Chicken, Apples, Cinnamon, Honey, Sweet Potatoes, Kale, Garlic, Sea Salt

Okay, no, I did not make something that included all of those ingredients. That's a rather disconcerting thought, really. But I did make 2 somethings using those ingredients! I baked some chicken with apples, using a cinnamon-honey-apple juice marinade, and then I cooked up a hearty sweet potato & kale soup with a bit of garlic and sea salt.

Dinner has never been so good.
[Yeah, I know every time I post I say that the recipes I'm writing about are the best ever - well, it's not that they keep getting better necessarily, but more like I still get overly exciting by food that tastes like something after all of those months with the blandest food ever.]

So why these two things tonight?

Well, in the case of the chicken, my goal over the last week and this week was to learn how to bake whole chicken breasts without drying them out. And I have all of these canned apple slices in cinnamon-spiced water from last fall when I joined my cousin and her friends for a canning party featuring apple-y things. (We also made apple butter and apple sauce, yum!) So I figured I'd see if I could combine the two (chicken breasts go with apples, right?). This is my favorite part (well, second to actually eating the final product...): I googled "chicken apple slices bake" - figuring I'd hit a few recipes and I could pull from them and try out my chicken and apple experiment. Instead, I found this recipe, and the only tweaking necessary was leaving out mesquite spice. Score! Oh, the power of google...

My other goal for this week was to learn how to cook kale. Didn't matter how, I just really wanted to know A) what it tastes like, and B) how to make it look and taste edible. Random goal, you say? Not really - lately I've been reading a lot about kale being really good for you and being chock full of vitamins. And hey, I'm always down with something that will pump me full of vitamins from a natural source! Here's my favorite part about this soup: it's thick enough to be considered "hearty" (in that it doesn't have transparent broth), but still light enough so that it fills without making me feel stuffed. Big bonus points for that one!

And thus, we have a dinner of chicken & apples and sweet potato & kale soup. The last comment I have before I leave you with 2 delicious recipes:

Sea salt. I've always heard it's 1,000 times better than regular salt. Today I can honestly and whole-heartedly agree. Wow, what a difference!

Baked Chicken with Apples

This recipe comes from the Twin Cities Dining Guide online (yeah, funny coincidence that the perfect recipe for what I'd envisioned also comes from MN!). Check it out here - complete with link to make the mesquite seasoning I left out of my version.

1/4 tsp cinnamon
2 cups apple juice [go with the good foggy stuff, none of that transparent juice!]
1/4 cup honey [I used pure MN honey from our property neighbor in Southern MN - you will likely not have access to this stuff, but I do suggest pure honey over processed honey - tastes so much better]
2-3 chicken breasts, cut in half width-wise
~2 medium apples, peeled, sliced and soaked in cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves until saturated [these were the canned slices I mentioned above]
spray cooking oil

Preheat oven to 375.
1. Mix together apple juice, honey, and cinnamon until honey has dissolved completely in apple juice (this is not heated).
2. Place chicken breast halves in mixture and marinade for about 1-1.5 hours. Turn at least once during that time period.
3. Once chicken has marinated, place in glass baking dish that has been lightly sprayed with cooking oil. Spread apple slices atop the chicken pieces. [One thing I learned: I had too much liquid in the baking dish because I poured the excess water from my canned apple slices into the dish. Yeah, not a good idea. Minimal liquid - the chicken has enough having been soaked for over an hour!]
4. Bake for 45 minutes, and check. If the temperature of the chicken is at or above 165 deg F, it's done. If not, back in the oven for another 10-15. The original recipe calls for baking for about an hour, but that was just a tad bit to much for me. Also, the top-most apples should have a little bit of a singed look, so if they still look mushy, I'd put it back in for a little longer.
5. When chicken has 15 minutes left to bake, pour marinade into a saucepan over medium heat and reduce until it's about half the volume of what it originally was. Use this as a sauce to top the chicken and apples when ready to serve.

One note: even though I thoroughly enjoyed this dish, I felt like there was a little something missing. This could be a function of not including that mesquite seasoning from the original recipe, so I'll be tinkering with this recipe in the future to try and find something to round out the taste.

Another note: the sauce/marinade strikes me as a great combination that has potential for uses in many other places. This sauce could certainly turn up again in a future post...

Sweet Potato & Kale Soup

This is my new favorite soup - it even wins over butternut squash soup, and that's really saying something! Find the original recipe here. I didn't stray from it too much, actually. I omitted a couple of things, but otherwise it's pretty close.

1 quart chicken broth (can be veggie broth if you're vegetarian)
3 cups water
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 pound sweet potatoes or yams, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/4 tsp garlic granules
1 large bunch kale, washed and chopped into 1-inch pieces
sea salt to taste

1. In a soup pot, over high heat, bring chicken stock, water, garlic granules, and sweet potato cubes to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to low heat and simmer for about 15-20 minutes, until sweet potatoes are "fork tender" (recipe's phrase - i.e. easily pierced with a fork).
2. Using a potato masher or a whisk, mash about half of the sweet potatoes. The more you mash, the thicker the texture of the soup. [Note: I have no idea how to figure out if I've gotten only half mashed and left the others whole. I used a whisk and just mashed and whisked the heck out of the broth until it was as thick as I wanted it.]
3. Add the kale and push down into hot soup until covered with liquid. Once all of the kale has wilted (meaning all of it has been thoroughly covered with liquid), simmer over low heat for about 15-20 minutes until kale is tender and tasty. The note from the recipe states that undercooked kale can have a bitter flavor - and after 15 minutes, I tasted my kale and it was a little bitter, so it's a good thing to remember.
4. Season with sea salt - not too much though or you'll out-salt the natural flavors of the sweet potatoes and kale!

Serve warm with a piece of fresh baked bread. Oh so good!

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