Zesty Italian Grilled Chicken Thighs

My mother was a very inventive and resourceful cook.  With 7+ kids and usually a few dinner guests to boot, she had to be pretty ingenious and creative.  She too, loved a good cookout and last night, I made one of her more "regular" recipes.   She would buy Zesty Italian Dressing by the caseful.  Not cause she loved Italian dressing, in fact, I cant even remember having a salad ever in our house with Italian Dressing.  No, this was her marinade.   Now remember, this was back a few years ago....before any of the dressing companies

got clever with their marketing their product as anything but what it was!  She would buy a family pack of chicken thighs, then throw them into several Ziploc bags (or before she used those, she would put the thighs into a large baking pan and pour the dressing over) and marinate for most the day.   There was nothing else you would need to do to it.  Nothing.

So in tribute to Arlene and summer grilling - Here is the very simple, very affordable and incredibly scrumptious recipe.

Arlene's Italian Grilled Chicken Thighs

1 bottle of Zesty Italian Dressing (I have tried several brands and I still come back to Kraft)
1 pckg of 8 Chicken thighs (can be in the bone or skinless-boneless if you like - just remember to reduce the cooking time and spray your grill well with Pam Grilling Spray.

Place the chicken thighs into a large gallon-size Ziploc bag.  Pour the entire contents of the dressing into the bag.  Seal, removing much of the air out of the bag.  Then roll the thighs around in the dressing, until well coated.  Place in the fridge and marinate overnight or all day, turning the bag occasionally to distribute the dressing.  

Fire up your grill.  Spray it liberally with Pam Grill Cooking spray.  Place the thighs on the rack, skin side down, and grill approximately 7 minutes per side, depending on the thickness of the thighs.  Watch them carefully, since the dressing contains oil and will have a tendency to burn a bit.  I don't mind a nice char on mine, but that is all personal preference.


As part of our dinner, we also had Grilled Zucchini and Carrots.  Here is the recipe for those tasty sides as well:

4 Zucchini - washed, ends trimmed and cut length-wise into quarters
8 large carrots - washed, peeled, ends trimmed and cut length-wide into quarters.
Olive oil, for drizzling
Salt and pepper to taste
Italian Seasoning

Place the prepared zucchini and carrots onto a baking sheet, lined with aluminum foil.  Drizzle the vegetables with olive oil, coating generously.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper and italian seasoning. 

Place on the grill rack, ABOVE the main rack.  Too close to the flame and you will char these puppies!  Let cook at the same time as the chicken. By the time the chicken is done, so will your veggies!




Burgers and Grilled Asparagus

Summer, grilling and all that is fine.   I think we spend 80% of our time cooking on the grill in the summer, for several reasons.  First, its just so nice to grill and its so easy and after a long day at work, with the kids, etc., etc., all you want to do is easy.  Makes for a great cleanup too, no pots or pans.  But the main reason I have been grilling more this year, than every before is I have no GAS STOVE!  Yes, I live in a part of a community that has NO GAS LINE - well it does, but they wanted 10k to bring the gas line to my house.  I said no.  It was a sad day.  So, I/we jumped at the chance to have a pretty decent gas grill this year and I promised myself that within 3 years, I would have an AWESOME gas grill.  Cheaper than bringing the gas line to the house, but satisfies the need to cook over a flame!  Zippideedodah!

Today's recipes - Grilled burgers, a tad different than you are used to, but oh so good.  Everybody will love helping out to make their own, as well.   And since we are trying to eat fewer carbs, grilled asparagus. 

Cheese Stuffed Burgers

2 pounds of ground beef (the leaner the better - your burgers wont shrink and what you loose in fat of the beef, you gain in the bacon wrapped around the burger)

1 lb of hickory smoked bacon (I use a double smoked and thicker slab of bacon.  Peppered thick sliced bacon also works well for this)

2-3 cups shredded cheese - your favorite kind (if you want spicy, try a pepper-jack, or smoky - try a smoked cheddar.  Just

Divide the beef into 6 equal portions.  Shape into a ball and then flatten out onto a hard surface. Sprinkle each patty with salt, pepper and garlic powder.  Fill the center of the flattened patty.  You can also add sauted mushrooms, onions, jalapenos, as well.  Fold the patty over and around the center mixture, creating a ball.  Make sure all the ingredients in the center are amply covered with the ground beef.  Once you have a nice tight ball, carefully shape into a thick hamburger patty.  Season the patty again with salt and pepper and wrap in single layer, covering the entire surface of the patty.  

Fire your grill up to a nice medium flame.  Place the burgers on the grill and take care not to let the bacon burn on the outside of the burger.   When nice and crip, flip over to the other side and do the same.  It should take about 5--7 minutes per side.  Toward the end of the grill time, I close the lid for a few minutes.  It helps to hold the heat in to cook the burgers through.  I like my burgers medium to medium rare, so adjust your cooking time accordingly.


Grilled Asparagus

1 bunch of thick-stemmed asparagus
1/2 lb of smoky bacon (or peppered bacon is good too)
Olive oil
Salt and Pepper to taste

Wash and trim the asparagus.  Damp excess water off with a paper towel.  Late out flat on a cutting board or sheet pan.  Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper.  (I sometimes use crushed red pepper, for a bit of a kick).  Take 4-5 stalks and wrap together with a peice of bacon, making sure to cover as much area of the asparagus as possible.  Continue until all asparagus are bunched and wrapped. 

Place on the top rack of the grill, while your burgers are cooking.  Turn the bunches as needed, so that all sides of the bacon and asparagus are evenly cooked.   It should take the same amount of time to cook the bacon as it does to grill the burgers. 




Sweet and Spicy Cucumber Salad

My mother, for many years, took in ESL students from all over the world.  They would come to the US from the respective countries and stay about 6 months or so, attending an English Second Language school in my home town.  They would be housed with English-speaking families, so that they could be immersed in the language with the ultimate goal of passing their TOEFL exam.  They would either then return to their home country or go on to school in the US.   While the students were in our home (most of the students, by the way, were male), my mother would require them to cook at least one meal for the family and a dish that was native to their home.  She usually asked for them to make the favorite meal that their mother’s would cook for them.  One year, we had a student from Thailand.  He was quite the character and worked for a local Thai restaurant.  We became fast friends.  He was a great cook and many evening would bring home food from the restaurant.  We would sit up for several hours talking and I would get to eat this food from a country that I had never been too, let alone dared to try the cuisine.  This friendship and experience resulted in a passion for Thai (and subsequently Indian) food and flavors.  One of my most favorite salads turned out to be one of the simplest recipes I have ever made.  So here is my version of a tangy Thai – inspired cucumber salad recipe.   Its perfect for hot summer days!!
Sweet and Spicy Thai Cucumber Salad

Sweet and Spicy Cucumber Salad
2 japanese-style cucumbers, peeled and chopped.
½ c rice wine vinegar
½ c red wine vinegar
6 T sugar
½-1/2 t red pepper flakes
½ medium red onion, chopped. 
Chop cucumber and place into a medium sized mixing bowl.  Add chopped red onion and a dash or two of salt.  Mix.  Place into the fridge to keep cold. 
Whisk together the vinegars and sugar.   A few T of canola oil can be added to slightly emulcify, but I don’t do this, as I prefer a “cleaner” dressing.   Add the red pepper flakes and whisk thoroughly.  

Pour the dressing over the cucumber-onion mixture.  Mix completely.  Place back into the fridge for about 30 minutes until well chilled. 
TIP:  Some individuals are known to add ½ c water to the vinegar and sugar mix, then cook on the stove until reduced to about 1/3 cup, then cool completely.  I have tried this and while it intensifies the flavors, it does add “time” to the process.  I have found that making the dressing without cooking results in a brighter flavor, but this is all personal preference – so play with it yourself and see what you can come up with!


Sweet and Spicy Thai Cucumber Salad - PRINTABLE RECIPE