best damn chicken title card

The Best Damn Chicken

As I recently noted in the recipe for Tea-Smoked Chicken, I want to like chicken. But most of the time…I just don’t. People always go on about how easy it is to cook, but they never mention the word “perfectly”—and for good reason. Chicken has a very small window of perfection. Overcook it the least bit, it’s dry and chewy. Undercook it and it’s not just repulsive, it’s dangerous. So this is why I’m excited about the best damn chicken. Ever. (I added that last part just to sound like all the other bloggers. You gotta do that single word period thing if you really want to play in the big leagues….) Here it is topping a salad (recipe coming soon!). Jump straight to the recipe for the best damn chicken or read my Fabulous Commentary and Step by Step.

First off, let’s address the whole meat thing. I’m not wild about the texture of chicken thighs, despite everyone insisting that they’re more flavorful. That flavor comes from extra fat, and that fat gives the meat a texture that I just find weird. As a child, the smell of roasting meat, particularly beef, which my mom cooked every freaking Sunday, used to make me gag. I still don’t eat mammals except for (forgive me) an occasional bit of bacon.

For the meat-squeamish, dark chicken meat—thighs, wings, drumsticks—just doesn’t cut it. Even when boneless, but especially when the bones are still in there. That whole gnawing-on-a-bone thing appears to be the height of primal ecstasy for some folks. For me, a medieval banquet sounds about as fun as living in medieval times. In other words, head lice, chastity belts (call me uncomfy!), and a lot more people who look like this…

princess bride boo lady than this:

princess bride buttercup

So right off the bat, you can bet that the best damn chicken is breast meat. Boneless and skinless. Yeah, I’m sort of like a picky 6-year-old here, and I am So OK With It.

Here’s how I prep it.

Best Damn Chicken: Cutting and Marinating

Best damn chicken starts with marinating boneless chicken breasts, because chicken breasts are hella bland. In order to expose as much surface as possible and, at the same time, make sure there are no disgusting tendon surprises in the meat, I cut the meat into about 2-3 inch pieces. The marinade needs salt due to the bland factor, and soy sauce functions beautifully in that role. There’s also some acid for tenderizing, via , and minced garlic and ginger for more flavor. If you were preparing this to go with Italian food, you could sub a super flavorful (read: not from Costco) broth for the soy sauce, and leave out the ginger in favor of some oregano. Let the chicken soak in that for at least half an hour; I like to do 3-4 hours myself.

best damn chicken marinade

(You could probably do it overnight in a pinch, though I haven’t tried it and can’t guarantee that the marinade won’t start to break down the texture. But given that it’s just a small amount of acid, I think you can get away with it.)

(Also? It is even harder to make this pretty than Chia Seed Pudding. I tried….)

Best Damn Chicken: Coating

First, heat your oven to 400º. Place a parchment lined rimmed dish or baking sheet in the oven to warm up. I like to put a little butter, say 2 tsp or so, on the sheet to melt.
While the oven preheats, mix up an egg in one bowl. Lift the chicken out of the marinade, then place it in the egg bowl and stir it around. Let it sit while you cover a plate in the flour of your choice; gluten-free will work just fine. Fish the pieces out of the egg one at a time with a fork; you’ll probably end up using your fingers at some point, but I’m just warning you it’s pretty messy. Put the egg-covered chicken piece in flour and turn it so that it’s lightly covered in flour. Some missing spots are ok, and it’s more of a dusting, not a dunk. Depending on how much you’re making, you might want to have a rack over a piece of parchment to hold the egged and floured chicken as it finishes.

best damn chicken coating

You could also shake 2 pieces at a time in a bag with flour; I just don’t know many people who keep paper bags around these days (not the small ones, like we used to use for lunch bags, which are kinda perfect for this).

Best Damn Chicken: Baking

Remove the hot baking sheet from the oven, and, if desired, add about a teaspoon or so of oil to the melted butter. You can either set the egged and floured pieces directly on the heated baking sheet, or you can just keep them on the rack, in which case there’s no need to have any fat on the baking sheet. But I find the fat adds a nice richness to the chicken. The rack method is not really going to yield a fried consistency, no matter what people tell you about oven fried chicken.
(BTW, I’m currently scouting for deals on an air fryer to see if they’re all they’re cracked up to be, but I have to say I’m skeptical that blowing all that hot air on food is really going to be good for it….)

Bake 10 minutes, flip the chicken, and it really only needs about another 3-4 minutes to be perfect. Add it to anything, especially a big salad or bowl. Or just dip it in ranch dressing. Thoroughly toothsome, to go slightly medieval on you.

best damn chicken baked

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Best Damn Chicken: The Recipe

Cauliflower Pizza Crust

I am not one to go shrieking, “Carbs mean carnage!!,” as the unstable duck in the movie Babe does about Christmas. As I’ve noted before, I love carbs. So I’m mildly troubled to report that, since embarking on an ostensibly healthier and lower carb overall eating strategy, I don’t crave them. In fact, the idea of eating a pizza crust, once music to my taste buds, now strikes a less harmonious note. The thought of a full-blown pizza crust, most nights, just sounds heavy and unappealing. For those nights, I give you this cauliflower pizza crust.

Cauliflower pizza crust hosts roasted veggies.

It turned out well, even with no cheese on hand. It’s not entirely vegan; I used an egg bc I was too lazy to make a flax version. But there’s zero gluten or dairy, and the carb count is low. You can pile on vegetables like there’s no tomorrow—even as a bold, glorious, unbloated tomorrow awaits you because you’re all gluten-free and healthy.

Keep reading for step by step instructions; or just jump directly to the recipe.

Tip Number 1: Don’t buy that crumbled up cauliflower rice because it’s ridiculously expensive, and, to quote Harvey Milk, you don’t know where it’s been. Just cut up half a cauliflower in even size pieces, about an inch or two sized cubes, then throw it in your food processor and chop, chop, chop your troubles away.

Cauliflower pizza crust starts with crumbling the cauliflower in the food processor

If your food processor is like mine, i.e., old as hell, get out the noise-cancelling headphones; chopping anything, especially cauliflower, sounds like a Mad Max death rally, though blessedly, without Mel Gibson screaming about how sane he is. I just dated myself, because nobody who’s not in their Golden Years even knows who Mr. Gibson is. Meanwhile, everyone knows that the greatest Mad Max of All Time is Charlize Theron.

Charlize Theron is THE greatest Mad Max ever.

Anyway, now you have a big old bowl of cauliflower crumbles. Many a recipe, either for cauliflower rice or cauliflower pizza crust, provides the mystifying instruction to boil the rice, then squeeze out the water. People, don’t add water to food. Just don’t. I mean, I’m sure there will come a time where I’ll say, yo, add some water to those ingredients. But I can’t imagine the circumstances.

However, you gotta do something to soften up the cauliflower crumbles, and as usual, I advocate roasting. Add some olive or grapeseed oil to the bowl, just about a tablespoon, and some salt, pepper, and spices. I always like harissa (the powdered kind), but a Mexican or Italian blend will work just fine. Evenly distribute the oil and spices, spread the cauliflower out on a parchment lined baking sheet, and roast for about 20 minutes in a 400º oven.

Let the roasted crumbles cool about 10 minutes; leave the oven on. Then mix them in the bowl with an egg. A flax egg will probably work if you’re vegan, but I haven’t tested it, so proceed at your own risk. A nice handful of grated Parmesan or Asiago cheese would add crispness and savory flavor. But you might not have cheese on hand, or you might not be a dairy person, in which case you can do what I did for this version: Add a couple of heaping tablespoons of nutritional yeast. Also, some kind of bread crumb, about 1/4 cup for a medium-sized bowl of cauliflower. I used garbanzo crumbs; I’m not quite sure what they are (grated garbanzo beans? toasted garbanzo flour?), but they stood in nicely. Use panko if you want some gluten in your life, a desire for which I will never, ever scold you.

Cauliflower pizza crust, after roasting the cauliflower and adding to other ingredients

Now, scrape the mix onto the baking sheet.

Cauliflower pizza crust ready to rollThen take a piece of wax paper or parchment and press the mixture into an even circle; in a pinch, you can use gloves or your hands, but it’s kinda sticky, so if you use some type of paper, it’s easier and less messy.

Cauliflower pizza crust rolled out and ready to cookYou want it to end up about 10-12 inches in diameter. Remove what you used to push it down, then pop it in the oven about 12-15 minutes. At the bottom, you can see that one little piece of cauliflower that was all, “You can’t crumble me!” Feisty little vegetable.

Cauliflower pizza crust ready for toppings like roasted veggies.

The chickpea crumbles and nutritional yeast imparted a nice saffron-ish color that you’d normally get from cheese. But here’s something you need to be really clear on: If you expect a cauliflower pizza crust to be an adequate sub for regular pizza crust, you will be sad. You can’t rip into a cauliflower pizza crust. You don’t sink your teeth  and tear each bite in that satisfying “I’m a Pizza Pig! Oink! Oink!” way that you can with even a $5 Hot and Ready from Little Caesar’s.

But you can have a nice light alternative that’s more fun than just eating a sturdy, healthy heap o’ roasted vegetables. I piled mine high with an oddball mix of roasted fennel, radicchio, and—yes, this is eccentric—strawberries added for just a minute at the end. Roasted strawberries taste strange and wonderful, but do not overcook them, or you will have some bizarre pale red mush on your plate. Just add them to your pan at literally the last minute if you’re feeling dangerous, as Belle and Sebastian used to say. A few pistachios on top added crunch. #weirdbutgood

Cauliflower pizza crust hosts roasted veggies.

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Cauliflower Pizza Crust: The Recipe

quinoa crust quiche

Quinoa Crust Quiche

I love quiche—or at least, the idea of it. I order it when I go out and it usually delivers my requirements: buttery crust, eggy goodness, cheesy decadence. But when I’m honest, I know that most of those buttery crusts that I’m paying other people to fill came straight out of a package. Meanwhile, I have a perfectly fine, infinitely healthier alternative on hand. That big old package of quinoa calls my name. And one of the best ways to use it up is with a quinoa crust quiche.

quinoa crust quiche

Jump to recipe.

Why, you may ask, do I happen to have said gigantic quinoa package? Well, I’m not trying to be mean, but quinoa tastes weird. I always detect this odd, sort of dusty undertaste. I know it’s not this package either, or that it’s old, or any other explanation. Nonetheless, its nutritional perks are impressive. Protein-rich, fiber-rich, chockful of vitamins and minerals—read all about quinoa’s specific health benefits here, and check out Jennifer’s terrific blog while you’re at it. Also in its favor, quinoa morphs easily as a substitute for all kinds of grains, particularly those that are already fragmented into small pieces like cracked wheat and couscous.

As a pie crust substitute, it’s super easy and SO much healthier that it’s worth a try. Just be forewarned: You are not making something that will taste like a pie crust. A quinoa-crust quiche does not flake with buttery goodness. Rather, it sits on the plate as a hearty earthy base for all the eggy-cheesy-veggie goodness you want to throw in it. These items I had on hand just begged to be added to a tasty quinoa crust quiche.

quinoa crust quiche likes veggies

(I just realized I’m writing as if I’m Kathy Najimy’s character in The Fisher King. Is she the one responsible for that thing where we add a y to the end of basically every single word? If so, huzzah to you, Kathy.)

So with the quinoa crust, you gotta remember that weird quinoa flavor that you want to camo just a tad. That means that, at the very least, you need to cook the quinoa with salt (or the no-salt sub of your choice), preferably in broth rather than water. Once all the water’s cooked in—and do make sure the quinoa’s not wet at all—and the quinoa’s cooled, add an egg. But you can add even more flavor by sauteeing and adding an onion, or lots of chopped herbs, including scallions, and—most decadent of all—a big old handful of your favorite grated cheese.

Now, simply place the mixture into a pie pan that you’ve sprayed with no-stick, or oiled, or buttered; up to you. I like to take a piece of wax paper and use that to press the quinoa into shape…

quinoa crust quiche: use parchment paper to press evenly

…keeping it even on the bottom of the pan and nicely rising on the sides.

quinoa crust quiche, the crust ready to pre-bake Then bake, and voila. Your quinoa crust is about to become a quinoa crust quiche. I used this recipe from Clean Eating as my jumping off point. When I originally posted this recipe, I had broccoli, kale, and a bunch of mushrooms on hand and quite happy to jump into the pan.

quinoa crust quiche gets filled with a mix of vegetables

This week, I did a Skype cooking session with a pal, and we both realized we could pretty much use any vegetable-ish substance. For me, that was leeks standing in for the onions, dandelion greens, kale, and asparagus; for the last, I followed the advice of a couple of vintage cookbooks and peeled the stems, making the asparagus a lot more palatable. The first go-round, I placed the veggie mix directly into the crust….

quinoa crust quiche, ready for the milk cheese mixture

…then topped with an egg and cheese mix…

quinoa crust quiche gets a layer of egg and cheese filling

…and  then more cheese. (This is actually kind of a modest amount, but I have some in the crust and also some feta mixed into the eggs. Go as wild as you like.) By the way, the speckles are from the mustard I used.

Quinoa crust quiche before going into the oven.

Here’s that one finished:

Yesterday, I separated the eggs, whipping the whites to soft peaks. I mixed the yolks and cheese with the cooked veggies, then folded in the whites. Then pour it into the crust. I actually prefer this one, so have amended the recipe below to include it.

quinoa quiche

There you have it. You’ve used up some of that sad wallflower quinoa (to use my buddy Jenny Englander’s term), and you’ve got a healthy meal you can pack up for a road trip or nosh on at your desk. Some cherry tomatoes sparkled up both the visual and flavor palates. Enjoy with your own seasonal variations throughout the year.

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Quinoa Crust Quiche: The Recipe