When I was 12 I started playing travel softball. This activity had my family traveling all up and down the east coast for tournaments beginning in May and ending in August. Many of our tournaments brought us to Maryland and points further south. It was on these trips that I first discovered and fell in love with Cracker Barrel. To say it was my favorite restaurant was an understatement. At that point in time CBs were only south of the Mason-Dixon line. Thank goodness they finally made their way north!! I was seriously obsessed… I kept a map of the CB locations with me in the car and made sure we planned at least one meal break to be enjoyed at CB. I think my happiest day was when there was a CB in the same parking lot as our hotel! That trip we ate there for breakfast and dinner the nights we stayed over! Anyway… probably a little weird now that I had such an obsession with a restaurant, but the greatest part for me was that I could get breakfast 24/7. Other than some diners around where I grew up, breakfast was a 6am-10am kind of thing. And I love breakfast foods. I could honestly enjoy breakfast foods for all 3 meals a day. But I did love everything on their menu, which is probably why I liked it there so much. Great salads, hash brown casserole… and GRILLED CHICKEN TENDERLOINS!
Around the holidays I was really having a hankering for my favorite dinner dish from CB. But our location is down at “the outlets,” which is a mob-scene most times of year from our nearby neighbors in New Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware as well as fellow Pennsylvanians. I personally don’t find the appeal of the outlets (except the Coach outlet), but there was no way I was even attempting a trip East on rt. 30 during the month of December. Holiday shopping coupled with the fact that a Chick-fil-A finally opened in Lancaster sealed the deal- there was no way a trip to CB was in my near future! Anyway… imagine my delight when I came across a pin on Pinterest claiming that these chicken tenderloins tasted just like CBs. And OMG… they were!!!! It was honestly the best meal I ever made in my life! Here’s the original link for the recipe:
My post is below. This is a transfer from my Mission:Dinner blog that was posted on December 20, 2011
Grilled Chicken Tenderloins
Wow… this is hands-down one of the best recipes I have ever made! Good thing I decided to give it a try on our anniversary 🙂 With a 3 year old a weeknight anniversary celebration was not in the mix… plus, I had a dentist appointment earlier in the day so I was afraid that even if we could go out I would be a little too sore to fully enjoy the meal. Anyway, I love the grilled chicken tenderloins from Cracker Barrel because they are so simply dressed, but are so moist and delicious. I had actually been hankering for a trip down to Cracker Barrel but since it’s in the heart of the outlets in Lancaster there was no way we were venturing down there two weeks before Christmas! Thankfully, through my new obsession Pinterest, I came across a recipe proclaiming itself to be just like Cracker Barrel’s tenderloins, but even better. It was so easy and so delicious. Like I said, it was the best dinner I ever made. This afternoon I prepared one serving fresh, but I also prepared a second serving to freeze. I’ve been doing a lot of research and reading up on once a month cooking in which you prepare all your meals for cooking one day a month and then pull them out of the freezer when you are ready for them. One underlying principle that keeps coming up is freezing your meat with the marinade already mixed in. Apparently this not only eliminates a few steps allowing a meal to be even easier to prepare, but as the meat thaws it better absorbs the marinade for maximum moisture and flavor. So, the second serving is in the freezer and awaiting its turn! I’ll let you know how that goes after we give it a try.
When the time comes to cook up the chicken it will look like there is way too much marinade. But the magic in this recipe is when everything caramelizes. In the pictures it will look like the chicken is burnt, but it’s not! The marinade turns a wonderful, thick mess of gooey deliciousness. Be sure to scrape out every bit before serving!
The recipe I used to make this called for 4 chicken breasts cut into tender strips or 2 lbs total meat. That’s way too much for us so, like I said, I prepared enough marinade for 2 pounds, but used 1/2 for tonight’s meal (which was 7 chicken strips, less than a pound) and used the other 1/2 for the freezer portion.
Grilled Chicken Tenderloins
2 lbs Chicken tenderloins (or boneless, skinless chicken breast cut into strips)
1 cup zesty Italian dressing
2 tsp lime juice
1 tsp honey
1. In a measuring cup, pour out 1 cup of the Italian dressing. Add 2 tsp lime juice and 1 tsp honey. Stir together.
2. In a plastic bag, add your chicken. Use 1/2 cup of the marinade for each pound of chicken. Allow to sit in the refrigerator for at least an hour. But, the longer the better 🙂
3. Pour ingredients into a skillet and cook over medium heat (4-5) for about 40 minutes. It will look like a lot of liquid, but as it cooks it thickens and caramelizes.
4. Before serving, take each piece of chicken and really swirl it into the caramelized marinade. This is where all the flavor is!