbly.

cousin ralph’s magical pie crust
This recipe first appeared on cans of Spry—a solid shortening—back in the 1960s. My wonderfully creative cousin ripped the label off his Spry can and gave it to me when I raved about the crust on the pie he’d served me in 1963. I can’t understand why this method never caught on with the pastry crowd or with anyone, for that matter. When I tell you this is the easiest crust you’ll ever make, I mean it. You’ve probably never made crust like this, and the process flies in the face of all those pastry experts and seasoned bakers out there who’ve always preached that pie crust must be prepared cold—very cold—and that is a real pain to do correctly. This crust uses hot liquids, but it works and is a snap to prepare. It is easily doubled, tripled, or quadrupled and freezes well, so you can make it two months ahead and pull it out to prepare a delicious homemade pie any time! Great for chicken or beef pot pies, too. You’ll never go back to that pastry blender!

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup solid shortening (plain, NOT butter-flavored)
  • 6 Tbs water
  • 2 tsp milk
  • 2 ½ cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt

Directions:
Measure out flour and salt; mix and set aside. Place shortening in a medium bowl and spread it evenly over the bottom. In a small saucepan, bring water and milk to a boil, and pour over shortening. Beat with a fork till smooth and thick. Add flour and salt. Stir gently with the fork, then mix with fingers gently so as not to toughen till well blended.

Form two equal balls of dough, which will be soft and warm. I like to roll it out between two sheets of wax paper to a thickness of about ¼-inch. It’s easy to peel off the top paper, pick the whole mess up and flip it on to the pie pan. Carefully peel the other paper off,. If you tear the crust, it is easily patched. Position, trim and pinch taking care to eliminate any air bubbles. (I prick them with a fork then pat it to close the holes.)

Makes 2 crusts

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I’d love to hear from you if you try this or any other recipes on A Cook’s Journal. Just scroll down to the end of this post to comment. Happy cooking!

get ready for memorial day

The weather here in northern Maine has been daunting to say the least. After a long, long, VERY cold winter that stretched well into spring, when below-zero temps were the rule more than the exception from October through April, now May has come in March-and-April style with rain and wind and chilly days. I was spoiled one or two days last week with a bit of warm sun and did a smidge of yard work, but not much. I’d planned to get my veggie plot ready to go, but that never happened. Now it’s too wet to do anything with seeds like lettuce and carrots and green onions. The old adage, “sow dry, set wet,” applies, and I intend to stand by it. Who wants seeds rotting in the ground? I’m tempted to sow them inside and set them out later when—and IF—the weather improves.

According to the forecast, the break will come this weekend, just in time for the holiday. Woo hoo! I’m ready. On Thursday I’ll post this week’s recipes for some delicious dishes you can prepare, some even ahead of time, to help honor those who have fought and died for us, and to remember those who have touched our lives and passed on.

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Coltsfoot, about 1″ diameter

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Crocuses by my front door

You’ll find I’m a kind of nutcase when it comes to my passion for native plants and flowers AND perennials. I’ll probably pepper this blog with plenty of photos and factoids about them, so bear with me.

Two reliable harbingers of spring are coltsfoot and crocuses. Coltsfoot flowers emerge before the leaves. Everyone mistakes them for dandelions, but they’re a long-recognized medicinal plant with beautiful vine-like foliage that loves to explode out of the woods and cascade down roadsides and into rich ditches. Many pharmacies in Europe use the leaf shape for their signage. It’s one of those plants that people rarely notice, but once you learn about it, you’ll see it everywhere!

Have a safe and peaceful holiday weekend.

mother’s day breakfast

CooksJ_logo

Most of the dishes I feature are personal favorites, some are new, and many come from family and friends. I pull recipes from all kinds of sources, including you! Just comment at the end of any post if you have any suggestions for additions or improvements to my recipes, or drop off a note to me at the Aroostook Republican office in Caribou, and I’ll get back to you.

These are the recipes that appeared in the newspaper this week, May 7, 2014. I’ve also added two bonus recipes that weren’t in the paper and will probably do that every time. I have found a way for you to easily print these from online. Just look for the link at the end of the post. This blog is still emerging, and the layout might change over the next few weeks as I get a feel for the formatting tools, but my goal is to make it as easy to navigate as possible. —Connie

MOTHER’S DAY RECIPES
Kids and Dads love to prepare breakfast on Mother’s Day. These recipes are so easy but so delicious. The first two recipes are similar but one is savory and the other sweet; both start out with a Yorkshire Pudding or “popover” kind of base.

Warning: Do not use skillets that cannot go into the oven, like teflon-coated or pans with plastic handles! Cast-iron or Guardian aluminum are best.

Toadinthehole
toad in the hole
Kids will get a giggle out of the name of this dish, which originates in England and is thought to get its name from how it resembled a toad poking its head up out of a hole. Serve it with a nice fruit cup or sliced strawberries on the side to provide a bit of texture variation and some acid to counter the richness.

1 scant cup flour
½ tsp salt
½ cup milk
½ cup water
2 eggs
Half a pound of uncooked breakfast sausages (I like Jones brand)
1 Tbs butter

Preheat the oven to 400°. Mix the batter first so it has time to sit: Put the flour and salt in a medium mixing bowl and pour in the milk and water. Whisk together, then beat in the eggs. Whisk until completely smooth and set aside.

Place a cast-iron skillet over medium high heat and put in the sausages. Cook, turning often, until they are browned on all sides. Put in the butter and let it melt; make sure the pan is well coated with fat (you might be able to skip the butter if your sausages are fatty enough). Arrange the sausages evenly in the pan, then give the batter another stir and pour it over. Pop the pan in the oven and bake 20 minutes, then turn down the heat to 350° and bake another 10 minutes.

Serves four if everyone behaves, but you might want to double it.

gigantic apple popover
This is a fun dish that will delight any mom!

2 apples, peeled and sliced
4 Tbsp butter
1/4 cup sugar (or substitute Splenda)
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1 Tbsp oil
2 packed Tbsp brown sugar (or substitute Splenda)
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 425°. Melt the butter in a large cast iron skillet and saute the apples over medium heat until they begin to soften. Add the sugar and cinnamon and cook just a little more, until soft but not mushy. Scrape them into a pie pan, arranging them to cover the bottom, and let cool.

Place the eggs, milk, oil, brown sugar, and vanilla in a bowl and beat well, then stir in the flour and salt. Whisk vigorously, and make sure it’s smooth, or you can use a blender or a hand mixer.

Pour the batter over the cooled apples and put the pan in the oven. Let bake 20 minutes, then turn down to 350° and bake another 20 minutes or until golden on top. DO NOT open the oven door while the popover is baking!

Cut in thick wedges, and serve hot or cold.

BONUS RECIPES

overnight coffee cake
This was my mother’s recipe. It is easy for kids to make the night before, and it will create a tantalizing aroma in the morning!

2 cups flour
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar (divided)
1 cup sour milk, buttermilk, or sour cream (if available, but regular whole milk will do)
2/3 cups butter, softened
2 eggs
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
½ cup chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans, your choice)
¼ tsp nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla extract

Grease a 9 x 13 pan. In a large bowl place flour, white sugar, milk, butter, ½ cup of the brown sugar, baking powder and soda, cinnamon, and vanilla. Beat at medium speed till combined, then add eggs. When well-mixed, pour into prepared pan.

In a small bowl, combine remaining brown sugar with nuts and nutmeg. Sprinkle evenly over batter. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or up to 24 hours.

Next morning, preheat oven to 350°. Uncover pan and bake 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Top should be golden brown.

Not just for Mother’s Day. This is great for Christmas morning or to serve to overnight guests. They’ll think you’re amazing. And you are!

PBSmoothie

peanut butter banana smoothie
This dish will intrigue and surprise Mom, but be sure to make enough for everyone!

2 bananas, broken into chunks
2 cups milk
1/2 cup peanut butter
2 Tbs honey, or to taste
2 cups ice cubes

Place bananas, milk, peanut butter, honey, and ice cubes in a blender; blend until smooth, about 30 sec. Makes 4 servings. This one is addicting.

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