Thursday, February 21, 2013

Quest 1.7: Pan-Seared Chicken!

Welcome back, Apprentices! Today, we're making pan-seared chicken. This is the easiest, most versatile and delicious chicken recipe you will ever make. It's also an excellent way to prepare chicken that fools people into thinking you're a really, really good cook. So, get out your skillet and prepare those humble-brag speeches because this chicken is sure to please!


Boneless, skinless chicken breasts
onion powder
2 Tbs vegetable oil


Cast iron skillet
2 Pairs of tongs (or a sturdy fork & 1 pair of tongs)
Splatter screen

Choose your chicken! If you're going to be a carnivore, be a responsible one! Look for cage-free, organic chicken whenever possible. I understand that not everyone has access to a Whole Foods or a farmer's market in their area but it's always a good idea to be conscious of what you're eating. It's good for your health and it's good for your Karma! It also appeases those nightmare ghost chickens that hunt you in the night for buying chickens raised in inhumane conditions.

Pre-Heat your skillet! Add the two tablespoons of oil to your cast-iron skillet and turn the stove on medium-high. You might be tempted to use a non-stick pan for this quest. I would not recommend it. Remember a few posts ago when we talked about pots and pans? We discussed non-stick pans and the dangers of heating those pans to temperatures to and exceeding 500ºF. This quest will quickly and for an extended period of time raise your skillet to that temperature. If you're not using cast-iron, use stainless steel. The clean-up will be a little more high maintenance but stainless steel can reach 500ºF without posing any health risks to you or your pets.

Season your chicken! Sprinkle one side of your uncooked chicken with salt, pepper and onion powder. Feel free to use a dash of garlic powder as well. I didn't give any precise measurements for the seasoning because, frankly, it's not really necessary. The interesting thing about chicken is that it has no real flavor until you season it; which is why seasoning is SO important when cooking chicken! Don't be afraid of it! Embrace it!

*TIP Know the difference between onion powder and onion salt (and garlic powder & garlic salt). If you see "salt" in the name, that means it's onion powder with salt added to it. Make sure you do not substitute onion salt for onion powder and then add extra salt. The result would be bad, bad, bad.

Place your seasoned chicken in the pre-heated skillet - seasoned side DOWN. Why, you ask? Well, because you need to season the other side, of course! Chicken tastes better if you season both sides. Fact! So season the other side just like you seasoned the bottom.  

Cover with a splatter screen and let it do its thing! Splatter screens are super-handy and not just because you'll save your stove from a big, fat mess but you'll also save yourself from a sh*t-ton of awful little burns from the hot oil. Also, fight the urge to push the chicken around in the skillet because the goal with this recipe is to create a nice, brown crust. Remember when we caramelized onion? Essentially, we're doing the same thing to this chicken. By searing the chicken at a relatively high temperature for an extended period of time, we're bringing out the natural sweetness of the meat and trapping all those delicious juices at the same time!

Check your chicken! When the tips begin to turn white, use a fork or tongs and gently check the bottom of the meat. You're looking for a nice, dark brown, crusty surface. The goal is to only flip the meat once. In my experience, the chicken is juicier and more tender if you just let it rest in the pan and cook. Try not to repeatedly flip the meat from one side to another.

Your chicken is ready to flip when you have that gorgeous, golden brown crust. If you see any pink on the meat, let your chicken cook a little longer. Remember, chicken is NOT like beef! Beef is perfectly safe to eat when it's prepared rare or pink in the middle; chicken is not! Poultry, when not cooked thoroughly can make you violently ill. Salmonella poses a very real threat to your health and the health of your loved ones (...not to mention possible death and dismemberment if you get the wrong member of your party or clan sick).  When preparing chicken, it's not only important to cook the meat completely, but you must also be sure to thoroughly clean your prep surfaces. Never use the same knives or cutting boards to prep other foods after prepping raw chicken. A good idea is to fill your sink with hot, soapy water before prepping your chicken and then move the knife and cutting board directly to the sink as soon as you finish with the chicken or immediately transfer your tools to the dishwasher.

Let your chicken cook until both sides have that gorgeous, golden brown crust. With a CLEAN pair of tongs or fork (never use any tool with cooked chicken that you used on raw chicken - SALMONELLA, people!!), immediately remove from the pan to avoid over cooking and let the meat rest for about five minutes before cutting to preserve the juiciness. Serve with steamed vegetables and a baked potato for a delicious and *COUGHhealthyCOUGH* meal!

Other easy meal ideas for this chicken recipe:

Chicken Alfredo: Simply cut into strips or cubes and serve over pasta with your favorite alfredo sauce.

Chicken Fajitas: Drizzle with lime, cut into strips and serve with sautéed bell peppers, onion and flour tortillas for quick and easy fajitas.

Chicken Salad Sandwich: Cut chilled chicken into small cubes and toss with diced apple, celery, mayo, onion, salt & pepper. Serve on your favorite bread.

Bacon Chicken Avocado Sandwich: Remove from skillet and serve on a toasted bun with bacon, sliced avocado, mozzarella cheese, lettuce and tomato.

Cajun Chicken Pasta with Andouille Sausage: When cooking your chicken, sprinkle liberally with cayenne pepper. Remove from heat, cut into strips & toss with sautéed andouille sausage, angel hair pasta and your favorite marinara sauce.

Chicken Pasta Salad: Cut chilled chicken into cubes and toss with cooked bow-tie pasta, cold italian salami, black olives, chick peas, roasted red peppers, cherry tomatoes and drizzle with vinaigrette dressing. Serve cold.

Spinach Chicken Salad (pictured below): Cut chilled chicken into cubes. Toss with fresh spinach or spring mix salad, sliced strawberries, dried cranberries, diced tomatoes, crushed walnuts, crumbled feta cheese (or blue cheese) & drizzle with balsamic vinaigrette.  Crumbled bacon is also wonderful with this salad.

Have fun and get creative with this recipe! The great thing about any recipe is that you have the ability to change it to make it your own. Never be afraid to deviate from the recipe. What's the worst that could happen? Something might burn or taste awful... but every dish is a learning experience and every failure is just an opportunity to make something delicious!


+10 Sautéing

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Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Walking Dead: Season 3 Special!

Welcome back! It's almost time! Season 3 of The Walking Dead returns this Sunday, February 10th at 9/8PM central on AMC. Who's excited? *This girl!* Walking Dead fans, this post is for you! I put together a meal to give you some ideas for that mid-season premiere party or just a small dinner for you and the fam.

What's on the menu? Braaaaains! Naturally. Well...sort of. Today, we're making Tasty Brain Sliders, fried Pota-TO(E) cakes with honey-mustard dipping sauce, Creeping Zombie cocktails and Bloody Delicious Brownies! And because presentation is part of the fun, we're serving it all up on a prison cafeteria tray!

I bought the stainless steel cafeteria tray through Amazon. You could also search eBay for a wide selection of used cafeteria trays.

Tasty Brain Sliders


Ground Turkey (1-2 lbs)
Cooked Bacon
1 Avocado
1-2 Roasted Red Bell Peppers
Romaine Lettuce
Slider Buns

Optional condiments for personal burger building (mayo, mustard, tomatoes, onion etc.).

Roast your peppers! Roasting peppers is actually very easy, especially on a gas stove. Just rinse and completely dry your pepper, turn your gas burner on high and set the pepper directly on the iron grate. Let it rest until the skin turns black. Using tongs, rotate the pepper over the flame until the skin has turned black on all sides of the pepper. Once the pepper has turned completely black, remove it from the flame, place it in a paper bag and roll the bag closed. MAKE SURE there are no parts of the pepper that have ignited from the burner, you don't want to light the bag on fire. The purpose of the bag is to steam the pepper, soften the meat of the pepper and loosen the skin. Let it sit for about 10-15 minutes, remove and use your fingers to gently pinch off the crispy, blackened skin. Slice the pepper, remove the seeds and ribs (unless you want a crazy hot slider). Set aside in an air-tight container and refrigerate until you're ready to build the sliders. If you want to save time, you can always buy fire-roasted red peppers by the jar at any grocery store but doing it yourself is easy and saves a lot of money.  It also makes your house smell awesome.

The beauty and the horror of ground turkey is that it looks a little frightening in the package. The way turkey is ground makes for perfect brain matter! Look for a package of ground turkey with a nice, thick gauge ground. You're a Walking Dead fan, you know what brains are supposed to look like! One pound of ground turkey should make 6-8 sliders depending on the thickness of the patty.

Make your brains! You want to handle the turkey as little as possible to maintain that brain matter look because as the meat cooks and the fats dissolve, some of that detail will be lost. Gently shape the turkey into a round patty with one slightly tapered end and use a knife to divide your "brain" into two hemispheres. Be careful not to cut through the meat completely. Just make a little valley. After cooking, you might have to use a knife to re-carve the seam a bit.

Turn your broiler to HIGH

Place your brain patties in a cast iron skillet. Move your oven rack to the top slot (patties should be roughly four inches from the flame) and broil on high for 6 minutes. Turn the patties over and let cook for another 4 minutes. Cook for a total of 10 minutes for thinner patties. Thicker patties may take longer.

Build your sliders! Smash the avocado with a fork and use a butter knife to fill the seam dividing the hemispheres of the "brain" and lightly smear the lobes for effect.

My build, from the bottom up:

Red Peppers

Fried Pota-TO(E) Cakes


2 Cups Mashed Potatoes
1 Cup Flour
1 Egg
1 Green Onion, finely chopped
1 Cup Vegetable Oil for frying

In a bowl, mix together mashed potatoes, flour, egg and onion. Using your hands, form into little log shapes and set aside. The mix will be very sticky. So sprinkle the mix with a little extra flour to keep it from sticking to your hands.

Pre-heat your oil to 350º and fry until golden brown...about 5 minutes. Set your potato cakes on a paper towel-lined plate to drain the extra grease and sprinkle with salt.

Honey-Mustard Dipping Sauce


1 Cup Mayonnaise
1/4 Cup Yellow Mustard
2 Tbs Honey

Mix all the ingredients together well and adjust to taste. If it's too mustard-y add a little more mayo and if it's too sweet add a little more mustard. Not sweet enough? Add more honey!

Bloody Delicious Brownies
(Chocolate Cheesecake Brownies)

Cheesecake Swirl Topping:

8 oz. Cream Cheese
3/4 Cup Sugar
1 Egg
1/2 Tsp Vanilla Extract

Bloody Chocolate Drizzle:

1/2 Cup Chocolate Syrup
1 oz. Red Food Color

Brownie Batter:

1/2 Cup Semisweet Dark Chocolate Chips
1 1/2 Cups Butter
2 Cups Sugar
4 Eggs
1 Tsp Vanilla Extract
1 oz. red food color
1 2/3 Cups Flour
2 Tsp Baking Powder
3 Tablespoons Dark Cocoa Powder

Cream together cream cheese and sugar until fluffy. Add vanilla and egg and beat together well. Set aside.

In a saucepan, melt butter and chocolate until smooth. Gradually, whisk in the sugar. Add eggs, red food color and vanilla. Combine completely.

In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and cocoa powder. Add batter and mix together until it's nice and smooth. No lumps!

PRE-HEAT Oven to 350º

Pour brownie batter into a greased 9x13" pan and carefully drizzle cheesecake batter on top in a swirly, back-and-forth pattern. Try not to pour too much into the same spot. Using the tip of a butter knife or a spatula, swirl together the cheesecake batter with the brownie batter.

Bake on the middle rack for 45 minutes or until the center is no longer jiggly. Cool completely before cutting. Mix chocolate syrup with red food color and drizzle brownie before serving.

The Creeping Zombie

I set out to make a drink called the Festering Zombie but I didn't like the way it looked and it was too sweet so I changed up some of the ingredients and the assembly and voila! The Creeping Zombie was born! I named it that because it will seriously creep up on you and bite you in the ass.

3 3/4 Cups Orange Pineapple Juice
2 Cups Club Soda
3/4 Cup Sweet and Sour Mix
1 Cup Coconut Rum
1 Cup Vodka
Midori Melon

In a half-gallon pitcher, mix together juice
, club soda, sweet & sour mix, rum and vodka. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Pour over ice until glass is about 3/4 full and top with Midori and Grenadine for that nice, layered look.

*Disclaimer - Drink responsibly, kids. This is a sweet, tasty drink and it is very easy to get very drunk. So BE CAREFUL!

So, that's the meal!  There's nothing like a season premiere (or mid-season premiere) of your favorite show to get the creative juices flowing in the kitchen!

Questions or comments? Leave them below! You can also join the community on Facebook  and follow on Twitter!

Don't forget to tune in after The Walking Dead for a full hour of Talking Dead with Chris Hardwick! I don't know about you, but I have a feeling I'm going to need that extra half our of post-show therapy.

Apprentices, don't forget to check in next week for your next quest, Pan-Seared Chicken!