cheddar & saltine cracker baked chicken tenders (with quick & easy aioli dipping sauce)

cheddar and saltine cracker chicken tenders via she likes to eat
there are a few basic recipes that i am constantly looking to better or to perfect and chicken tenders have long been one. lately i have been making them more often, since we have a preschooler and a toddler running our lives these days and they are a great go-to for easy & healthy meals. i much prefer making them myself when i can, instead of the freezer chicken tenders & nuggets that truthfully scare me a little. every chicken tender i have made in the past has been just ok, “neither here nor there”. i’ve made some with breadcrumbs and some with panko. i’ve tried lots of different ways to bread them – with buttermilk, with whole milk, or with eggs, breaded once or twice… but i still had not found my favorite tenders that were perfectly crunchy, yet moist, and held their breading all over without falling off during baking. and i still had the problem of the breading getting mushy on the underside.

well, after many tests & tastings & tweakings i can safely say i am forever free from chicken tender mediocrity!
i have finally mastered the elusive perfect homemade chicken tender.
(and the crowd stands up and cheers like crazy:)

i used a mix of ground cheddar crackers and saltine crackers as the breading, which gives it the perfect flavor and crunch on the outside. i also baked the tenders on all-metal drying rack (used mostly for cooling cookies or pies) on top of a baking sheet – this ensured no soggy business on the underside of the tenders. (this was the most exciting part of my week. seriously.)

as for the dipping sauce: i have 2 all-time favorite aioli recipes in my arsenal – the recipe below is my super quick and easy version that uses ingredients i always have on hand. aioli is my favorite dipping sauce for chicken tenders and complements these really well. if you can stand to turn down the ketchup, i promise, it’s worth it.

cheddar & saltine cracker baked chicken tenders
adapted via just a taste
serves 4-6

ingredients

1 3/4 lbs chicken tenders (or chicken breasts, sliced into tenders)

3 cups cheez-it crackers (or similar cheddar cracker), or make them homemade

1 cup oyster cracker/soup-style saltines (or broken up regular size saltines)

3 eggs

3 tbsp dijon mustard

3/4 cup flour

olive oil cooking spray

directions

1. preheat oven to 475. position rack in lower third of oven.

2. place an all-metal drying rack on a large cookie sheet. spray or brush drying rack with olive oil.

3. in a food processor or blender, grind cheddar and saltine crackers until finely ground then place in a wide & shallow bowl. in another bowl, whisk the eggs and dijon mustard. then place the flour in a third wide & shallow bowl.

4. with each chicken tender, dip it first into the flour, shaking off excess. then dip into egg/dijon mixture and then into the cracker mixture, pressing crumbs onto the tender making sure it’s evenly coated. repeat with remaining tenders. place the tenders an inch or two apart on the metal rack on the cookie sheet (see picture above).

5. bake for 14-16 minutes, until they are beginning to golden. serve warm with aioli dipping sauce.

 

quick & easy aioli dipping sauce
makes about 1/2 cup

1/2 cup mayonnaise (duke’s is my favorite)

2 cloves finely minced garlic

1/2 tsp worcestershire

1/2 tsp lemon juice

directions

mix all ingredients together with a whisk until completely incorporated.

enjoy!

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goat cheese & thyme quiche with hashbrown crust

goat cheese thyme quiche with hash brown crust

seems like i’m kind of stacking up the goat cheese recipes lately – like with these biscuits and this queso fundido. i would probably entertain the idea of dedicating my entire blog to the love of goat cheese, if i didn’t love chocolate so much.. and baking.. and bread.. and cookies.. and mexican food.

when i see a recipe with goat cheese in it, i immediately put it in my “to-make stack” (well, unless it has loads of tomatoes or mushrooms – sorry folks, can’t do it). this recipe is inspired by/adapted from a martha stewart dish – i added a few things and cut the recipe down in size a little, for ease. seriously y’all, the end result was awesome. the warm, gooey goat cheese and the crunchy hashbrown crust turned out to be such a great match. the thyme really adds a lot of flavor and the sour cream makes it super creamy. it’s the perfect dish for a brunch or even lunch, next to a bowl of warm tomato soup.

goat cheese & thyme quiche with hashbrown crust

ingredients

2 tbsp butter, melted

1/2 package frozen shredded hash browns, thawed (about 4 cups)

9 eggs

1 cup sour cream

4-5 ounces goat cheese, crumbled

1/4 tsp dried thyme

2 whole green onions, chopped

sea salt & freshly ground pepper

directions

1. preheat the oven to 375. coat an 8 inch pie dish evenly with olive oil cooking spray.

2. in a large bowl, combine thawed hashbrowns, melted butter, 1 egg, 1/4 tsp sea salt, and 1/8 tsp pepper. mix well with a spatula. press into prepared pie dish (also up the sides) with the spatula. place on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until set, about 15 minutes.

3. in another large bowl, whisk 8 remaining eggs. add sour cream, goat cheese, 1 tsp sea salt, thyme, and pepper – mix well. pour into pre-baked crust and sprinkle the chopped green onions evenly over the top. bake until set (gently tap the side of the pie dish -the filling should jiggle slightly in the middle but not on the sides), about 30-35 minutes. serve while still warm.

enjoy!

goat cheese & thyme quiche with hashbrown crust

asian chicken lettuce cups

asian chicken lettuce cups

during the winter, there is a lot of chili-and-cornbread-eating, curl-up-with-a-hot-bowl-of-soup nights around here. i love the warmth and the fullness of my belly after a big bowl.
but after a few months of this loveliness, i do crave a fresh, crisp, even crunchy dinner. and recently, it was these chicken lettuce cups.

if you’re like me, you first fell in love with this concept after discovering the chicken lettuce cup at p.f. chang’s. i’ve always loved their version of the dish, but this recipe is by leaps and bounds the best i have ever made myself and the best i have ever eaten. i might even like them better than p.f. chang’s.
sorry, p.

(you can also serve this dish sans the lettuce cups and with rice instead. i used a white jasmine rice as the bed for the chicken filling a few times and it is delicious, and a little heartier.)

*to make this recipe whole30 friendly: for the dipping sauce, sub coconut aminos for the soy sauce, sub pure date syrup for the brown sugar, omit the cornstarch, and make sure there is no added sugar in your OJ.

asian chicken lettuce cups
adapted from the family chef cookbook by jewels & jill elmore

ingredients

the filling:
2 lbs ground chicken (you could also use turkey)

2 tbsp peanut oil

1 tbsp sesame oil

2 large carrots, peeled and shredded or finely chopped

4 green onions, finely chopped

2 tsp ground ginger

2 large cloves garlic, minced

1 small can water chestnuts, drained and finely chopped

the sauce:
1 cup soy sauce

4 tbsp seasoned rice wine vinegar

4 tbsp orange juice

4 tbsp brown sugar

4 tbsp water

3 tbsp cornstarch

1 tsp chili flakes

for serving: 2 heads of iceberg lettuce, washed & leaves peeled into cups

directions

1. for the sauce, mix all sauce ingredients together with a whisk and set aside.

2. heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. when the pan is hot, add the peanut & sesame oils. saute the carrots, green onions, ginger, and garlic for 4-5 minutes until the vegetables have softened. add chicken and cook, stirring constantly to break up the meat.

3. when the chicken is almost cooked, add the sauce. bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer and continue cooking 5 or 6 minutes.

4. remove pan from heat, stir in water chestnuts. spoon the mixture into lettuce cups and serve while warm.

enjoy!

(photo above is from the family chef cookbook. because, let’s be honest.. i could NOT for the life of me get the lettuce cups to cooperate.)

the famous burrito pie

burrito pie via she likes to eat

if you have heard my husband tell the story, you’ll remember it goes like this: “so when we first got married, i wasn’t sure if my wife could cook. THEN she made this thing called burrito pie. and i HAD FIFTHS Y’ALL.”

of course, during our first year of marriage i had to pull out something big. something serious. something really fancy and high class. burrito pie was it. i mean, what sounds more country club than BURRITO PIE?? i’m pretty sure they serve it at state dinners and probably at buckingham palace for christmas.

all joking aside, i knew no matter what i made, it had to be fairly simple for my new husband who was (and still is) purely a meat-and-potatoes guy. if i had made him something truly out-of-the-box different, he would have walked out the door, driven to taco bell (actually it would have been bojangles – bless it – since we lived in north carolina), ordered himself a meal, and brought it back home.

so it has only taken me 2 years of blogging to finally share this with you, my oldest, most-used, most-asked for recipe. it is super easy and the ingredients are simple. it is a comfort dish, perfect for cold days or lazy weekends around the house. it’s also a good one to take to people who have just had a baby or are just needing a little help with dinner. it has been dubbed “the famous burrito pie” thanks to the lovely lady who posted my recipe inspiration on allrecipes.com back in 2002 – i am forever grateful.

burrito pie
ingredients

2 lbs ground beef

1/2 white onion, chopped fine (or 2 tbsp minced, dried onion)

3 cloves garlic, minced (or 2 tsp jarred minced garlic)

1 can mexican-style rotel*

1 – 16 oz jar taco sauce *

1 – 16 oz cans fat free refried beans*

1 – 16 oz can charro beans*

6-10 flour or corn tortillas

1 – 8 oz bag shredded mexican-style cheese

1 – 2 oz can sliced black olives (optional)

salsa, green onions, sour cream, cholula & tortilla chips – for serving

directions

1. preheat the oven to 350.

2. in a large skillet, brown the ground beef over high heat. when meat is almost no longer pink, add the chopped onion and cook until onion is translucent and fat has cooked off (or you can drain, if desired). add garlic and cook another 45 seconds or so.  mix in the beans and stir to soften & combine. add the rotel, taco sauce, and olives (if using). stir mixture well, making sure everything is incorporated. reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes. stir occasionally. take mixture off heat.

3. spread a thin layer of the meat mixture on the bottom of an ungreased large casserole dish. tear each tortilla in half (to get better coverage) and make a layer of tortillas on top of the meat mixture. follow with another layer of meat mixture, then a layer of cheese. repeat tortilla, meat, cheese pattern until all the meat mixture is used, ending with a layer of meat mixture then cheese.

4. bake for 18-20 minutes, until it’s cooked through and the the cheese is bubbly. top each serving with salsa, cholula, and sour cream and serve hot.

*any ingredient with a star by it is also available in a hot or spicy version.. if you are wanting SPICY, go for the hot versions.

enjoy!

arancini mac & cheese

photo (22)

arancini is a masterpiece of italian cooking, and is one of those divine things we get to experience in life on earth.
in italian, arancini means “little oranges”. they are small fried balls of oozy, cheesy risotto with a gorgeous, crispy outside.
as glorious as they may be, they are a rare thing i will not make in my own kitchen. i don’t really fry anything and these babies take a LOT of time & effort to make. so whenever i am at an italian restaurant that makes arancini for me, i order them as fast as i can.
my gift to you: easy arancini deliciousness that you can whip up on a regular weeknight. AND you don’t have to boil the pasta!
it’s especially kid-friendly and with the addition of the salty pancetta, it was a big pleaser for the man in my house. with your fork, you gently crack open the crunchy panko topping and it gives way to the beautiful, stringy mozzarella cheese hiding underneath.
try not to eat the entire dish.

photo (21)

arancini mac & cheese
adapted from alexandra cooks

ingredients

7 tbsp butter, divided

1/4 cup flour

3 cups milk (whole or 2%)

3 cups water

1/2 tsp salt

freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3 oz pancetta, diced

3/4 lb (12 oz) elbow pasta (or other small pasta), uncooked

5 oz parmesan cheese, grated

3/4 cup panko

1/4 cup italian flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

8 oz mozzarella (fresh mozzarella “pearls” are perfect for this recipe, but pre-shredded works fine too)

directions

1. preheat oven to 400 degrees. melt 4 tbsp butter in a large (2 quart) saucepan over medium-high heat. add flour, whisking constantly for about 1 minute. add milk & water, whisking to scrape all flour-butter mixture off the bottom of the pan. bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. add salt and pepper. simmer until mixture begins to thicken a bit, about 10 minutes. remove from heat.

2. meanwhile, in a small skillet, crisp the pancetta over medium heat until nicely browned. pour uncooked macaroni pasta into an ungreased 9×13 baking dish, and grate parmesan cheese evenly over the top. once the pancetta is done, sprinkle on top of pasta & parmesan. add remaining 3 tbsp of butter to pancetta pan and melt over low heat. place panko in a medium-sized mixing bowl & pour melted butter over top, and add in chopped parsley. using your fingers, mix to combine. season with just a pinch of salt & pepper.

3. pour milk mixture over pasta in baking dish (it will feel like a lot of liquid, but it will be fine – this cooks the pasta). cover dish with foil and carefully transfer to the oven. bake for 20 minutes.

4. remove from oven, uncover, and gently stir. scatter mozzarella evenly over the top of the mixture. top with panko mixture. bake for 15-20 minutes more – uncovered – until top is golden brown and macaroni is bubbling. let dish sit for about 10 minutes to cool before serving.

enjoy!

dalreach house sandwiches

dalreach house sandwiches - she likes to eat

my maternal grandparents used to live in london, and every thanksgiving when they weren’t able to go back to the states they would  travel up to scotland with all of their expat buddies and stay at a manor called dalreach house (pronounced dal-reek). they would enjoy the holiday amongst other texans, drinking scotch, eating too much, and illegally fishing for salmon in the river.

on the day after thanksgiving their first year at dalreach, the texans were wondering, “hey, what do we do with all this leftover turkey??”
then another texan (my grandma) said, “well, i have lots of jalapeños in my suitcase from my last trip home!”
and the dalreach house sandwich was born.
it’s made on sturdy toasty bread, with lots of melty cheese, hunks of leftover turkey, crispy bacon, and topped with as many jalapeños as you can handle.

this is honestly the only holiday recipe i look forward to all year long. i hope your family loves it as much as the chapmans and the barbers (and now the todds) do!

the dalreach house sandwich

ingredients

leftover turkey from thanksgiving dinner

shredded cheddar cheese

cooked bacon (in strips)

pickled jalapeños (from a jar, not fresh)

mayonnaise

whole grain bread

directions

1. set the oven to broil, at about 500. take all of your bread slices (one slice for each sandwich) and lightly toast them, either in the oven on broil or in your toaster.

2. for each open-faced sandwich: spread mayo on one slice of bread (this depends on how much mayo each person likes). then top with thickly sliced turkey and 2-3 strips of bacon, then cover with shredded cheese. top with jalapeños as desired (for me or my mom, it’s LOTS).

3. broil in the oven for about 3-5 minutes, until cheese is completely melted and crust is nicely toasted & crispy. (watch them – they won’t take long and you don’t want them to burn.)

have a very happy thanksgiving and enjoy lots of these on the day after!

pesto turkey burgers

ahhh, pesto. there isn’t much that i wouldn’t enjoy if it has pesto on it.

the little she and i were on a road trip recently and we stopped at a friend’s house on the way for the night. my dear sweet friend made us a wonderful dinner that night (i seriously expected delivery pizza with the notice i gave her) of pesto turkey burgers and sweet potato fries. this was AHmazing after an entire day of road trip food.

these burgers are so light and fresh tasting with the pesto and breadcrumbs mixed in. they are topped with delicious mozzarella slices and arugula that just screams “summer dish”. i made these the night we got home for my other half and even he, a red-meat-and-potatoes guy, loved it.


pesto turkey burgers
makes 4 burgers

ingredients

1 lb ground turkey

1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs

1/3 cup finely shredded parmesan cheese

1/2 cup pesto, plus more for serving

1 egg, beaten

sea salt

4 ciabatta buns

arugula

sliced mozzarella

quick & easy aioli

directions

1. combine the turkey, panko, parmesan cheese, 3/4 cup pesto, egg, and a generous pinch of sea salt in a large bowl and combine by hand. form into 4 patties.  cook on the grill (i find this is easier than in a skillet). on each patty, melt a slice of the mozzarella just before removing from the grill, so it melts nicely.

2. spread one side of each bun with pesto and the other side with aioli – generously of course. top the burger with a small handful of arugula, put the top bun on, cut in half and serve. (oh and fyi, these burgers go really well with this kale salad.)

enjoy!

photos via here & here