Better-than-Restaurant Chicken Tenders

In a couple of weeks we’re headed to family beach vacation in Neskowin, Oregon. I’m truly looking forward to it; however,  this is one of those vacations where there will be lots of family rooming in close quarters.  This is fun for a short run, but usually after the third day of this, people began longing for their own space and some start to get a wee bit cranky. It’s a challenge for humans to stay gracious when they lose their normal personal space. One of my friends, author Charlene Baumbich,  confessed after three days of being cooped up with a bunch of women on a retreat: “I’m running out of nice.”

I was visiting on the phone with my daughter Rachel about this subject yesterday.  She is heading to a week of family vacation to a Florida beach –with all the joys and challenges of being in close quarters for a week with lots of people. And an active baby.

“Just in case you start feeling closed-in,  I’ll share how I handled it our last vacation to Neskowin,”  I told her.  “ I knew I was about to get cranky.  I’d been cooking and cleaning and babysitting nonstop, and was getting exhausted from all this ‘vacationing.’ And I was PMSing.  So I went to the tippy top floor, which was three stories high, stepped out on the deck and took a deep breath. I looked out at the ocean and breathed and prayed until I felt calm.  Then I turned to go back inside because the air was turning quite chilly.  And that is when I realized I’d accidentally locked the door behind me.”

“What did you do?” Rachel asked.

“Well, I hollered and screamed but to no avail.  Everyone was in the living room watching a movie, on the first floor.  So I gingerly stepped over the banister and jumped to the roof below.  Then I reached back and grabbed a plastic lawn chair and tossed it off the roof in front of the picture window in the living room, hoping someone would notice.”

“Did they?”

“Well, it took two deck chairs and one lounge chair, but eventually someone noticed it was raining lawn furniture and came to my rescue.”

“So what you are saying, Mom, is that the moral of this story is that if I should start to feel cranky or closed in, I should simply climb on the roof and start throwing lawn furniture off of it.”

“Yes. Pretty much.  Trust me, it helps.”

I’m so glad I can be there to give seasoned wisdom to my daughter based on my many years of hard-earned experience.

In addition to that piece of advice that you are also now free to use at will on your family summer vacation,  I will also share a recipe that is Greg’s all-time favorite vacation food:  chicken fingers.  He thinks mine are better than any restaurant version and I know they are at least slightly healthier.  I use one of Paula Deen’s secrets to the best fried chicken in the south: dipping the chicken in a mixture of eggs and Hot Buffalo Sauce. You’d think the tenders would turn out fire engine hot, but they aren’t hot at all, just amazingly flavorful and tender.

I like to serve these crunchy chicken fingers atop a salad to beef up the nutrition and add some fiber.  Vegans, like Rachel, can do follow same method using firm tofu, omitting the eggs.  Tofu takes on a whole new yummy crunch when battered and pan fried.  (Of course, so do  rubber bands and shoe leather.)

And if this dish doesn’t turn out well for you, you can always climb on the roof and throw it out on the lawn.  It is a marvelous stress reliever.  I guarantee it.

Better-Than-Restaurant Chicken Tenders (Over a Salad with Buffalo Ranch Dressing)

Better-than-Restaurant Chicken Tenders

Pre-heat Oven to 300 degrees

Ingredients

1 to 1.25 pounds chicken tenders (or chicken breasts, sliced in “fingers”)

1/4 cup Frank’s Red Hot Buffalo Sauce

2 eggs

1 cup flour

1 t. Cajun seasoning (I like Tony Cachere’s brand) or other seasoned salt that has paprika or chili pepper

1 t. grill or steak seasoning (or 1/2 t. salt and 1/2 t. pepper)

Healthy oil of your choice to make 1/4 inch deep in your favorite skillet (I use a combination of olive oil and coconut oil)

Directions:

Heat oil over medium high heat or flame.

In a low shallow bowl mix hot sauce and eggs.

Mix together eggs and Frank’s Red Hot Sauce — Paula Deen’s secret to her famous fried chicken

In another similar bowl, mix flour with seasonings. Using tongs, dip the chicken tenders, a few a time, first in hot sauce/eggs, then roll in seasoned flour.

Dip tenders first in mixture of hot sauce and eggs, then in flour seasoned with Cajun Seasoning and Grill Seasoning

Place tenders in oil and when golden brown on one side, flip to cook the other side. Place first batch on a cookie sheet and keep warm in oven while you finish pan-frying the rest of the tenders.  I only put 4 to 5 tenders in the skillet at one time.

Only pan fry 4 or 5 tenders at a time.

Put pan-fried tenders on baking sheet and keep in warm oven until you’ve cooked all the batches.

Taste one as soon as they are cool enough to touch.  If it needs more salt, sprinkle them lightly with a bit more Cajun seasoning. (If you love hot hot tenders you can also sprinkle them with more  red hot sauce at this point.)

These are awesome just as they are served with your favorite dipping sauce or sauces.   I typically serve them atop a salad with one of the following quick dressings:

Buffalo Ranch: 2 parts Ranch dressing with 1 part Buffalo Sauce.  (For one big salad, I mix about 1/4 cup light Ranch dressing with 2 T. buffalo sauce)

Honey Mustard Ranch: Two parts Ranch Dressing with 1 part mustard and 1 part honey. (For one big salad I mix 1/4 cup light Ranch dressing with 1 T. mustard and 1 T. honey.)

Variation:  If I have leftover chicken tenders,  I like to heat them up for lunch the next day, then cut them in small pieces,  toss them in a little Buffalo sauce, and serve with a bed of chopped celery, sprinkled with a bit of crumbled blue cheese or feta, and top with Buffalo Ranch Dressing.   It’s like eating chicken wings…. with a fork!  Really good with a little side of watermelon to cut the heat.

Leftover chicken tenders cut in bite-size pieces, tossed in buffalo sauce, served over a bed of celery with feta cheese crumbles and buffalo ranch dressing. Mmmm, mmmmm spicy, crunchy, yummy lunch!

Veganize It: Substitute slices of firm tofu, and omit the eggs.  Proceed with recipe.

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Bloody Mary Veggie Soup (Vegan)

Becky’s Bloody Mary Soup — Creamy, loaded with vegies and tastes AWESOME!

My husband had surgery on Thursday for a deviated septum and to keep him company while he rested in the living room, breathing like Darth Vader, I went on a nonstop experimental cooking spree.

I suddenly morphed into one of those chefs on America’s Test Kitchens, except that I cook without cleaning as I go, so it looked like unsupervised Kindergarteners were allowed to play with food on my counter tops.

I made this mess in less than 20 minutes. I do this sort of thing with amazing regularity.

At one point I was happily and furiously cooking when I lost my grip on a slippery lemon just before it became airborne and hit me in the head. My mother warned me about hot stoves, boiling water, and sharp knifes when explaining kitchen safety,  but nobody told me to beware of flying citrus.

I am most interested lately in cooking with foods that are known to help lower blood pressure.  My BP was up last week and all medications I’ve tried thus far make me feel like a sloth with a migraine. I’m determined to try to let “food be my medicine” as best I can, and see if I can wrestle those numbers down without pharmaceuticals.

So when Greg said he’d like some tomato soup,  I got inspired and created a super-healthy vegie-tomato soup, chocked full of foods known to  help lower blood pressure.  When I took a sip,  it was truly delicious. Something about it reminded me of Bloody Mary mix, so I added some typical Bloody Mary ingredients (Worcestershire, celery seed, lemon, hot sauce)  to jazz it up even more, then used chopped celery as a garnish and a celery stick as a “stirrer.”  Cute, eh?  And the taste?  Amazing!  It was so good that after Greg and I enjoyed hot soup for lunch,  I sipped a nutritious, warm mug full at mid-afternoon for a snack.  Today I enjoyed it cold, adding tiny diced cucumbers and a little parsley as a gazpacho-like treat.

The basic recipe can be played with dozens of ways, adding bits of veggies that are on hand in your crisper.  Hot or cold, I’m proud to share this soup that is as tasty as it is healthy.

Creamy Bloody Mary Soup

Becky’s Bloody Mary Veggie Soup

Serves 4-6 

Ingredients:

28 oz. can crushed tomatoes with basil

2 cloves garlic

½ red onion

1 red bell pepper

1 carrot, rough chopped

1 stalk celery, rough chopped

1 handful fresh spinach (about a cup, loosely packed) (You may also use fresh basil if you have it on hand, instead)

1 ½ c. veggie broth (or chicken broth)

1 ½ c. almond milk (don’t substitute dairy milk as it may curdle)

2 t. organic sugar (or brown sugar)

½ t. salt

1 t. pepper

1 t. Worcestershire sauce (Look for vegan Worcestershire sauce, if you are a vegan purest, as many contain anchovies,)

1 t. celery seed

Juice from ½ fresh lemon

Dash hot sauce (Tabasco or Buffalo Sauce)

2 stalks celery diced small, for garnish (about 1 T. in each bowl)

Celery stalks with leaves attached for garnish, one in each bowl

Directions:

In large blender or food processor put ½ the can tomatoes, garlic, onion, red bell pepper, carrot, celery and spinach and 1 c. veggie broth.  Blend on high until as creamy as you your machine will get it.

Pour mixture into large pan, add rest of can of tomatoes (the crushed tomatoes will add some texture to soup, but if you prefer it smooth, whirl in the blender as well)  and rest of veggie broth, almond milk, sugar, salt and pepper.  Bring to boil, stirring often.  Turn heat down to medium and simmer for five minutes. Remove from heat and stir in Worcestershire, celery seed, dash hot sauce and juice of ½ fresh lemon.  Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking.   Garnish with a tablespoon of chopped celery and stick of leafy celery and serve.   Delicious with grilled cheese or grilled roasted veggie  sandwich.

Variations: Try other veggies in this basic recipe.  Add chopped cucumber,  chopped green onion and/or diced tomato and serve it cold, like a refreshing gazpacho.

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