Food & Drink

Stir Crazy: Become a marinade mixologist this summer

While not exactly low-fat, Fiesta Chicken Enchiladas are a bit leaner.
While not exactly low-fat, Fiesta Chicken Enchiladas are a bit leaner.

The oven is now on summer vacation. It is enjoying a rest from about nine months of hard work, when dinner — basically the protein portion — was almost exclusively created using the broiler. It will get a good cleaning soon, too.

Yes, there are cakes, cobblers and possibly pies to make this time of year, but I think long and hard before I turn my kitchen into, well, an oven.

The gas grill gets the brunt of the hot work now, as it should. It’s been waiting its turn, covered up and hulking outside.

I’m constantly concocting rubs and marinades for grilling chicken, turkey or pork. I will tell you than I can never exactly repeat what I’ve done to liven up the flavor of meat, mostly because I make it up as I go along.

Liquid staples for marinade mix-ins in my kitchen include any fruit juice, barbecue sauce, low-sodium teriyaki and soy sauces, balsamic vinegar and Italian dressing. I use brown sugar sometimes, too.

Then I grab some spices. I admit I have a lot of them, many of them blends. (I try never to use salt because it often is already in the seasoning blends I buy.) I also have a number of low-sodium blends, too. When I go to the supermarket, I like to stop and see what new ones are available.

Spices are never cheap, but they make all the difference. If you need help figuring out what blends to buy, stop by the Crystal & Spice Shoppe in downtown Belleville. You can buy just a tiny bit of various spices to experiment with and purchase a variety of blends.

I grab a zippered plastic bag and start. I never know what I will mix, but I’ve yet to have a bad experience. Last night it was teriyaki sauce, a little OJ, a couple dashes of Thai seasoning blend and a smidge of hot pepper flakes. I squished the outside of the bag around to mix the flavors, then in went the boneless turkey breast. A little more squishing around, zip it up and stick it in the fridge for grill time.

Remember, anything acidic in your marinade (basically the juice or vinegar) breaks down the muscle in the protein, which helps makes it tender. That’s what you want from a marinade, as well as adding great flavor. But, seafood and fish should be marinaded only a short time; that acidic liquid will turn it to mush if left too long.

It’s not a bad idea to have a good recipe for a dry rub, too, because while it can be used alone, it also can be added to the creation of a marinade. This recipe from the New York Times is a great rub that will work on any kind of meat or poultry.

All-Purpose Dry Rub

1/2 cup paprika, or 1/3 cup smoked paprika

1/4 cup kosher salt

1/4 cup freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup chili powder

3 tablespoons ground cumin

2 tablespoons ground coriander

1 tablespoon cayenne pepper, or to taste

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well with a fork to break up the sugar and combine the spices. Mixture will keep in an airtight container, out of the light, for a few months. Yield: 2 3/4 cups.

A LIMITED MAKEOVER: You have to carefully consider the “makeover” of this recipe for enchilada casserole from Kraft. Yes, it is reduced from 560 to 450 calories and from 26 grams of fat to 15, but the dish is still one in which you have to remember not to take seconds! Adding sour cream or guacamole won’t help the bottom line either.

Fiesta Chicken Enchiladas

Made Over

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces

1 each large green and red pepper, chopped

1 tablespoon chili powder

3/4 cup salsa, divided

2 ounces Neufchatel cream cheese, cubed

3/4 cup Mexican-Style 2-Percent Milk Finely Shredded Four Cheese, divided

8 whole-wheat (6-inch) tortillas

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 13-by-9-inch baking dish with cooking spray.

Cook chicken, peppers and chili powder in large skillet sprayed with cooking spray on medium heat 8 minutes, or until chicken is done, stirring frequently. Stir in 1/4 cup salsa and cream cheese; cook and stir 3 to 5 minutes, or until cheese is melted and mixture is well blended. Stir in 1/4 cup shredded cheese.

Spoon heaping 1/3 cup mixture down center of each tortilla; roll up. Place, seam sides down, in baking dish; top with remaining salsa and shredded cheese. Cover. Bake 20 minutes, or until heated through.

Serves 4, each with 450 calories, 15 grams fat, 90 mg cholesterol, 930 mg sodium, 37 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 4 grams sugar, 39 grams protein. Carb choices: 2 1/2. Diet exchange: 2 starch, 1 vegetable, 4 lean meat, 2 fat.

Contact me at, 618-239-2664 or follow me on Twitter @BoyleSuzanne. Write to P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427.