Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Iiiit's Bacon!

So, yeah, you probably don't see the words "healthy" and "bacon" on the same page very often.  But the fact is, most people really like bacon, so who am I to say that in order to eat healthily you can never have bacon again?!!  The good news is that it's easy to get real pork bacon that you don't have to feel too guilty about, especially as a small part of a diet full of veggies, fruits, and whole grains.  I know it's hard, but do try to remember that there is no bacon group in the food pyramid!

Most grocery store bacon is full of chemicals that companies use to make their bacon taste like real smoked bacon, and potentially dangerous nitrates as preservatives.  But you can easily get real, old-fashioned bacon which, although high in fat, has some very important things going for it--it's delicious, and it's real food.  As I talked about with the cakes and pies, if it's real food and not a bunch of chemicals put together in a lab by some huge corporation, it works, in moderation.

Look for pasture-raised, nitrate-free bacon, preferably from heritage breed pigs, and preferably from a local farmer.  There are tools to help you find local farmers at various websites, such as eatwild.com and eatwellguide.org.  If it's pasture-raised and nitrate-free, don't get too hung up if the farmer doesn't call it organic.  There are fees to be paid for that label, and many farmers adhere to the standards even if they don't pay the fee that allows them to use the label.  If you can't find a farmer, many grocery stores carry such brands as Organic Prairie that are also very good.  And if all else fails, it is actually possible to mail order your bacon from various websites, including Organic Prairie.

To prepare your bacon the easiest fuss-free way possible, skip the frying pan and get out a sheet pan and some parchment paper.  You can preheat your oven to 400 F., but if it's not all the way preheated by the time you have your bacon ready to go, don't stress about it, it's fine to put it in.  Line your sheet pans with parchment, lay the strips of bacon out on the sheets, and put them in the oven until the bacon is done to your liking, generally around 15-20 minutes.  I like mine really crisp and it takes about 20 minutes.  So simple, and you don't have bacon splatters all over your kitchen!

Note:  If you like that packaged precooked bacon, that's no problem either!  First, cook your bacon as above and let it cool.  Then place your strips on a clean sheet pan and pop it in the freezer so you'll have individually frozen strips.  The batch of bacon can then be wrapped in a freezer bag or put into a container and stored in the freezer for later use.  If for any reason you don't want to individually freeze the strips first, you can wrap the batch, but separate the strips with waxed paper.  And there you have it, bacon, ready to go, any time you want!

Oh, and these pics are mine, not Ricky's, so that's why they're not pro quality! :-)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Easy, Elegant Chicken Marsala

I posted this picture on my Facebook page the other day, and even though the picture itself is terrible (I took it because my husband/photographer was busy), the food looked good enough to get a recipe request.  Pictured with the balsamic glazed asparagus is chicken marsala over whole wheat couscous.  Chicken marsala is not only delicious, it is surprisingly quick and easy to make.  Moving fairly quickly, this entire meal took about 30 minutes for me to make, and I had not prepped anything ahead.  In fact, the mushrooms hadn't even been cleaned yet.  (But you should be more organized than me and have that taken care of before you actually start cooking!) 

I prepared this with two boneless, skinless chicken breasts because I wanted each serving to have plenty of mushrooms and sauce, but you could easily do four chicken breasts with the quantities listed if you don't want to completely bury your chicken in mushrooms like I did. ;-)

Chicken Marsala

2 (or up to 4) bonless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded to no more than 1/2" thick (or buy the thin cut chicken breasts)
Flour (for dusting chicken)
Olive oil
3 cups sliced mushrooms
3/4 cup Marsala wine (Madeira works too)
1 cup chicken stock
2 Tbs. butter (real butter please)
Salt and Pepper to taste
Fresh Parsley, Chives, or Tarragon for garnish

Heat about a Tablespoon of olive oil in a fry pan over medium to medium high heat until it starts to shimmer (don't let it overheat and smoke).  Salt and pepper the chicken on both sides, then sprinkle flour over each side to coat (or put some flour in a dish or plate and dredge the chicken in it), shaking off the excess flour.  Place the chicken in the fry pan and cook to brown both sides, about 3 to 4 minutes per side.  When both sides are brown, remove the chicken from the pan and set it aside while you prepare the sauce.  Add the sliced mushrooms to the pan, adding more olive oil if necessary.  Cook mushrooms until they are golden brown.  Add the Marsala wine and heat to simmering.  Let the mushrooms and wine continue to simmer for several minutes until the wine is reduced by half.  Add the chicken stock, heat to simmering, and continue to simmer for several minutes until it reduces and thickens slightly.  Return the chicken breasts to the pan, continue to simmer over medium heat until the chicken is done, about 8 minutes or so, turning the chicken at least once during that time.  When the chicken is done, stir two Tablespoons of cold butter in to the sauce.  (If you wanted it really rich you could probably do four Tablespoons, but I liked it with two.)  Place each chicken breast on a plate, spoon an equal amount of mushrooms and sauce over each one, garnish with herbs if desired, and dig in!

I would suggest that you serve the chicken on a bed of couscous (make it with chicken or vegetable stock instead of water), mashed potatoes, or rice, and let the sauce drip down.  Yum!

This is a visually appealing and delicious meal, and no one will believe you when you tell them how fast and easy it is to make!