Simply Fresh by Julie Wern

CSA Tip—Roast your own chicken breasts

You may be wondering why I would suggest roasting chicken breasts in a newsletter dedicated to helping CSA members get the most of their CSA produce.  But bear with me here, there is a method to my madness (vegetarians, just skip this section–sorry).
If your family is anything like mine, they demand a steady supply of meat protein to accompany their delicious CSA produce.  But as I’m sure you can relate, I don’t always have the time to frequent the grocery stores to keep this supply on hand, or to cook it at every mealtime.  It is so tempting to purchase those whole roasted chickens in the supermarket.  It seems a quick way to add that meat protein without all the work.  Certainly in a pinch, these chickens are a life saving option.  But I have read that they might not be as healthful as many people think.  For one, they include the dark meat, which for some, is not ideal (more saturated fat).  Furthermore, they are typically injected with sodium and preservatives to keep them moist, even when they are labeled “natural”.  Finally, if you make a habit out of buying them, it can get expensive.
A few years ago I stumbled across what I think is a great alternative to using supermarket roast chickens–roasting inexpensive chicken breasts and freezing the pulled meat.
The process couldn’t be more simple.  I buy bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts when they go on sale.  I can often get them as low as $1.59/lb.  I place 4-6 breasts (depending upon size) on a baking rack set in a roasting pan (chicken should be elevated from the bottom) and sprinkle them with salt and pepper.  I pour about 1 cup of water in the bottom of the pan and then place it in a 400 degree oven, where the chicken bakes for 50-60 minutes, or until the breasts are cooked through.  I check the pan throughout the process to make sure there is always water in the bottom—this ensures a moist roast.  Once finished, I let the chicken breasts cool, then I remove the skin and shred the meat.  I portion the pulled meat into quart Ziploc baggies (I like to do two breasts per baggie) which I then place in the freezer until I am ready to use.  Voila! –Moist, pre-cooked, healthful chicken with minimal work.
Having healthful, pulled chicken meat like this available at all times makes meals a cinch, especially in a pinch (if you have to, you can defrost the baggies on low power in the microwave).  I use the pulled chicken to top salads or make chicken salad, or I put it in soups, stews, chilis, casseroles, etc…  Not having to worry about the meat protein portion of the meal means I have more time to focus on cooking the produce I receive the farm.
Hence the CSA tip—roasting your own chicken breasts allows you to spend more time using up all that great produce from the farm!  I encourage you to try roasting your own chicken breasts today, especially now that it is the season for soups and casseroles—dishes that are ideal for pulled chicken.

Featured Item—Jalapenos

The jalapenos in the field right now are absolutely beautiful.  So plentiful and plump, in varying shades from green to red–simply irresistible.
Jalapenos are a variety of hot pepper, or chile, that is native to Mexico and that is probably the most popular chile in the Unites States.  It has a moderate heat index; however the level of heat in a given crop of jalapenos depends on many factors, including temperature variations, amount of sunlight, PH level, etc…I found this year’s Holcomb crop to have just the right amount of heat, hot but not too blazing.
As jalapenos mature, they turn from dark green to a beautiful red.  I found completely contradictory information about whether or not the red chiles are hotter than the green ones.  It does seem to be a fact that red jalapenos are sweeter and less “grassy” tasting than green ones, kind of like the difference between a green and a red bell pepper.  One factor that does seem to affect heat level is the amount of “striations” or lines on the surface of an individual pepper.  These markings suggest a chile will be hotter than its smooth counterparts.
Jalapenos may not be that large, but they pack a significant nutritional punch—providing an excellent source of vitamins A, C, K, and B6, as well as fiber, thiamine, Folate, Potassium, and Manganese.  The green peppers provide more vitamin C, while the red ones are higher in vitamin A.
Choose plump jalapenos without significant wrinkles (which suggests they have matured past their prime), soft areas, bruises, or spots of mold.  Store for 1-2 weeks in the refrigerator.
The potential culinary uses for jalapenos are endless.  Of course, they are a must in Mexican food—guacamole, salsa, Pico de Gallo, tacos, burritos, enchiladas, rice, beans, Veracruz sauce, etc…
I also find jalapenos to be a wonderful addition to almost any cooked dish.  I often use a half or a whole minced jalapeno pepper (depending upon heat level) in soups, stews, braises, chilis, etc… Even if it doesn’t impart much heat, it offers a unique, savory element that simply elevates a dish.
Jalapenos are also great raw in salad dressings or minced in cold corn, potato, rice or grain salads.
When you have a glut of jalapenos, try pickling them (see recipe below) or making jalapeno jelly or jam.  Jalapenos are also great breaded and fried.
In last week’s addition of Simply Fresh, I posted two recipes that use jalapenos–a chili and a stuffed Sunshine squash recipe.  Also, several weeks ago I posted my highly popular “jalapeno popper” recipe.  Click here for that winner (jalapeno poppers).
Whether you use a single jalapeno at a time or make use of a bunch, I’m sure you will enjoy these wonderful gems this season.
Pickled jalapeno peppers are terrific on nachos, pizzas, sandwiches, burgers, tacos, burritos, enchiladas, chilis, or anything in which you wish to add heat.  The pickling liquid also makes a great hot sauce.

Pickled Jalapeno Peppers                              Makes 1 quart jar

– about 10 jalapenos, sliced into rings (fill quart jar loosely packed up to 1 ½” to rim)
– 1 1/4 cups apple cider vinegar
– 3/4 cup water
– 3 cloves garlic, crushed
– 1 tablespoon kosher salt
– 1/4 cup sugar
– 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
– 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
Place jalapeños in a quart jar.  In a medium saucepan, heat vinegar, water, garlic, salt, sugar, peppercorns, and oregano until boiling.  Boil for one minute.  Pour hot vinegar mixture over jalapeño slices.  Push down jalapeño slices to submerge.  Allow to cool on countertop for 1 hour.  Cover tightly and refrigerate.  Will keep for 2-3 weeks.  If you wish to preserve them longer they must be properly canned.
I used this sauce in a small pan of chicken enchiladas using my pulled chicken breast meat (see above discussion on roasted chicken breasts).  Yum!!  This sauce would be equally great on fish, scallops, or pork chops, or over burritos or pasta.

Roasted Jalapeno Cream Sauce                      Makes about 2 cups

– 4-6 large jalapeno peppers, halved lengthwise, ribs and seeds removed if desired (for less heat)
– 1 very large onion (or two medium), sliced into 1/2″ thick slices
– 4 large cloves garlic, peeled
– 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
– 1 cup vegetable or chicken broth
– 1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
– 1/4 cup light cream
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Line rimmed baking sheet with foil.  Brush or spray foil with olive oil.  Place jalapeños cut side down on baking sheet, followed by garlic cloves and onion (keeping rings together).  Drizzle with olive oil then turn vegetables pieces to coat in oil.  Place baking sheet in oven and bake for about 8 minutes.  Turn onions and garlic cloves.  Bake an additional 8-15 minutes or until vegetables are tender and jalapeño skin is blistered and blackened in spots.  Remove pan from oven.  Immediately place jalapeño pieces in a ziploc baggie.  Seal baggie and let sit for 10 minutes to steam.  Remove jalapeños from baggie and carefully remove as much skin as possible on each piece without removing flesh.
2. Place skinned jalapeño halves, onion, and garlic in a blender.  Add 1 cup of broth.  Blend until smooth. (Can be made 2 days ahead.  Refrigerate until ready to use).
3. Place jalapeño and onion mixture in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat until mixture is simmering.  Simmer for 5 minutes.  Add cream and bring back to a simmer.  Simmer for 3-5 minutes or until mixture is thickened.  Taste for salt and adjust as necessary.

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