The dog days of summer are upon us and if you’re like me, the last thing you want to do is spend time in the heat of the kitchen cooking dinner. Check out these super easy recipes for preparing chicken breasts. They can all be prepared ahead of time, allowing you to cook in the morning when it’s cooler. Or prepare several different ones and use the extras for future days. They can even be frozen for later use!


The boneless, skinless chicken breast is like a blank canvas in my eyes – not too heavily flavored on its own, adaptable to many cuisines, equally tasty hot or cold. The only problem is they can be tricky to get cooked just right. And because people worry about salmonella or other microbes, they are often overcooked, leaving them tough, dry and unpalatable.


There is an easy solution, and it is virtually foolproof. Simply purchase a digital probe thermometer, and you’ll never have to worry about undercooked or overcooked meat again. They are available at some grocery stores, kitchen stores and even Target and Wal-Mart.


The thermometer has a probe which you insert into the meat before you begin cooking. The probe is attached by a cord to the thermometer and it can be set to alert you when a certain temperature is reached. Most have a cheat sheet on the back with safe temperatures to cook various types of meats. You can also find information at Safe Food Temps.


Now a perfectly cooked chicken breast is as simple as placing the meat in an oven safe pan, inserting the probe and baking in a 350 oven until the meat reaches 165.


The versatile chicken breast

Here are six, supereasy ways to prepare your “perfect” chicken breast. And the best part is they can all be frozen for later. Just allow them to cool before packaging and freezing.


For each recipe, preheat oven to 350. Place chicken in an oven-safe pan and insert thermometer probe. Bake chicken until temperature reaches 165.


Cheddar chicken with warm black bean salsa

Ingredients:


4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts.


1/4 cup of grated cheddar cheese


1/2 teaspoon of dried basil


1 can of black beans


1 cup of prepared salsa


Directions:


Sprinkle cheddar cheese and basil over chicken breasts. Bake as above. Meanwhile, rinse black beans and mix with salsa. Serve with chicken.


Chicken with caramelized onions

Ingredients:


4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts


Salt and pepper to taste


1 sweet onion


1 tablespoon of canola oil


Directions:


Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper to taste. Bake as above. Meanwhile, slice onion and sauté in oil over medium heat until onions begin to brown, stirring frequently. Serve with chicken.


Pesto chicken

Ingredients:


4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts


1/2 cup of prepared pesto


1/4 cup of shredded Mozzarella cheese


Directions:


Spread pesto evenly over chicken. Bake as above. Immediately after removing chicken from the oven, sprinkle with Mozzarella cheese.


Chicken stuffed with feta

Ingredients:


4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts


1/2 cup of feta cheese, crumbled


1 teaspoon of dried oregano


Salt and pepper to taste


Directions:


Create a pocket in each chicken breast by slicing part way through the length of the piece. Stuff with feta. Sprinkle oregano, salt and pepper over breast. Bake as above.


Honey BBQ chicken

Ingredients:


4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts


1/2 cup of prepared barbecue sauce


1/4 cup of honey


Directions:


Combine BBQ sauce and honey in a small bowl. Pour half of sauce over chicken, being very careful not to cross contaminate the remaining sauce with the raw chicken. Bake chicken as above. Top with remaining sauce.


Baked chicken Parmesan

Ingredients:


4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts


1/2 cup of prepared marinara sauce


1/4 cup of shredded Mozzarella cheese


2 tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese


Directions:


Top chicken with marinara sauce and shredded Mozzarella. Bake as above. Immediately after removing from oven, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.


Karen Tempel, an aspiring chef since she could reach the countertops, has been delighting friends and family with tempting treats for most of her life. She is the owner of Everyday Gourmet, a custom caterer in the Aiken area. Visit her website at www.LetKarenCook.com or email her at Karen@LetKarenCook.com.


Chicken trivia


• A chicken can have 4 to 5 toes on each foot.


• A chicken can travel up to 9 miles per hour.


• A chicken takes 21 days to hatch.


• Alektrophobia is the fear of chickens.


• Americans consume 8 BILLION chickens a year!


• Chickens lay different colors of eggs: white, brown, green, pink and blue.


• Chickens were domesticated about 8000 years ago.


• If a rooster is not present in a flock of hens, a hen will often take the role, stop laying, and begin to crow.


• It takes a hen 24 to 26 hours to lay an egg.


• Laying hens average 245 eggs per year.


• The greatest number of yolks in one chicken egg is nine.


• The largest chicken egg ever recorded was nearly 12 oz., measuring 12¼ inches around.


• The longest recorded flight of a chicken is 13 seconds.


• The record for laying the most eggs in one day is seven.


Source: Jones Poultry