Kitchen Captivated

One of our favorite family traditions is “family date-night” at home for Valentine’s Day.

I can’t quite remember when or how many years ago exactly we’ve been doing this, but since the kids were little, we cozy up on Valentine’s Day for a special night together. Typically it’s dinner and dessert and maybe a movie or a couple of rounds of a game, depending on where the holiday falls in the week.

A few years back we had breakfast for dinner which the kids loved. I met Aaron working in a commercial kitchen at a summer camp where he was unofficially the resident pancake flipper for the summer, so pancakes for breakfast seemed fitting for Valentine’s Day and our three little toddlers couldn’t believe their luck getting to eat syrup, sprinkles and whipped cream for dinner.

Last year we had homemade pizza and brownies and I know there’ve been steaks and mashed potatoes and more than one pasta dish over the years.

This year I was a bit stumped on what to make. We could certainly fall back on an old favorite, but as I was running through ideas with the family, nothing seemed to spark much interest. Finally my oldest said wings sounded good and another kid offered quesadillas and at that point I decided to regroup on the conversation for another day.

Except their requests rumbled around in my brain for a bit and when I went to pick up my McIlrath produce box, there was the most beautiful and giant head of lettuce along with carrots, green onions and cucumbers. I decided to throw together some of my family’s favorite flavors into my favorite thing: a salad.

A recipe idea was born and a little searching on the internet gave me some great tips to run with.

The crispy chicken thighs were tender and delicious. My kids absolutely devoured them, so much so, I had to shoo them out of the kitchen so I would have enough for dinner.

I intentionally left the buffalo sauce as a drizzle so each family member could decide how spicy they wanted their chicken. But if you have a family of spice-lovers, pour the sauce over the cooked chicken before slicing it for your salad.

The pickled vegetables might seem like a bit of an unnecessary extra step but the tangy briny vegetables work so well with the spicy chicken and creamy ranch dressing.

And yes, use bottled ranch dressing. Personally, we like the Lighthouse brand, but use whatever you have or prefer. You don’t need much with all the other flavors in the salad, it seemed over the top to make homemade ranch, although if you have a favorite recipe, use it.

Buffalo chicken, cool tangy veggies and a big crunchy salad make for a special over-the-top dinner even the too-cool tweens gobble up and the adults can savor. I call it a Valentine’s Day win.

For the chicken:

2 pounds boneless

skinless chicken thighs

2 cups panko bread crumbs

1 packet dry ranch seasoning

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3 eggs

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

3/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 cup Frank’s hot sauce

1/4 cup melted butter

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

For the Quick-Pickled Vegetables:

2 carrots

2 stalks celery

1 English cucumber

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Pinch black pepper

Water

For the Salad:

2 heads romaine lettuce

1/3 cup crumbled blue cheese

2 green onions

Quick-pickled vegetables

Bottled ranch dressing

Start by preparing the pickled vegetables. Rinse the carrots, celery and cucumber and peel the carrots. Dice vegetables into bite-size pieces. In a large glass jar or shallow bowl with a lid, combine apple cider vinegar, sugar and salt. Add the vegetables to the jar and gently stir to combine. Fill the rest of the jar or bowl with water and add a pinch of black pepper. Secure with lid and leave out on counter for up to two hours or refrigerate for up to a week.

Remove chicken thighs from packaging and pat dry with a paper towel. Lightly salt and pepper both sides of the meat. In a shallow bowl whisk the three eggs until smooth and creamy. In a separate bowl combine the panko bread crumbs, ranch seasoning packet, all purpose flour and the remaining salt and pepper. Use a fork to mix.

Dip chicken thighs in egg, flipping over at least once to make sure the meat is well-coated. Move to the bread crumbs and dredge the chicken in the crumb mixture, flipping and rotating the meat so the bread crumbs evenly coat both sides. Set aside on a clean plate and continue until all the chicken is prepped.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat with 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil. Sear the chicken thighs, taking care not to crowd the pan, working in batches of two or three thighs at a time depending on the size of your pan. Cook on one side for about 2 minutes before flipping and cooking an additional two minutes on the other side. Transfer chicken to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes or until a meat thermometer reads an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

While the chicken bakes, melt the butter in the microwave. Combine the melted butter with the Frank’s hot sauce, garlic and onion powder. Stir to combine until smooth.

To make your salad, wash and chop romaine lettuce. Place in a large bowl with about a cup of the quick pickled vegetables. Save any extras for another time in the refrigerator. Mince the green onions and sprinkle over the greens. Add the crumbled blue cheese and ranch dressing. Mix to combine.

Slice chicken thighs into strips. Layer strips over the salad and drizzle liberally with the buffalo sauce. Serve immediately.