Sunday, June 14, 2015

Summer Favorites Part 1: Marinades Are Your Summer Friend

We've been experiencing some seriously unseasonable warm weather here in the Pacific Northwest. After a milder than mild winter, followed by an exceptionally warm spring we have already experienced temperatures in the high 80's and low 90's - something we don't usually experience until July or August.  It's been amazing, but it doesn't exactly inspire me to turn on the oven.

For Steven and I, once the mercury hits the 80's, we much prefer meals that are cool and fresh.  This doesn't mean I stop cooking altogether (and yes, we do grill too), but it does mean I rely on the stove top more and the oven less and it means I'm going to use Marinades... A lot.  Marinades are handy any time of year, but for me, they are really key to ensuring our chicken and steak are filled with flavor and sure to come out tender and juicy.

I know I've mentioned in previous posts that I like to purchase meats for us in the larger "value pack" sizes.  Summer is no exception to this rule, but since we're going to want meals quick on weeknights I tend to handle those large packages of chicken or steak a bit differently.  Instead of dividing them up and throwing them straight into the freezer, I will throw them in a marinade or coat them in a rub and let them hang out in the fridge. This is especially nice with steaks - the longer the steak marinades, the more tender it seems to come out.  If you find, after a couple of days, that you're not going to cook them after all, you can store them in the freezer at that point.  When I cook the marinaded protein, I go ahead and cook it all, even if we only need half of it for that  night's dinner - that way I already have pre-cooked and chilled protein to throw into a salad, onto a sandwich or nachos the next night.

I have a couple go to, storebought seasoning blends I really like.  You're probably already familiar with this one:

It's really great mixed right into ground beef for burgers.  Of course, it 's great for steak, but it's also good on chicken and pork.  

I may have shared this one in the past:

My neighbor turned me on to this one - she uses it in her white chicken chili and now I do too, but it's also great on fish, steak, pork and of course, grilled chicken.  It's the most-used store-bought blend I own.  It's a bit difficult to get ahold of here where I live.  We can only get it at Costco and it's only offered seasonally, so I usually try to pick up several containers of it the moment it becomes available.  One of these days, I'll make my own scratch version and then I can use it to my heart's content!  

A couple other things I couldn't live without in my kitchen, particularly in the summer is a good supply of citrus fruits (I try to keep lemons and limes on-hand year-round, actually), some tasty extra virgin olive oil... 

My juicer and microplane (for zesting)...

...and a supply of self-sealing plastic bags.

So, without further ado, here's a couple marinades I used today.  I made up some Lemon Pepper marinade for a Chicken Orzo salad I planned for tonight's dinner and I used some Mojito Lime Marinade for cooking tomorrow or later in the week.

Zest a lemon right into a zip close bag (I like to fold the top of the bag down and place it inside a bowl for a bit of stability).  Then add some freshly cracked pepper.  My pepper grinder is broken so I used my spice grinder for this process.

I used about a tablespoon of peppercorns, but you can adjust it to your preference.

I added about half of the ground pepper to the bag, then poured in some extra virgin olive oil.  Then set it aside and got to work on marinade number 2.

For the Mojito Lime marinade, I put about 2 tablespoons of the Mojito Lime seasoning mix into the self-sealing plastic bag and added about 2 tablespoons of evoo.  Again, I set this aside and went to work on prepping the chicken.  I took these four lovely boneless, skinless chicken breasts...

..and cut 2 of them into cubes...

...and the other two into tender-sized strips.

The cubes are for the orzo salad, so they went into the bag with the lemon-pepper mixture.  Then I sealed the bag, letting all of the air out, and squished it all around...

...until it was fully coated and looked like this:

The tenders went into the bag with the Mojito Lime mixture...

...and I repeated the whole process.

Then both bags went into the fridge.

A note about using citrus, you may have noticed I didn't add the juice of the lemon to the marinade...yet.  That's because you don't want the acid in the citrus to cook your protein so citrus should only be added shortly before cooking - no longer than 15-20 minutes for chicken in fairly thick pieces, less for stir fry strips and much less for shrimp or seafood of any kind.  In this case, the juice is going into the dressing for the orzo salad, which is really a marinade too, so I'll just pour some of the dressing in with the chicken a bit before cooking to be certain it gets maximum infusion from the lemon.  

Speaking of the dressing, here's how to make it:

Juice one lemon into a bowl or mason jar (I love using mason jars for this whole process)...

You'll be using equal parts lemon juice and equal parts evoo.  So here's the lemon juice...  

...and now I've added the extra virgin olive oil...

Now add some salt & pepper to taste - this will really depend on how much dressing/marinade you mix up but I used about 1/2 teaspoon of pepper and a healthy pinch of salt.

Place the lid on the jar and shake it up!

Voila!  Dressing/Marinade - however you want to use it, it's ready to go.  And the best part?  It doesn't even need to be refrigerated!  Really, the acid in the lemon juice acts as a preservative and the olive oil won't spoil (at least not for a very, very long time, if ever), so you can leave it out on the counter, if you like.  If you do choose to refrigerate it, keep in mind that the olive oil will solidify, so you'll need to either set it out at room temperature for about 30 minutes prior to use or nuke it for about 15 seconds.

Ok, so there you have it, two quick and easy marinades that a fresh and full of summer flavor to use in your recipes this summer.  I promise to post the Chicken Orzo Salad in the near future as well as some other recipes using these marinades so you can get your summer on!

Lemon Pepper Marinade

Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 lemon
1 TBLS ground pepper
1/4 C Extra Virgin Olive Oil (or equal quantity to lemon juice)

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl or mason jar.  Whisk or shake to mix until emulsified.  For chicken, steak or pork, marinade for about 20 minutes prior to cooking or omit lemon juice and marinade up to 24 hours, adding lemon juice 20 minutes prior to cooking.  This marinade is an excellent salad dressing too - our favorite for Orzo Salad with Chicken or Shrimp, Greek Salad and Antipasto Salad.

Mojito Lime Marinade

2 TBLS Mojito Lime Seasoning Mix
2 - 3 TBLS Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Place all ingredients in a self-sealing bag or bowl, add chicken, steak or pork, toss to coat and allow to marinade a minimum of 20 minutes or up to 24 hours.  If using for shellfish add fresh citrus juice of your choice and marinade just 5-10 minutes.  For larger cuts of fish, add fresh citrus juice and marinade for 15-20 minutes.  Cook as desired.