Cooking And An Ode To The Toaster Oven

With the heat being what it is, and our AC still barely limping along, that whole cooking thing? SO.NOT.HAPPENING.

Hubbs wants pasta for dinner? HAHAHA. I am NOT standing in front of a stove and cooking pasta in this heat. Tough luck, pal. You’re getting burgers cooked outside on the grill. But that was last night. Tonight, I’m actually thinking ahead. There IS one tool in the kitchen that you can use to cook things without heating up the entire house: the toaster oven

My favorite aunt introduced me to the toaster oven. It was originally a wedding gift that sat nearly unused for a year. Until I stopped by one day when she was cooking dinner for my uncle and herself. She blew my mind that afternoon. Two chicken breasts were BAKING in the toaster oven. In the same pan, she was roasting cherry tomatoes. She microwaved asparagus right before serving.

People, I had no idea such things were possible. This never occurred to me. But the logic is completely sound: She uses the toaster oven almost every day. It doesn’t heat up the house like the oven, and its FAST.

Since then, I’ve taken her advice to heart. I’ve used the toaster oven to:

  • Roast butternut squash for baby food;
  • Reheat eggrolls so they retain their crispiness;
  • Reheat fried chicken for the same reason;
  • Make chicken cordon bleu;
  • Roast chicken breasts.

And this is where my idea for dinner came from: Chicken Salad Sandwiches. Its easy to make, and excellent in hot weather. Plus — I can make part of it ahead of time and throw it together at the last minute. Did I mention it was easy?

My version is a bastardized version of an Ina Garten recipe. Here is the original recipe, courtesy of http://www.foodnetwork.com:

Ingredients

  • 4 split (2 whole) chicken breasts, bone-in, skin-on
  • Good olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup good mayonnaise
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon leaves
  • 1 cup small-diced celery (2 stalks)
  • 1 cup green grapes, cut in 1/2

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the chicken breasts, skin side up, on a sheet pan and rub them with olive oil. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Set aside until cool.

When the chicken is cool, remove the meat from the bones and discard the skin and bones. Cut the chicken into a 3/4-inch dice. Place the chicken in a bowl; add the mayonnaise, tarragon leaves, celery, grapes, 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper and toss well.

____________________________

A few things: Hubbs HATES celery. So that’s out. And I prefer red seedless grapes, because I like the sweetness (and the pop of color). So those are two changes I’ve made. I’m also positive that I use less salt — although I don’t measure. Here’s how I do it:

1. Put 1 pkg of bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts in pan that will fit into the toaster oven (usually 3-4 pieces). Rub with olive oil and top with generous amount of fresh-ground sea salt and pepper. Bake at 350 degrees in toaster oven for 50 minutes. Let cool, then pull skins off and pull meat from the bones. I cut it into bite-sized pieces and put in a big mixing bowl. (At this point, you can put chicken in fridge to make later, but honestly? This is bomb when its still slightly warm.)

2. Use 1 large stem or 2 small stems of grapes and cut in half. Here’s a hint to make it go faster: Get two tupperware tops. Turn one tupperware top upside down (so grooves are facing ceiling). Fill with grapes. Put second tupperware top on top of grapes (also upside down). Take a sharp knife and cut between the two tupperware tops. SO. MUCH. FASTER. Add to chicken. (I needed to do this 3x to get all the grapes cut.)

3. Pull the leaves from the tarragon stems (like you’re using thyme) and chop coarsely. I eyeball it to taste. Tarragon has a slight licorice flavor. Now I HATE licorice — but I like tarragon. So if you’re on the fence, give it a try. Add to chicken and grapes.

4. Take a big spoon. Add about 1 scoop of mayo to the chicken. Mix well. If you like more mayo, add it. (I added about 1TBSP extra after taking this picture. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

And here’s the finished product:

Service:
I’ve served this several ways: In sandwiches with spinach leaves; in lettuce cups (butter lettuce works very well); and served as-is on a plate with whole-wheat crackers.

The best part: Leftovers. The Hubbs and I fight over them. I should really remember to just double the recipe to cut down on the fighting/tupperware hiding.

Here’s to cooking … without really cooking!

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