Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Chicken and Dumplings

Merry Christmas everybody!!  As always, the Christmas vacation flew by, even with some extra days off to extend the festivities.  We've had lots of fun with family and friends, plenty of good food, and maybe a cocktail or three.  Santa kicked ass this year, he's such a great guy.  We're still knee deep in wrapping paper and playing with our new toys.  I hope you had a fantastic Christmas, if you celebrate that sort of thing. 

Chicken soup might be good for the soul, but chicken and dumplings are good for the everything.  Maybe you call it chicken and biscuits.  Call it what you want, just make sure it's on your dinner table this winter.  Like mac-n-cheese or lasagna, this meal delivers when you need some comfortable food.  It might be super cold out and you're yearning for a tasty hot meal.  This dish is a winner when you have a cold or a touch of the flu bug and need some yummy broth in your tummy.  It's best when made with homemade chicken stock.  You are stashing your chicken carcasses, wing tips, and other bits and pieces of chickens in the freezer right? Right?  Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight? 

 My recipe notes-

For the chicken, plenty of options.  I baked some chicken thighs seasoned with S&P, let them cool a bit and then chopped up the meat.  You can make your own thighs, breasts, tenders, or buy one already cooked.  For the peas, I like the frozen variety over the canned kind.  If you don't like to shroom then feel free to omit the fungi.

If you don't have a food processor, mix the dough in a large bowl with a spatula.

When making dough, super cold butter is best.  Diced into cubes and a 10 minute chill in the freezer does the trick.  And when you have the dough made, don't keep it right next to the stove or anywhere else warm, you don't want the butter to melt yet. 

Chicken and Dumplings
6 servings

6 TB unsalted butter, 4 TB 1/2" dice and very cold
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 lb of mushrooms- cremini, shiitake, or some of each
1 large carrot, 1/3" dice
3/4 C dry white wine
1 1/4 C AP flour plus 1 TB
3 C low-sodium chicken stock, homemade preferred
3 C cooked chicken, chopped
3/4 C baby peas, defrosted
1/4 ts dried thyme
1/2 C whole milk plus 2 TB

For the dough-
Combine 1 1/4 C flour and the very cold pieces of butter in your food pro.  Pulse 5-10 times until the butter is cut up to pea-size chunks, then add the milk.  Pulse just until the dough comes together, do not over mix.  Form gently into a ball, set aside. 

For the chicken-
Fire up the oven to 425F.  In your big ass cast-iron dutch oven, melt 2 TB of the butter over medium heat, then add the onion, carrot and shrooms.  Cook, stirring often, until the veg is soft, about 6 minutes.  Add in the wine, let that cook down for about 90 seconds, stirring.  Sprinkle in 1 TB of flour, stir to coat well for about a minute.  Introduce the stock and thyme, season with a touch of S&P.  Bring to a boil and then let simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the stock thickens a bit.  Stir in the chicken and the peas.

Bring it home-
Using a spoon or TB, make your dumplings slightly larger than 1 TB.  You'll have about 20 or so, place them evenly over the chicken soup in the dutch oven.  Bake for 25 minutes, uncovered, then broil on high for 2-3 minutes to brown the dumplings, watching carefully of course and rotating if necessary.  Let sit for 5 minutes before serving. 

It's chicken soup with a breaded roof.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Pistachio Cookies with Dark Chocolate Drizzle

Hey there!  It's that time of year again for the annual holiday cookie post.  For once though, I'm giving you a tasty recipe before Christmas, so you have plenty of time to bake for Jesus' birthday celebration or NYE.  Last year's cookie was a newbie, the Cranberry Pecan Oatmeal, the season previous to that was an old favorite, Cream Cheese Pecan Cookies.  I guess I like pecans in my cookies??  If you don't jive on that nut, or want something sweet yet different than a cookie, how about making some Butterscotch Bars?

Making cookies sure does help get in the holiday spirit, like listening to my BB King Blue Christmas album while decorating the tree.  It would also be nice to have some of the white stuff precipitating outside, sure would look pretty with the Christmas lights glowing underneath a layer of fresh powder.  Chicago has set a record for consecutive days without measurable snow, tomorrow will be 290.  December has already seen a day with a 70F degree high.  Add it to the list of fucked up weather the last couple years, with the hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, heat waves and droughts.  Yet climate change is just something those goofy scientists and lefty liberals made up to convince others to hug trees, save whales, and stifle big business.  I know I often write about the weather, but it's so directly related to food it's hard not to speak on the subject.

But hey, let's not let the last couple centuries of burning fossil fuels ruin our holiday spirit!  Let's make cookies!!  Santa doesn't rely on an internal combustion engine to power his vehicle, BTW. 

You'll need a food processor and stand mixer, and if you don't have these items now is a great time to purchase them on a sale.  You do buy yourself a gift every year, right? I'm typing on mine!  If you bake often, (which I don't but have a problem limiting my kitchen gear) a silpat or silicone baking mat is lovely for easy clean-up. 

Speaking of ease, buy pistachios already shelled, the quality won't suffer. 

If you don't want to mess with the chocolate, feel free to omit it.  My better half does backflips for dark chocolate, and I like the way the cookies appeared to have been decorated by a 5 year old.  I didn't press down enough to flatten them before baking, so they weren't as flat as I would have liked. 

Pistachio Cookies with Dark Chocolate Drizzle
makes about 24 cookies

2 C shelled raw pistachios, about 12 ounces
1/2 lb unsalted butter, at room temperature (2 sticks)
1/3 C confectioners sugar
1/2 ts kosher salt
1 ts vanilla, homemade preferred
1/2 ts almond extract
1 ts water
1/4 C white granulated sugar
2 oz dark chocolate
1/2 ts vegetable or canola oil

Fire up the oven to three honey.  Spread the pistachios out in a single layer on a sheet pan and toast until fragrant, about 6 minutes.  Let cool a bit (spreading out on another sheet in a single layer) before processing in your food processor until finely ground.  Pulse until ground so you don't end up with paste.  

In the bowl of your stand mixer, attach the beater blade and the butter, sugar, and salt.  Beat on high until light and fluffy,about 5 minutes, stopping once or twice to scrape down the bowl with a spatula.  Reduce the speed to low and mix in the flour gradually, until just blended.  Don't over mix!  Add the vanilla, almond extract, and water.  Using the spatula, fold in the pistachios and then form into a ball.

Using a TB or spoon, form about TB portions of dough into round balls, like making meatballs.  Put the granulated sugar into a small bowl and roll the little dough balls around to coat.  Place on a sheet pan lined with a silicone sheet or parchment paper, 2" apart.  Press the balls down slightly with a fork to flatten. 

With 12 dough balls per sheet pan, you'll have one pan in the middle rack of the oven and one in the top zone.  Bake for 10 minutes, then switch the pans, bake for another 10 minutes or until the bottoms are lightly browned.  Cool on a rack placed on a foil-lined sheet pan. 

In the microwave or a double-boiler, melt the chocolate with a touch of oil.  Drizzle over the cookies and then let set for at least 30 minutes.  Will keep at room temp in a closed container for a few days.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Boston Baked Beans

Beans, the magical fruit.  I've been magical for 4 days in a row, thanks to plenty of leftovers from making a giant batch of these beans.  Which were pretty damn tasty, lined up next to some smoked piggy parts from this place.  

Fuggedabout those wet beans in the jar, as delicious as they may be baked in the oven with some diced onion mixed in and roofed with bacon.  That's how it was done in my house.  But if you want to do the real deal Holyfield, from scratch, this is the way to go.  Classic.  Boston baked beans.  Right down to the accent.  Nomahhhh.  Pahhhk the cahhhh.  Why Boston?  It's all about the molasses.  Sure, it takes time, but winter Sundays are built for recipes like this.

When using dried beans, you should soak them first to prepare them, soften em up a bit.  The easiest way is to trow em in a pot and cover by 2" with cold water, and let sit 8 hours or overnight.  If you're pressed for time, bring that mixture to a boil and keep at a boil for 2 minutes, then remove from heat and let sit, covered, for 1 hour.

I'm here to yell you, the smell of onions sizzling in bacon fat is the eighth wonder of the world.  I'd make this recipe just for that.  If only the Yankee Candle people would take me seriously.....

Boston Baked Beans
makes enough for 8 magical servings, as a side

4 oz salt pork, rind removed, 1/2" dice
2 slices bacon, 1/4" dice
1 large yellow onion, diced
8 C water
1 lb dried white beans, i.e navy, picked over and rinsed, soaked
1/2 C plus 1 TB mild molasses
2 TB brown mustard
1 ts cider vinegar

Fire up the oven to 300F, rack in middle.

In your big ass heavy dutch oven, cook the salt pork and bacon over medium heat, stirring often, until most of the fat is rendered, about 7-9 minutes.   Add in the onion and cook until soft, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.  Introduce the water, beans, 1/2 C molasses, mustard, and 1.5 TB kosher salt.

Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil.  Cover and carefully transfer to the oven.  Bake for 4 hours, stirring halfway through. 

After 240 minutes of baking, remove the lid and give it a good stir, then continue to cook uncovered until it reaches a thicker syrupy consistency, about another 70-80 minutes.

Remove the beans from the oven, stir in the remaining TB molasses and cider vinegar.  Season with S&P to taste.  Serve immediately or keep on low heat for a bit, while you're watching the Bears beat up on the Packers in the first half. 

These Boston Baked Beans will keep for up to 5 days in the fridge. 

Now you lookee here.  This is the best bacon in the world.  Seriously.  The chef for the POTUS even says so.  You can get some right here.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Salisbury Steak

I love Salisbury Steak so much, it was in the short rotation of birthday meal requests of my youth.  Not too many folks would hold such a relatively peasant meal in high regard, but I have a love affair with onions.  All things genus allium, actually.  I know my Mom hated slicing all that onion, but she did it anyway, at least once a year, to make her kid happy.  While the other one cursed my yearly dinner choice.  Salisbury steak and Boston Cream Pie made from scratch, that was a familiar pairing most every November third.  Her version is one of those well-used yellowed index cards in the recipe box, decorated with brown spots of gravy.  This recipe is similar, although omitting some old school items like the beef bouillon cube, and introducing new ones like a shot of Korbel brandy.  Every bite brings me right back to the kitchen table as a 12 yr old, just like every time on the radio I hear the Stones' Paint it Black I immediately recall laying on the living room carpet watching China Beach four feet from the tube. 

You are making caramelized onion gravy, therefore you must serve this with mashed potaters.  That's not a suggestion.  Substituting ground beef for the sirloin is a cheaper option if your ponies didn't win this week.  We didn't have any fungus on our dinner plates growing up, but they do make a nice addition to this meal if you like to shroom. 

My wife, the intelligent foodie that she is, prefers the Wisconsin Club for her birthday meal.  Perhaps you've been there?  They know how to cook, and tend the bar quite nicely as well. 

Why the funny name?   

Salisbury Steak
2 large servings

for the steak-
1 lb ground sirloin
1 medium clove garlic, minced
1 ts Worcestershire sauce
1/2 ts dry mustard
1/4 ts onion powder
1/4 C seasoned bread crumbs
1 large egg yolk
1/2 ts kosher salt
1/4 ts freshly cracked black pepper

for the gravy-
1 TB butter
1 large or 2 medium yellow onions, halved and very thinly sliced
pinch kosher salt
freshly cracked black pepper
shot of brandy
2 C low-sodium beef broth
1 TB ketchup
1/2 ts Worcestershire sauce
8 oz cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced and sauteed (optional)
2 ts cornstarch
S&P, if needed

Gently mix all the steak ingredients, shape into 2 large or 3 medium patties.

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the very healthy fat EVOO.  Once nice and sizzly hot, add the beef patties.  Cook until browned on one side, about 3-5 minutes depending on the shape/heat, then flip and cook until done, another few minutes.  Remove from the skillet onto a plate, tent with aluminum foil. 

Turn down the heat to medium, add the very thinly sliced onion and season with just a pinch of salt and pepper.  Cook until well browned, stirring occasionally, about 8-10 minutes.  Add the brandy and scrape the pan well to loosen all the tasty bits.  Fond, if you prefer the technical term.   Add the broth, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, stir well.  Let this mixture reduce a bit, cooking for about 5 minutes over medium heat.  To thicken the gravy a bit, make a slurry by stirring a ts or so of water with the cornstarch.  Add half of the slurry to the sauce, stir to incorporate.  If after a couple minutes it seems thin, add the rest of the cornstarch/water mixture.  

Return the cooked patties to the skillet, toss in them shrooms too if using.  Turn down the heat to medium-low and let the patties heat through, spooning oniony gravy over them to warm and season them.  Taste your gravy and season with S&P if needed.  Probably only needs a bit more freshly cracked black pepper, as I like this dish to shout ONION! BEEF! PEPPER!  Serve when the steaks have been heated through and your gravy has thickened to your liking.  If it becomes too thick, you can thin with a bit of broth or water. 

Look underneath them onions caramelizing.  That's the tasty bits stuck to the skillet from cooking the steaks, which will add much flavor to the gravy by deglazing the pan with a shot of brandy and scraping with a wooden spatula. 

Salisbury steaks, swimming in onion gravy with a side of roasted-garlic mash potaters.  That's a solid winter meal right there.  You don't even have to wait till your birthday.  

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Classic Macaroni and Cheese, Updated

This is the last mac-n-cheese recipe you will ever need.  It's simple and quick.  Just cook the pasta, turn a roux into a bechemel into a mornay sauce, top with yummies and fire it up.  Typical recipes instruct you to bake the dish, which can often result in a dry mac.  To avoid that, this guy is all about the stovetop and the broiler.  Of course, obtain the highest quality cheddar cheese you desire- I used extra-sharp Tillamook, hailing from Oregon, a very tasty upgrade from my usual cheddar from the great state of Wisconsin.  The Monterey Jack adds a nice tang to the dish.  The cayenne pepper is optional, if you don't like it spicy then feel free to omit it.  The Dorito and Cheez-it topping is also optional, although highly recommended, if not slightly ghetto.  But super tasty.  Looking for a crazier version of mac-n-cheese?

Classic Macaroni and Cheese, Updated
8 servings as side

6 slices white bread, torn into quarters
8 TB unsalted butter, 3 TB cut into 6 pieces and chilled
handful nacho cheese Doritos, crushed
handful Cheez-its, crushed
1 lb cavatappi or elbow macaroni
6 TB AP flour
1.5 TB dry mustard
1/4 ts cayenne pepper
5 C whole or 2% milk
12 oz cheddar cheese, shredded
8 oz Monterey Jack cheese, shredded

Pulse bread and 3 TB chilled butter in food processor until coarse crumbs, about 12 pulses.  Set aside.

Cook the pasta in a large pot with 4 quarts of water and 1 TB kosher salt, until tender.  Drain and set aside.

Using the same pot, melt 5 TB butter over medium heat.  Add the flour, mustard and cayenne, whisk constantly for 2 minutes to develop a lightly browned roux.  Whisk in the milk gradually, then turn up the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat back to medium and whisk occasionally until the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes.  Off the heat, add the cheese a handful at a time and stir to melt.  Add the cooked pasta and stir well, turn down the heat to medium-low and cook for about 4 minutes, stirring, until everything is heated through and steaming.

Fire up the broiler to high, set rack in the middle of your oven.  Transfer the pasta mixture to a 13X9 broiler-proof dish.  Sprinkle the bread crumb/butter mixture on top, and then the Dorito/Cheez-it mixture.  Broil for a few minutes until nicely browned, of course watching the whole time to avoid burning, and rotating the dish if necessary.  Let cool for 5 minutes before serving.