February 8: Walnut-crusted honey mustard chicken breasts with roasted vegetables

In my continued quest to eat as much of my food as possible before the summer when I move, I thawed out some frozen chicken breasts I bought a few months ago during a sale at the grocery store. I’m not a fan of chicken breasts because I have to marinate them or work hard in some other way to season them and infuse them with moisture. Furthermore, they are super easy to overcook. And who wants to eat rubber chicken?

I intended to bake the chicken after I finished baking my wonderfully delicious chocolate cake, but it was enough just to clean the kitchen (I’m a very messy baker). So Wednesday morning I decided I would jazz up chicken breasts by making walnut-crusted honey mustard chicken to top my mixed greens from the seared salmon and couscous salad. I knew I should have purchased the 8 oz container, but in my delusion of thinking I’d actually eat more servings of vegetables compelled me to buy the 16 oz container of mixed greens. So, rather than waste food, which the whole point of this exercise was to avoid, I was up at 6 am crushing walnut halves in a Ziploc bag.

The  recipe is really quite simple. In a resealable bag filled with 2 cups of walnut halves and chicken seasoning, roll a glass or roller pin over it to pulverize the walnuts. A food processor or mini-blender works too. I didn’t do a very good job, which meant I had crispy walnuts. Buts that’s okay. The blackened walnuts added a nice smoky flavor to the chicken lol. As the oven heated to 450 F, I sliced half of a medium-sized red onion and two whole bell peppers (a yellow one and an orange one). I placed the vegetables in the bottom of a 13 X 9 aluminum foil lined baking dish that was sprayed with cooking oil.

In a medium sized bowl, I made honey mustard by mixing ~3/4 cup of Kraft Mayo, ~1/3 cup of yellow mustard, and honey to  taste (~2T).  I don’t buy honey mustard anymore, unless it’s in the form of salad dressing. When I was into making my own chicken tenders as a 20-something graduate student, being able to make honey mustard made life so much more enjoyable. Anyway, I digress (as usual hahaha). Once the honey mustard was prepared, I poured the walnut crumb-chunk mixture into a pie plate. I rinsed and dredged three chicken breasts (2 medium and 1 ridiculously large) in the honey mustard then rolled them around in the walnuts. I lay each breast atop the herb-seasoned vegetables in the baking pan. Into the oven the pan went until the breasts were slightly pink inside, which occurred after about 30 minutes. As you might imagine, the 2 medium-sized chicken breasts were a little more done than the 1 really large one.

Overall, I really enjoyed the walnut-crusted honey mustard chicken breasts. It was a reasonably simple dish to make. I used leftover onion and peppers from the seared salad recipe earlier in the week, which made this dish more cost-effective. Walnuts are rather expensive, but I have a huge bag from Sam’s that I use in baking. And making my own honey mustard cost pennies.  The chicken and vegetables on mixed salad was delicious. The first day I didn’t add dressing, yet the greens didn’t taste like rabbit food. The oil and juices from the vegetables was sufficient. I did use Vidalia onion and peppercorn salad dressing on subsequent salads, and the flavors were quite complementary.

I’ll definitely make this dish again. Some things I will change, however. The seasoning of the chicken was good considering I didn’t really do anything but add chicken seasoning to the walnuts before crushing. I’d also add pepper and a little salt either directly to the chicken or to the honey mustard. It was 6 am. I’m using that as an excuse because I always season my meat before cooking it. I will also put in a little more elbow grease and crush the walnuts a bit more. Coarsely crushed adds some character to the dish, but they did not stick as well to the chicken initially. I had to go back and fill in spaces after laying the breasts in the pan.

I have another package of chicken breasts in the freezer. I think I might poach them to make pulled chicken salad with walnuts and sliced red grapes, which are on sale this week. We’ll see.

Honey mustard: mayonnaise, mustard, and honey

"Crushed" walnut halves

Fresh from the oven

Walnut-crusted honey mustard baked chicken breasts


February 7: Hersheys’ Perfectly Chocolate Cake

I’ve made Hershey’s Perfectly Chocolate Cake with Hershey’s Perfectly Chocolate Frosting about three or four times before. The  recipe is always on the back of their baking cocoa. Some things it’s just as good to use a box cake for, but when it comes to chocolate cakes, scratch is where it’s at. And I love Hershey’s cake because it’s super easy. I don’t have to cream butter and sugar. I don’t even have to whip out the mixer.

So what’s new about this cake that I feel compelled to blog about it? I had leftover buttermilk from making chocolate doughnuts this weekend. While some people enjoy drinking buttermilk, I am not one of them. I happened to find a bag of all-purpose flour while I was looking for my sifter this weekend. When you have flour, you make chocolate cake lol. So, last night I whipped up a chocolate cake and added 1 cup of buttermilk instead of 1 cup of skim milk. I also sifted the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and cocoa together before mixing in the sugar. The result was a light, fluffy, super moist chocolate cake! Most of the baking recipes I choose are about 8, maybe 9 on a scale of 10. I must say that this cake recipe with buttermilk and sifted ingredients is at least a 12. It’s so over and beyond.

Bottom line: Stop buying boxed chocolate cake mix and make Hershey’s perfectly chocolate cake. Even without a sifter, just adding buttermilk will elevate this simple recipe to decadence. I don’t know about other chocolate cake recipes, but this is truly a perfect chocolate cake. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the $5.95 slice I buy in some restaurants was made with this recipe. I love it when I find recipes that are restaurant quality and easy to make. When I tell people I made the cake and frosting from scratch it’s the same incredulous look I get when I tell people I’m a chemist. Classic.

Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate Cake with Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate Frosting

A view from the top: I want to practice piping frosting so that the cake doesn't look so plain. I garnished with walnut halves.

February 4: Chocolate Frosted Doughnuts

I will be relocating this summer, so I have been on the look out for new recipes so I can consume the all-purpose and whole wheat flours I have in my cupboards. A few months ago, Shape included recipes for “fonuts“, which are vegan versions of baked doughnuts. The recipes were a little fancy for me (because I’m not vegan), but it did tickle my fancy about learning to make baked doughnuts. I love the internet; I can find just about anything. I happened upon Lara Ferroni’s recipe and decided to make them.

I don’t own a doughnut pan, so I had to modify the cooking time since I used a non-stick muffin pan. I also substituted half the all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour, used Fage 0% fat Greek yogurt, and opted for 3 T coconut oil instead of butter. The recipe was really simple to follow. My dough never became coarse crumbs, even after adding an additional tablespoon of coconut oil. The doughnuts were no worse for wear, though! I baked the doughnuts until the centers sprang to the touch, which was about 15 minutes at 350 °F.

After cooling in the pan for 10 minutes, I transferred the chocolate doughnuts to a parchment paper covered wire rack to finish cooling. Meanwhile, I whipped up a mini batch of Hershey’s perfectly chocolate frosting. I melted about 3T of coconut oil in a microwave safe bowl, added 3 heaping tablespoons of Hershey’s baking cocoa to the melted butter, and stirred. I sweetened to taste by adding powdered sugar. The frosting was more of a glaze as I thinned it out a bit with some buttermilk. Ms. Ferroni’s recipe yielded 12 doughnut muffins. And I ate every last one of them over the weekend lol.

Bottom line: baked doughnuts are pretty much awesome. They are really simple to make. Greasing the muffin pan meant super easy clean up. I’m not sure if it was the whole wheat flour or not, but the doughnuts had a slightly gritty texture. Almost as if I had used cornmeal. The texture was complementary rather than being like chewing sand, though. My only criticism of the doughnuts is that they weren’t chocolatey enough. But that’s easy to fix.

I think Ms. Ferroni’s recipe is a good base doughnut recipe. Instead of adding cocoa powder, I’m sure I would be able to add more flour and flavor the batter with any flavor I want. I’m thinking rum doughnuts or adding red food coloring to the chocolate recipe for red velvet doughnuts! Oh the possibilities are endless!

Lara Ferroni's chocolate doughnuts

February 2: Seared Salmon and Couscous salad (with currants!!)

I love salmon. I must have been an orca in my last life lol. Unfortunately, I cannot afford fresh salmon on a regular basis. Kroger had fillets of salmon on sale, so I purchased enough for four meals. I found myself in the grocery store again a few days later to buy produce to accompany the salmon. Originally planning to buy broccoli, I ended up with two pounds of spring green mix, a three pack of colored bell peppers, and a red onion to prepare a dish similar to one I learned in my very first cooking class, which interestingly enough was about a year ago.

Instead of quinoa salad, I opted for Near East roasted garlic olive oil couscous, which I had on hand. To spice it up a bit, I added currants. I bought them for a Moroccan-inspired beef stew, and it’s so many of those little fruit in the tiny box! I thinly diced half the medium red onion (~3/4 cups) and the red bell pepper (~1/2 cup) as the salmon seared on the stove. Salmon is so flavorful, so I only use kosher salt and ground black pepper.

The diced vegetables were transferred from the cutting board to a large mixing bowl. When the couscous (with currants *smile*) cooled somewhat, I added it to the mixing bowl. In a small bowl, I whisked together 3T of balsamic vinegar, 3T of olive oil and sugar to cut the acidic taste before pouring it in the mixing bowl. I did not want wet couscous salad, so 6T was just a perfect amount to lightly coat the onion, pepper, and couscous. To plate my dish, I placed a generous helping of mixed greens on a dinner plate, spooned one cup of couscous salad, and topped with one fourth of the salmon.

I must say that the couscous adds a much different flavor to the salad than quinoa. Overall, the dish is very healthy and inexpensive. Each serving is less than $4.00. A similar salad at our nicer dining facility on campus costs $7.00. I didn’t keep up with the nutritional value but I estimate each serving contains about 500-600 calories.

I will definitely prepare this dish again, though I will cut back on the amount of onions I include lol. They do pack a strong punch, but I love their crunchiness! Firm, thick cuts of fish are definitely best for this dish. I’ll add pictures this weekend.

Couscous salad

Plated salad