Healthy Burrito Bowls with Amazing Spiced Chicken

Healthy Burrito Bowls with Amazing Spiced Chicken

So, as mentioned in yesterday’s review of tilapia tacos with pineapple salsa, if I’m making one Mexican recipe in a week, I usually like to make at least one more so I can use up all the toppings before they go bad (cilantro, sour cream, etc.). These burrito bowls seemed like a good followup; pretty simple, a little bit on the healthier side with no tortillas or cheese, and I could use the remaining pineapple salsa from the taco recipe.

To be honest, I didn’t have super high expectations at the start; I mean, it seemed tasty enough, but I was mostly looking for an easy way to use up leftovers. But! The marinade for this chicken is absolutely bonkers delicious. I’m a sucker for smoked paprika; I love the savory, complex, hint-of-barbecue flavor it lends to everything it touches. This marinade had a pretty large amount of it, and it worked perfectly. Garlic, onion powder, smoked paprika, and chili powder is a pretty foolproof combo, actually.

I marinated my chicken for the full eight hours, so it had plenty of time to soak up the flavor. (I also ended up having to cook the chicken almost twice as long as she suggested, because my pieces were super thick.) Just this week, I finally bought a meat thermometer; considering that my husband is basically a carnivore, I’m not sure how we didn’t have one until now. So far I’ve mostly used it to monitor oil for deep frying, but it’s already changed my life. In the same Amazon order, I got both the meat thermometer and a kitchen scale, and I’m so relieved that I never have to rely on my intuition again. (Wait a minute, you say – you seem like at least a semi-serious cook, how is it that you didn’t have a scale *or* a thermometer?) The official answer is that last year, we were trying to get ready for an international move, so we were pretty intentional about not acquiring anything we didn’t urgently need. We had already filled every inch of space in our tiny condo kitchen, and didn’t want to shove anything else in there if it could reasonably wait until we got into our new house. In retrospect, a thermometer and a kitchen scale take up almost no room, and if I’d realized how much I would enjoy using them, I would have made the space and gotten them much sooner. But, the past is past, and I expect I’ll make up for lost time by obsessively measuring all the things every day from now on. 🙂

In any case, the meat thermometer would have been really handy to have for this recipe; as the outer coating on the chicken grew increasingly charred, I was paranoid that I was going to end up with a dry, inedible mess. But it turned out fine, luckily. I kicked myself later for totally forgetting to put the beans on; I must have been frazzled from worrying about the chicken. But it was tasty anyway; just a simple combination of rice, chicken, salsa, and avocado, topped with sour cream, cilantro, and lime. (And diced red cabbage, which I did not remember in time for the photo but did add later.) I can definitely see myself throwing this together in the future any time I have Mexican toppings that need to be used up, and it’s very easy to configure based on what you like and have on hand.

Deliciousness score: 8
Easiness score: 7

3.2 rating.png

The Best General Tso’s Chicken

The Best General Tso’s Chicken

This is probably the most complicated recipe I’ve posted about to date. It’s the first recipe I’ve tried by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt; he’s a big name in the culinary world, and after making this recipe I understand why. For someone like me, who is made happy by precise measurements, detailed explanations, and reproducible results, this is cooking at its most enjoyable.

He goes into detail about not only what to do, but also why it works. General Tso’s Chicken isn’t a super common recipe to try at home, but his is in fact very true to the take-out version we all know and love.

His primary challenge was finding a breading method for the chicken that would hold its crispy texture under the sauce. He drew from fried food techniques around the world and tested a wide variety of strategies before finding the key: he incorporates vodka into the marinade, which through some magical chemistry makes the batter crispier and more sog-resistant. Vodka, which is more volatile than water, evaporates more quickly than water would, which apparently helps the batter crisp up when frying; it also limits gluten development, which prevents the fried dough from getting leathery.

So, he’s taken care of all the experimentation, and all you have to do is follow the steps to get great results. Caveat: there are a lot of steps. It does feel a bit like a lab experiment, with many small dishes of precisely-measured ingredients waiting their turns. For me, this is fantastic; there’s no pinch-of-this, just-eyeball-that, oh-the-secret-ingredient-is-love bullshit. (This is not a criticism of people who have the gift of eyeballing! Most of my friends who cook do it this way, with great results.) But the whole reason I got so obsessed with cooking in the first place is that I suck at it. When I started getting more serious about cooking for myself a few years ago, I did not have a lot of kitchen experience; I basically had no frame of reference for any but the simplest tasks. I could boil water and flip pancakes; everything else was a mystery. So recipes that instructed me to knead or stir or simmer until the dough or sauce “looks right” were the bane of my existence. How was I supposed to know what “right” looked like?

Now that I have more experience under my belt, I can usually make educated guesses when I run into instructions like that. But having someone like J. Kenji Lopez-Alt spell out each step in precise terms is much more relaxing for me. There’s no guesswork involved in any of the amounts, times, or temperatures, and each step does exactly what it claims to do. The most magical moment comes when cooking the sauce. All of the aromatics (garlic, scallion, chilis) are heated in an oiled skillet from cold, giving the flavors time to develop and blend. Then the sauce liquid is added. The instructions say, “Cook, stirring, until sauce boils and thickens, about one minute.” For 59 seconds, it doesn’t seem like much is happening. Then, all at once, the reaction happens; a low burbling is heard, first slow, then faster, and all at once the thin sauce thickens into a dark, sticky, Swamp-Thing-esque blob. I realize Swamp Thing isn’t usually considered an appetizing metaphor, but in this case it’s a good thing; you end up with a dark, sticky, perfectly takeout-worthy sauce, exactly the right consistency for coating the crispy chicken bits.

Maybe most people who deep fry already do this, but I highly recommend using a thermometer to monitor the oil temperature. I used my new meat thermometer to keep it around 350 degrees F, and the chicken crisped up nicely in exactly four minutes, as written.

I’d never been a huge fan of General Tso’s chicken at take-out places; it was both too spicy and too sweet. But this recipe knocks it out of the park. It’s the perfect balance of sweet, spicy, and savory, and the crispy texture is impeccable. On a night when you have the time and energy to spare and feel up to a challenge, I highly recommend giving this a try. It is definitely worth the effort.

Deliciousness score: 10
Easiness score: 5

6.4 rating

Crispy Coconut Chicken with Spicy Honey Orange Sauce

Crispy Coconut Chicken with Spicy Honey Orange Sauce

This crispy coconut chicken is a big favorite of ours in the summer (although it’s actually not the ideal summer recipe, since it does involve turning on the oven). Even so, I often decide to just make it anyway and sweat it out, because it’s totally worth it. The coconut flakes and bright orange taste pair brilliantly for a tropical twist on fried chicken. And it is theoretically a little healthier, since it’s baked and not deep fried (although it’s pan-fried in coconut oil for a couple minutes before going into the oven, so, I don’t necessarily file this in the health food category personally).


This recipe does take a bit of prep with multiple steps: breading, pan-frying, and then the final bake in the oven. If you can get pre-cut chicken tenders, it speeds things up a little bit. The marmalade-honey-mustard sauce is quick to whip up while the chicken is in the oven.

This probably isn’t a modification most people would want to make anyway, but if you’re considering swapping out the sweetened coconut flakes for unsweetened, I recommend against it. We often experiment with cutting sugar out of recipes around here, because my fiancé quit eating processed sugar a year ago. Sally’s blog has been a great source of lightly-sweet baked goods (muffins, breakfast cookies, etc.), but in this case unsweetened coconut is a bridge too far. The sweeter coconut is needed to carry the tropical flavor; without it, it just turns out a little blah. It also doesn’t brown or crisp up as well, as Sally mentions. This batch was the first time I’ve tried the unsweetened coconut, and I can definitely see a difference in both color and texture.

As advertised, it’s a unique & tasty recipe that takes advantage of a lot of ingredients you might have on hand in your pantry. Definitely worth a try.


Deliciousness score: 7/10
Easiness score: 6/10

5.1 rating

Grilled Lemon Herb Mediterranean Chicken Salad

Grilled Lemon Herb Mediterranean Chicken Salad

This recipe is one of my standbys when I need to round out a menu plan with something healthy. It’s super straightforward; just chop up a bunch of healthy things and throw them in a bowl. The dressing is a combination of staples I usually have on hand (olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, herbs), and I like that it doubles as a marinade. Although, this time I completely forgot about marinating the chicken until it was dinner time; I just cooked the chicken plain, and it still tasted fine.

This is a pretty versatile recipe; I like the selection of veggies as written, with kalamata olives and feta cheese for a Mediterranean-leaning flavor, but you could substitute any veggies you have on hand. Do note that this makes a *big* salad. Between the substantial chicken & avocado and the sheer volume of veggies, you will definitely feel full. Another recipe with a lot of ingredient overlap that is good to make in the same week is the Chopped Greek Salad from Dinner at the Zoo:

Basically a very similar preparation; just add bell peppers and chickpeas, and leave out the chicken and avocado. I’d venture to say that you could pick one dressing or the other and use it in both dishes, too. I have made both of these in the same week in the past, but since my fiancé isn’t crazy about salads, this leaves me with a ludicrous amount of salad to get through in a short time. Which is fine when I’m in the mood for it, but it generally has to be really hot outside and I have to be feeling really excited about vegetables. Later in the summer, when my garden gets going and I start having more tomatoes and cucumbers than I know what to do with, I’ll be revisiting both of these recipes for sure.


Note: to avoid getting two types of lettuce (or lettuce-like leafy stuff) in one week and having half of it go bad, I made this salad with spinach, rather than romaine as written. The rest of the spinach will be used in mini ham and cheese pies, as well as the Irish spinach & artichoke grilled cheese sandwich later this week.