Summer Chicken Burgers

The last week has been a bit of a whirlwind.  We’ve been working on the house, trying to get things in order as far as legal and financial things go, I’m swimming in vegetables as I am trying to get as many things put up for the winter as possible, oh, and we found out we’re expecting another baby in April 2011 (hence the cute little fruit ticker on the side).  Needless to say, I’m a little breathless from it all!  Excited, but breathless.  Prior to all this, Matt and I had been working on a few grilling recipes that I just never got around to posting.  Today’s recipe was so good that we made it 3 times in one week, making sure it was just right of course.  To be honest, I loved the flavor of the toasted ciabatta bread with the burger, but it was a huge mess to eat.  Challah rolls might be the answer to this conundrum.  However, I do not have a good recipe for them.  Therefore, if you do let me know!
Since I grew up vegetarian, I do like to fall back on lighter meats, especially in the summer.  For Christmas, my grandmother gifted us with the meat grinder attachment for our Kitchen aid and I’ve been chomping at the bit for the perfect use for it.  Turns out that the chicken came through it beautifully.  Matt didn’t use the finest setting, but went for a middle of the road size for the meat.  We’ve done this both with meat we ground and meat the butcher had done herself and both ways it was wonderful.  This recipe is quick and can be prepared in advance only to be pulled out and grilled just prior to serving.  But be forewarned: everyone ate at least 2 burgers so have extras!
Summer Chicken Burgers
  • 1/2 Tbsp Mustard Powder
  • 1 Tbsp Herbes de Provence
  • 1 cup Panko or plain bread crumbs
  • 1 pound ground chicken
  • salt and pepper
Mix the herbs, mustard powder, salt, pepper and Panko together thoroughly before incorporating into the chicken.  Depending on how fresh your chicken is, you may need more bread crumbs to help it bind.  Divide the chicken into 3-4 ounce patties and chill for half an hour before grilling.  Grill until done, about 5 minutes.  Serve with Balsamic Caramelized Onions and Jazzed up Mayo on the bread of your choice.
Balsamic Caramelized Onions
  • 2 large Sweet Onions
  • 2 Tbsp. Balsamic Vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
Thinly slice the onions and saute in a shallow pan with the butter until they are tender.  Lower the heat to about a simmer and add the vinegar.  Stirring frequently to keep from sticking, cook the onions until they are dark and melded together into a caramelized heap in your pan.  Serve on top of the chicken burgers or eat straight out of the pan as a snack.
Jazzed up Mayo
  • 2 Tbsp. Mayonnaise
  • 1/2 Tbsp. Dijon Mustard
  • 1 tsp. dried parsley
(I truly do prefer fresh parsley to the dried version, but the day before I went to make this, I saw several green caterpillars on my parsley plants.  When I went out to cut some parsley, it was all gone.  Greedy little buggers.) Whisk the ingredients together and use in place of your usual condiments on sandwiches.  This is an excellent way to introduce the sharper flavor of Dijon to children, too!

**Notes for feeding the cheflets: If you have a baby who is now at the stage where they can eat the pureed meats, this is perfect.  Grill up the burgers and then break off portions and smash them with a fork to make them easy for your little one.  If your children are older, you may want to just serve these burgers with regular wheat (or white in the case of the picky child whose serving was photographed above). 

To make Jamie proud

I couldn’t tell you the exact first time I ate a chicken nugget.  Usually, a new food experience sticks in my brain like cement, but this one apparently didn’t rank very high in my memory.  Which is fine.  I do know that while I was pregnant, I was desperate for a source of protein that wasn’t either beans or heavy meat.  I needed something lighter, but that would still count as part of my 100 gram intake on the Bradley diet.  I then discovered that a chicken nugget (standard size) was worth 5 grams per nugget.  If I ate 5 on a salad, I had reach 1/4th of my goal for the day!  It was during this time, that I purchased at least 1 bag of nuggets each grocery trip.

Life was good, I was loving my nuggets until Jamie.  I’ve always like Jamie Oliver and when he was scheduled to have a prime time show on nutrition in our school systems, I was all over it.  I watched each week and cried along with him as he battled the overwhelming lack of concern by consumers and parents.  He kept harping on the chicken patties and nuggets that were served and I wasn’t certain why.  For sure, they have tons of preservatives in them, but honestly, it does say “white meat” on the bags, so what else could there be?  And then he showed how they were produced.  I gagged.  The day before I had purchased a brand spanking new bag of nuggets and they were in my freezer condemning me.  They have sat in that freezer for a good 2 months now.  I can’t bear to throw them away, but there is no way I will be eating those things.

The good news is that after an exhaustive search, I have discovered about 947 different ways to make your own chicken nuggets at home.  Everyone has an opinion and personal tastes, so I took what I saw and played around.  What I came up with worked for us.  But if you are short on time, the quickest method for making your own seems to be to simply chop up a chicken breast, bread it and bake it at 400 degrees for 12-14 minutes.  Since I had read that the dark meat made the nuggets juicier than the plain white meat, I chose to use a whole chicken for my nuggets.  I also chose to bake and not fry mine since I am feeding a baby this food.  And although my method took me far more time to put together than I had planned on, it should be mentioned that Liam is teething and cranky and that puts a wrench in even the best laid plans!  On the upside,  Liam has scarfed these nuggets down like I haven’t fed him in days.  Today he rejected my awesome beans in favor of only eating the chicken!

Homemade Chicken Nuggets

I know these look huge, but I took the photo on the only clean plate in the house which was rather small.  Ooops.
  • 1 3-4 pound chicken, washed and seasoned thoroughly
  • 1 1/2 cups bread crumbs
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • flour

Begin by placing the whole chicken in your crock pot and cooking it on low for 8-10 hours.  I did this over night and the next morning was greeted with a perfectly tender and juicy bird.  Strip the meat from the bones and discard your waste.  Once the meat has cooled, chop it finely.  (You could always do this step in the food processor, but I wanted to have bits of meat, not goo.)  Combine the bread crumbs, salt, pepper, paprika and garlic powder in a shallow dish.  Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat.  Mix the 2 beaten eggs and milk together and place them in a bowl.  In a third bowl, put about 1/4 cup of flour for the intial dusting.  Take a small handful of the meat and press it into a small patty, if it won’t stick well, add some of the juice from the slow cooker.  Once you have the size and shape you desire, cover the nugget with flour to coat the meat.  Then dip it in the egg/milk mixture and finally roll it in the seasoned bread crumbs.  Place each nugget on the baking sheet; it isn’t necessary to leave room between them.  Bake them at 400 degrees for about 12 minutes.  I used whole wheat bread crumbs so they were nice and browned and served them with barbecue sauce.  I think somewhere on this Earth, Jamie was proud.

For your budding foodie:  This is something that shouldn’t be served until your baby is over 9 months.  Since I chose to dice the meat up, when I break the nugget apart for my little guy, the meat is still chewable and he gets to experience texture.  I didn’t put the barbecue sauce on his since I thought it would be too spicy, but he’s a fan of my ranch dressing, so I did that instead!

Chicken Parmigiana

I judge an Italian restaurant by it’s lasagna and by it’s parmigiana.  And if I like it, I go back.  If I don’t, well… I don’t.  I love eggplant parmigiana since that is the traditional Sicilian dish I grew up with.  My husband hates eggplant.  Loathes eggplant.  The only way I can get eggplant into a dish is to make it part of my tomato sauce and run it through a food mill.  I’m not kidding.  Since he is so adverse to the whole idea of eggplant parmigiana, I decided to compromise and settle for being really good at chicken parmigiana.  There is some debate over whether the dish is named for the Parmesan cheese in the breading or if it’s because it originated in the region of Parma, but I’m not really concerned over that.  My greatest concern is always the breading.  I’ve learned to take my time and season all the layers, but I wanted to come up with a recipe that works.  Every.  Single.  Time.  Below is the result of all my trial and error and the cause of the few extra pounds around my middle.  Apparently, the fact that I always serve this dish with green beans does not negate the fact that I always over indulge.

Chicken Parmigiana

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 cups finely ground bread crumbs
  • 2 oz parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 eggs
  • flour
  • Pasta and basic tomato sauce to finish the dish
  • Fresh mozzarella

The first step in this recipe is to pound out the chicken so that it is about half of it’s original thickness.  This of course, is specific to each piece of meat, but it’s easiest done if you first put the chicken in a large freezer bag, seal it and then pound it out with a meat hammer or heavy ladle.  Once the meat is to the desired thickness, season it lightly with the salt and pepper and set aside while you prepare the breading.  You will note that I call for 2 oz of cheese and by that I mean a hunk of cheese, not the kind in the shaker can from the grocery.  You can use that, but it won’t be as good.  I’ve tried.  It’s not the same.

Cut the cheese up into smallish pieces and whiz them in a food processor until they are finely ground.  Then mix them in with the bread crumbs.  Whisk the eggs together until they are well beaten.  Heat a small amount of oil in a saute pan until it is hot.  Then, coat the chicken first in the flour, then the egg and finally the breading as pictured here.  Place each piece of meat in the pan and cook until it’s nicely browned.  Then, remove the meat to a baking dish.  I don’t recommend cooking more than 2 pieces of meat at a time so as not to crowd the pan and drop the oil temperature.  This part of the dish requires some time and loving care, but it’s worth it in the end.  Once all the meat has been browned and the breading has formed a lovely golden crust, it’s time to put it into a 375 degree oven for about 15 minutes.  Don’t cover the pan, don’t poke the chicken, just put it in there and prepare some pasta to go along with the chicken.  The less you mess with the meat, the more tender and juicy it will be.  If you are serving this meal to people who must have their chicken parm smothered in cheese a la most restaurants, wait until the chicken is done cooking, them slice a bit of fresh mozzarella and run the chicken under a broiler until the cheese is melted.  This is a nice finish to the dish, but I didn’t feel it was totally necessary.  I liked it just with the tomato sauce and pasta.  But to each his own.