The Change-Up

The Change-Up

The Best Escape for the Dinner Rut

Thursday, February 07, 2019

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Oh no! Not this again !” That's often the groan from your family as you go into prep mode for dinner. A routine of roast chicken on Sunday, curry chicken on Friday, plus chicken soup on Saturday, while healthy and economical, can be just that: routine. Studies show that most people know how to cook precisely nine meals. Since time and money dictate the make up of your Easy Nine, consider a few switches to make those dishes a little more interesting.


Plan your meals

You already know the P's: Prior Preparation and Planning Prevent Poor Performance. So how come you're not applying this code to your cooking? Spending 30 minutes researching a meal strategy for the week will deliver inspiring results. Search issues of Jamaica Observer Cookbook or for meal ideas. Create your meal calendar for the week and make a shopping list. By getting into the routine of meal planning, you'll be getting out of the habit of meal boredom.


Add one new ingredient

We're not suggesting kicking all your staple recipes to the kerb. Try playing to your strengths by adding a new ingredient to the dishes you've already mastered. Do you make a killer curry chicken? Then add coconut milk to your sauce, or parsley and chopped peanuts to white rice for texture. Add lime juice for unexpected dash in the last few minutes of cooking a favourite stew or add pepper jellies to gravies.


Improve your technique

Refining how you cook is one of the best ways to amp up your meal staples. One golden rule that can turn the average home cook into a star is to avoid overcooking. Let meats rest before slicing. Sear at high temperatures to lock in flavours. Master your marinades. Roast vegetables for mind-blowing taste and to retain nutrients.


Stock the essentials

These are the 12 essential spices every pantry should have.

•Black peppercorns. Buy whole peppercorns and grind them in a mill, as pre-ground black pepper loses its flavour much more quickly.

•Cayenne pepper. A pinch or two of cayenne adds a depth when you don't want the power heat of fresh picked Scotch bonnet pepper.

•Chilli powder. This mix of cayenne plus dried peppers, cocoa, garlic and onion is an easy fix for roast chicken blahs.

This spice mix starts with cayenne but might also include other dried peppers as well as cocoa, garlic and onion.

•Cinnamon. You know it as a baking spice and as a must-add to porridge, but cinnamon also starts in savoury dishes like roasted pumpkin purée and sweet potato casserole.

•Cloves. This is a strong spice so use judiciously in barbecue sauces.

•Cumin. Toast cumin to awaken the flavour before adding to stews and rubs.

•Curry powder. No self-respecting Jamaican pantry is ever without it.

•Fennel seed. Crack lightly with the back of a knife to release the fragrant oils for sauces, soup and a rub for roasts.

•Garlic powder. Choose plain garlic powder and not garlic salt so you can build your flavours.

•Ground ginger. Great for marinades and rubs.

•Kosher salt. Its neutral flavour makes kosher salt a great kitchen friend. The coarse flakes make it easy to manage how much you add to your dishes without the mistake of over-salting.

•Smoked paprika. Its smoky flavour adds complexity to any dish.


Get reviews

With each addition to your meal routine, take a family poll to determine if you should keep it or skip it. That way, everybody is in on the game. A meal rut can also result in a dinner-time rut in which everyone eats in silence with no connection to each other. Use your new cooking style as a conversation starter; an opportunity to connect with the people who mean the most to you.

Change-up Stewed Chicken to…
The Best Dressed Chicken Stewed in Beer

1 The Best Dressed Chicken whole, cut into small portions
½ cup oyster sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 large onion, finely diced
1 teaspoon ginger, sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 green Scotch bonnet pepper
1 medium carrot, sliced diagonally
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 teaspoon pimiento, crushed
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 bottle beer
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon fennel seeds

Pour oyster sauce and soy sauce onto chicken pieces. Cover and marinate for one hour to overnight.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a Dutch pot or frying pan. Sauté onion until lightly brown. Add fennel seeds, and garlic, ginger, pimento, and whole Scotch bonnet pepper. Remove from pan and set aside.
Add the remaining oil to pan. Lightly brown the chicken a few pieces at a time in very hot oil. Place browned chicken pieces on a plate to rest while you brown the remaining pieces.
Drain off excess oil and pour ½ bottle of beer to deglaze pan. Add the seared chicken to the pan. Pour the cooked seasonings and any remaining marinade over the chicken and add the carrots. Stir and cook over medium heat for 12-15 minutes.
Mix starch with 3 tablespoons water. Add to stew, stirring constantly until sauce is thickened slightly. Turn heat off and garnish with fresh thyme. Serve hot with a side of steamed rice.

Change up Oven Barbecue Chicken to …
The Best Dressed Chicken Crispy Garlic Sriracha Wings

4 pounds The Best Dressed Chicken Wings, cut at joints, wing tips discarded
3 tablespoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup honey
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon grated lime zest
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons Sriracha hot sauce
1/4 cup diced green onions
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
Aluminium foil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Place wings in a large bowl and drizzle with sesame oil. Season with sea salt, and toss so all of the wings are coated in the oil.
In a bowl, combine honey, soy sauce, fish sauce, lime, ginger, garlic and Sriracha sauce.
Cover bowl with foil and set aside.
Line 2 baking sheets with aluminium foil. Place a baking rack on top of the foil. Lay out your wings in a single layer on the rack, leaving space between each piece of chicken. Bake, turning halfway through, for 50-55 minutes until the skin is nice and crispy.
Reserve 2 tablespoons of the sauce. Brush the remaining sauce over the top and bottom of your chicken wings and bake for 10 minutes until they're golden brown and caramelised.
Remove from oven and transfer wings to a serving platter. Brush the reserved sauce over the wings, and sprinkle with green onions and sesame seeds. Serve immediately.

Change Up Jerk Chicken to…
The Best Dressed Chicken Jerk Tacos with Brown Butter Garlic Aioli

4 The Best Dressed Chicken Boneless Thighs
¼ cup of your favourite wet jerk seasoning
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
4 flour tortillas, warmed

For Aioli
¼ cup mayonnaise
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tbsp browned butter
Sriracha chilli sauce to taste

1 large ripe tomato
1 small avocado
Small bunch cilantro leaves
1 cup shredded lettuce

Heat a large cast iron grill pan over high heat.
Place chicken thighs into a glass bowl. Pour on jerk wet rub, oil and cumin. Stir to coat all the chicken meat. Cover and set marinate in fridge for between up to 24 hours.
Place aioli ingredients in a small food processor and blend until smooth. Add sriracha chili sauce to taste. Set aside until service time.
Shred lettuce, dice tomatoes, and thinly slice avocados.
Place marinated chicken thighs on pre-heated stove top grill and cook for 3-4 minutes each side or until cooked through.
Divide the lettuce, cilantro, tomato and avocado between the tortillas and top with the cooked chicken. Drizzle spiced mayo on top and serve immediately.

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