Balsamic Roasted Chicken Thighs with Caramelized Onions and Figs

I’m back from a weekend camping at the Dunes in Indiana, which was a lovely way to start to ease out of summer. We hiked up through mountains of sand, sliding backwards, dogs trailing behind. We somehow couldn’t really keep a fire going, but it was lively long enough to roast hot dogs and make breakfast in the morning. I might not have slept at all on a pile of blankets in the tent, but having returned, I think I’m refreshed all the same. Or, at least my dachshunds are really, really worn out. I’d love to know how many miniature leg steps they logged on that 4 mile dunes walk. There’s probably an interesting niche market for dog pedometers.

While camping, I cooked eggs in a sauté pan over the fire. I sat the pan on a set of logs, probably a bit unstably, but successfully made breakfast all the same. I’m thinking I need a cast-iron skillet camp set for next time, as the bottom of my eggs got a bit burned before it was cooked through. Someday I will be an expert camper. Until then, I use my skillet at home.

This dinner is delicious, easy, and truly different than most things I make. Figs are in season, and I love them, so I bought a large flat a week or so ago. I’d been snacking on them, dipping them in almond butter, but roasting them was another method I hadn’t tried. Chicken thighs, I think, are the best partner for the figs, as they are deeply flavorful and tender. And caramelized onions just always belong. I served this atop a green salad with some mashed potatoes, but any way would be fine. Maybe I am a bit tired… I can’t seem to think of much else to say. Just, make dinner, ok?

Balsamic Roasted Chicken Thighs with Caramelized Onions and Figs

Serves 4-6

1-2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs

2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

4 tbsp. olive oil, divided

2 yellow onions, sliced into half-moons

8-10 fresh black figs, quartered

Salt & pepper, to taste

Prepare the marinade for the chicken by mixing 2 tbsp. olive oil with the balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper. Coat the chicken in the marinade, flipping to coat. Marinate at least 4 hours, or overnight.

When prepared to cook, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Add 2 tbsp. olive oil to a cast-iron skillet set over medium-low heat. Caramelize the onions, slowly, stirring occasionally. They will slowly brown and soften in about 20-30 minutes. Once they’ve caramelized, remove the onions from the pan. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the chicken thighs. Sauté for 3-4 minutes until browned, then flip. Once flipped, add the caramelized onions to the pan, lying over the chicken. Add the figs.

Put the cast-iron skillet into the oven and bake for 25 minutes, or until the thighs are cooked through. Remove from the oven and serve.

Greek Chicken Plate with Garlic Cauliflower Rice and Coconut Tzatziki

This is the best meal I have eaten in weeks. Months? Years? It’s hard to know for sure, but I do know that this recipe is absolutely delicious. I was craving Greek food intensely, but being halfway through whole 30, hummus and feta cheese and creamy sauces are still totally off limits, making me believe this craving would have to wait. But I conspired a bit with the ingredients in my fridge and decided this could be done. And I didn’t miss the hummus, or the feta, or the creamy sauces at all! Well, perhaps because I made a pseudo-tzatziki with coconut milk, and mimicked the grains with cauliflower rice, but seriously, it all works as well as any Greek restaurant meal.

I also, after eating this dinner, went out to run a few hours later, in the 80 degree evening after sunset, and ran faster and stronger than I have in weeks, months? I’m not sure if it’s the three months of training finally catching up and working, or the past two weeks of really prioritizing nutrition and sleep, or maybe… the chicken!? Ha, probably not the chicken. But just maybe it is, indeed, magic.

This recipe seems elaborate, with multiple components and ingredients; however, it truly is a 30-minute meal (not a-la-Rachel Ray) and comes together easily. I’ll emphasize that I do multi-task like a pro in the kitchen, but I’d wager that anyone can whip this up easily on a weeknight. There’s a few hours of hands-off time to marinate the chicken, but that’s as labor unintensive as can be.

If you’re following whole 30, or just really into Greek food, please make this. And, if you’d rather, you could always replace the cauliflower with rice or cous cous, but you definitely don’t need to and should give this version a try.

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Greek Chicken Plate with Garlic Cauliflower Rice and Coconut Tzatziki

Serves 2-4

1-2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Greek Chicken Marinade

  • 1 1/2 small lemons (or 1 large), juiced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Freshly cracked black pepper

1 large head of cauliflower, finely chopped

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1 tsp oregano

3 tbsp olive oil, divided

1 yellow onion, sliced finely into half-moons

2-4 vine-ripened tomatoes, sliced

Salt and pepper, to taste

Coconut Tzatziki

  • 1/4 cup coconut cream, cooled (cooling after whisked and stored in a small container allows the cream to thicken to a consistency nearer a thin yogurt)
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 1/2 large cucumber, diced
  • 2 green onion sprigs, diced
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Start by mixing together all marinade ingredients in a large dish. Add the chicken, turning a few times to coat. Refrigerate the chicken in the marinade for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

When ready to eat, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat a cast iron skillet or oven-safe pan over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and brown for 4-5 minutes on one side, then flip. Cook on the reverse side for 1 minute, then move the pan to the oven and bake the chicken for 10-15 minutes (it will depend on the size of the breasts; I find 0.5 lb breasts to take 12 minutes, but you can check with a meat thermometer or cut into the chicken to verify its cooked through).

While cooking the chicken, split the head of cauliflower into quarters, then cut the leaves and stems from the head, cutting at an angle underside the cauliflower head. Break the quarters into florets then pulse in a food processor until the cauliflower is the consistency of small grains (I had to do this in 4 smaller batches). Mince the garlic and add to the cauliflower mixture. In a large, deep skillet, heat 2 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic-cauliflower mixture as well as oregano, salt, and pepper to taste. Cook for 2-3 minutes then lower the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook for an additional 5-8 minutes, until the cauliflower is softened somewhat.

While the cauliflower is cooking, mix together the coconut cream, lemon juice, cucumber, green onion, and spices in a small bowl and set aside.

Remove the chicken from the oven and allow to rest for 5-10 minutes.

Remove the cauliflower rice from the pan and plate. Add 1 tbsp olive oil to that pan and add the diced onion with a bit of salt and pepper. Sauté briefly, about 2-3 minutes, over medium-high heat, just until the onion is translucent.

Add the onion next to the plated cauliflower rice. Slice the tomatoes and align beside the onions. Slice the rested chicken and plate atop the rice and veggies. Spoon the coconut tzatziki over the chicken. Serve!

Take big bites with all ingredients on one forkful. Then slow down and savor each flavor. Enjoy!

Ginger Apple Kale Salad

It’s funny to me that one of my more recent recipes on this blog is for kale salad, and that I’m posting about it again today, because I’ve had it exactly one other time since December, and it kind of ruined it for me until… today, really. It might have had a bit to do with being somewhat hungover, and having an idiotic yet strong craving for a cold kale salad with lentils and lemon vinaigrette, which is quite possibly the most absurd “craving” and subsequent hungover meal I’ve had. About halfway through I succumbed to overwhelming nausea, pushed away my plate, and vowed that kale should be cooked, always. I both remember enjoying kale salads and being nauseated by them, so I waffled on whether this idea for a ginger-spiced kale salad, sort of autumnal in quality, would be a point for delicious or never-ever-again.

Thankfully, it turns out it was delicious! As I mentioned in my last post, I’m one week into whole 30, so this salad meets those restrictions. I probably owe a bit of justification for following this trendy plan for a month, and to do so I’ll say I’m much more interested in the psychological motivation of whole 30 than the dietary changes. I’ve never had issues with food in the past, but I do understand the willingness to try to change food behavior, and for that, I complete this experiment. If I do end up “feeling” differently on this diet, then, I suppose, I’ll have to decide what that means. For now, though, I’m doing what I can to still eat as much delicious food as possible. Even if it’s mostly veggies.

The biggest drawback to whole 30, to me, (besides no bread) is how meat-centric meals can become. As most of my meals are vegetarian, I sometimes just grow tired of eating meat. It’s just a little too much, occasionally. This salad follows a day of turkey bacon and taco salad, and I was more than ready for something lighter and crisp. And, if I’m getting points for appeasing people, this salad is actually raw, vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, grain-free, paleo, and whole 30 approved. Everyone can eat it! Except maybe some people on Coumadin… Ha.

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Ginger Apple Kale Salad

Serves 2 as a meal, 4 as a side

1 large bunch kale, sliced into ribbons

2 apples (I used Gala), diced

1/4 cup roasted pecans

Ginger Apple Vinaigrette

  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 2 tbsp. apple juice or cider
  • 1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 in. knob of ginger, peeled and finely grated
  • Dash of cinnamon
  • S&P, liberally

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together all vinaigrette ingredients. Add the kale and massage the dressing into the leaves, using your hands, for several minutes, until the kale has softened and is coated in dressing. Separate into bowls then top with diced apples and pecans. Enjoy!

The dressed kale keeps well in the fridge overnight, so feel free to make that part ahead and add the toppings when serving!

Dinner for Brian (Literally)

I’ve been in the fortunate circumstance of accommodating my absolute favorite ginger-haired brother for the summer. Outside of affording me the opportunity to actually perform what is the namesake of this blog (cooking dinner for that wonderful Brian, himself), the summer with my brother was a joyful, important experience that’s made me question further the subtitle above. Should I continue cooking from a Chicago (cough, gasp, Evanston) kitchen, or should I finally pursue that oft-wondered ideal of moving to the city from which I left, the state which houses this person himself? I think I have the answer in mind, (and I think many of whoever reads this knows, too), but I’ll segue unglamorously to a humble blog update instead.

I’ve certainly been cooking since last December, and I can’t pinpoint an exact reason why it so abruptly went undocumented. I have saved emails of food photos, recipes jotted in small notebooks, and words never-ending their stream throughout my head. Maybe I was frustrated by the bad lighting of winter. Or maybe I succumbed to that unenjoyable yet praised lifestyle of the “too busy.” It definitely felt like the latter, but what excuse is there to drop enjoyed hobbies? Anyways, I’m not sure how much of what went unwritten I’ll share now, but I do intend to pick up again this semi-daily and/or semi-weekly practice.

I do know that what I made this summer, most often dinners, but occasionally a breakfast or two, was delicious and very much enjoyed by my favorite recipe tester, Brian. He’s not overwhelmingly picky, so I can’t be sure that his endorsement qualifies these recipes as truly outstanding in any way, but now being able to definitively say these meals were raved about by not just myself but two people, I feel ever more confident in sharing. A lot of what I cooked was more meat-heavy than my standard fare, and I think I’m exhausting Trader Joe’s supply of boneless, skinless chicken thighs (seriously so good), but the novelty of new ingredients was more inspiring, really, and brought out a slew of untried but perfectly savory dinners. A few things worth noting and repeating: soft boiled eggs (forever, in everything), coconut-brothed curries, wilted greens, and mashed potatoes. Yes, mashed potatoes. Love them as they should be loved.

I’ll hopefully be back again soon with some of these recipes in print and picture. And to be transparent, I’m actually doing (omg) Whole 30 this month, for kicks really, so expect to see recipes which align with those dietary restrictions for a bit (but restrictions be damned; the food is good).

Goodbye to my brother and roommate, but hello, again, to the food which you inspire! (My dachshunds miss you).

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