No. 97 & 98: Grilled Chicken Pepitos & Parmesan Cauliflower Tater Tots

Spring is in the air. It's warming up. The rain has left us with bright green hills. The evenings are getting longer and longer.

As part of a healthy spring, Mr. McCormick and I are enacting an alcohol-free April. It's not really a Lenten season promise, more of an act of mindfulness about treating our bodies well.

It's easy for the most part, but it has also made me very aware of how much we have a 'glass of wine' here or 'little nip' there. I didn't realize until now how much of our socializing includes an after work cocktail or a drink with friends.

As I prepped our Saturday night menu for an evening in with Final Four basketball, it was a little sad to not to open a bottle of wine. But with all the layers of flavor in these recipes, no drinks necessary! A can of Fresca did the trick.

Grilled Chicken Pepitos

Pepitos are a Latin sandwich that traditionally have grilled meat as the filling. They come in all sorts of styles, but I liked this healthier lean from Food Network's Marcela Valladolid.

Ingredients

Serves 4
2 pounds thinly cut chicken breast
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon crumbled dried oregano
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice, or the juice of 3 oranges
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon chopped chipotle in adobo sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
4 bolillo rolls
Avocado slices, for serving
Shredded iceberg lettuce, for serving
Olive oil, for serving
Red wine vinegar, for serving

To make

Place the chicken in a 13-by-9-inch glass dish. Heavily sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Toss the chicken with the thyme and oregano, making sure everything is evenly incorporated. Pour the orange juice all over the chicken. Let it marinate for 10-30 minutes.

Heat the vegetable oil on a heavy grill pan over high heat. When the pan is hot, add the chicken. Cook about 5 minutes on one side and flip over, using tongs. Cook on the other side until perfectly browned and the chicken is cooked through, another 5 minutes.

Chicken

Remove the chicken from the heat and reserve, covered.

In a medium mixing bowl, mix the mayonnaise, chipotle and garlic until all ingredients are evenly incorporated. Season with salt. Reserve in the fridge until ready to serve.

Slightly toast the bolillo roll on the grill pan on medium-high heat, about 1 minute per side. Spread 1 tablespoon of the mayonnaise mixture on the inside of a bolillo roll. Place a chicken breast on the inside of the roll. Add the avocado slices and top with lettuce.

Assembly

Drizzle with a little bit of red wine vinegar. Close the sandwich and serve immediately.

Parmesan Cauliflower Tots

After my success with cauliflower as "rice" this week, I wanted to play with it some more. Enter this tot recipe from Eating Well.

Ingredients

1 medium head cauliflower, trimmed and broken into small florets
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large egg whites, whisked until frothy
3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
Cooking spray

To make

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add cauliflower and boil until tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain in a colander, shaking to remove excess water.

Return the cauliflower to the pot and dry over medium-low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Using a potato masher, mash the cauliflower until it resembles clumpy rice. Transfer to a large bowl to cool, stirring occasionally.

Rice

Stir flour and cheese into the cooled cauliflower. Season with pepper and salt. Stir in egg whites. Line an 8-inch-square baking dish with plastic wrap, allowing the wrap to hang over the edges. Spread the cauliflower mixture into the pan, compacting it into an even layer. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the freezer until very cold, 1 to 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray.

Spread breadcrumbs on a plate. Gently turn the cauliflower mixture out onto a cutting board, removing the plastic wrap.

Block

(Looking at this block I was pretty dubious about how these tots were going to turn out.)

Cut it into 36 evenly sized pieces. Roll the pieces in the breadcrumbs. Press hard to coat all sides. Place on the baking sheet, about 1 inch apart.

On sheet

Coat the tots with cooking spray. Bake, turning once halfway through, until browned, about 40 minutes.

Make Ahead Tip: Prepare tots with breadcrumbs and freeze in a single layer in an airtight container for up to 3 months. Bake as directed above.

The results

We'll start with the pepitos, a great layering of flavors. The marinade is out of the box from what we normally do for chicken, and the combination of oregano and orange juice was terrific.

However, the standout additions were the adobo remoulade and red wine vinegar finish. They elevated these from basic grilled chicken with avocado to true Latin pepito awesomeness.

I'd definitely make these again for an easy, casual entertaining recipe. You could put out all the elements and let everyone assemble their own.

Sandwich

The tots were good, though I'll admit was pretty wary of them in the 'frozen block' stage. You also have to really press the breadcrumbs into the pieces to get them to adhere. In the oven, they crisped up nicely and the consistency was very close to real tater tots.

I won't claim the tots were 'blow your socks off these are just like the real thing' good, but a nice little healthy version of a potato side. And let's be honest, if you dip something in ketchup it easily passes for the real thing. They are also a little time intensive, so the make ahead factor is key for a busy weeknight serving.

Overall, a great dinner for a night in!

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