Spicy-Sweet Asian Style Chicken

My lovely daughter flew in today from California to visit dear old dad — among others.  As the guest of honor she was allowed to select what Chef Dad would make for dinner.  She asked me to cook something Asian, so I went with this spicy-sweet marinated chicken as the centerpiece for a plate of far eastern favorites.

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This recipe will make 8 moderate servings or 4 lumberjack-sized portions:

  • 1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 6 tbsp. honey
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • ¼ cup sesame oil
  • 3 tbsp. Asian chili sauce
  • 3 tbsp. minced garlic
  • 8 chicken breast halves or boneless thighs
  • Sliced green onion
  • Sesame seeds

In a mixing bowl, whisk together all ingredients except the chicken, onions  and sesame seeds to form a marinade. Pour half into a large zipper bag with the chicken, squeeze out the air, and seal it up tight.  Let it marinate in the refrigerator for at least an hour, turning it over occasionally to make sure all of the chicken is well coated.  When you’re ready to cook it up, preheat your oven to 425.

In a saucepan, bring the other half of the sauce to a boil, and cook it for about 5 minutes to thicken, stirring frequently.  Arrange the chicken in a 9″ x 13″ baking dish, and brush the top with some of the sauce from the pan.  Bake 30-45 minutes until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165.  Bring the remaining sauce back up to a simmer for a couple minutes, then pour it over the cooked chicken.  Garnish with the green onion and sesame seeds, and you’re in business.  Serve it up with your favorite Asian style side dishes — the ones in the picture below can be found in my earlier post, Maple-Soy Glazed Salmon.  As always, I hope you will enjoy this dish as much as my family did.  Until next time:  Eat well, my friends!

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Indian Chicken Curry

Ever the culinary adventurer, and inspired by my dear friend Veena, who is an outstanding Indian home chef, I decided it was well past time to delve into the world of authentic Indian cuisine.  I am absolutely fascinated by the broad range of ingredients and spices that go into this truly unique and venerable style of cookery.  I must also confess that the 2014 movie “The Hundred-Foot Journey” fired my curiosity to learn how to cook Indian food.

The biggest reason I haven’t tried this before is the availability of some ingredients that simply are not sold in the typical American grocery store.  However, here in the Cincinnati area we have Jungle Jim’s International Market, which carries pretty much every obscure ingredient a cook may ever want, so I have no more excuses.  Today’s first experiment is in a relatively simple chicken curry dish called Murgh chettinad in some language I don’t speak.

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This recipe is extremely flavorful and more than a little on the spicy side, but not overwhelmingly so.  After some modest prep work it comes together pretty quickly, and is suitable for a weeknight dinner — about an hour from start to service.  Here are your ingredients for four hearty servings:

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp. black mustard seeds
  • 1/8 tsp. asafetida powder
  • 10-12 fresh curry leaves
  • 2 1/2 lb. chicken thighs
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. ground coriander seed
  • 1 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. white pepper
  • 1 tsp. red chili powder
  • 1 can (13.5 oz.) coconut milk
  • 1 tsp. fresh grated ginger
  • Juice of one lime
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves
  • Cooked basmati rice for garnish

Prepare the chicken by removing the skin and bones, and cutting it into bite-sized chunks.  If you like to make home-made stock like me, reserve the bones and freeze them for that.  Similarly, I discovered that curry leaves are decidedly not cheap — about $30 per pound — but a pretty good-sized package of leaves will be about 0.05 lb. and cost about a buck and a half, and the extra leaves will freeze well until you need them for the next dish.

Let’s get started:  In a deep skillet, heat the oil over medium flame and add the mustard seeds.  It won’t take long until they begin to pop, then add the asafetida powder and curry leaves, and sauté for about half a minute.  Add the chicken pieces and sauté for another 5 minutes.  All of the dry seasonings and spices go in together (I put them all in one dish when I measured them out), then cook for about two more minutes.  Next it’s time to add the coconut milk and simmer the dish for about 2o minutes until the chicken is cooked through and tender.

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At this point the dish is nearing completion.  Stir in the ginger and turn off the heat.  Lastly, stir in the lime juice and cilantro, and you’re ready to serve.  I recommend some basmati rice as a nice accompaniment to blend with all that amazing curry sauce.  By the way, “amazing” was the word Lolly kept using as she enjoyed this for dinner.  She has a much lower tolerance than me for spicy food but found this to be quite manageable from that perspective.  We munched it right down with a big happy grin on our faces, and I trust that you will enjoy this recipe as much as we did.  Until our next adventure:  Eat well, my friends!

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Dave’s Skillet Lasagna

We’re doing Italian tonight — probably my favorite style of cuisine, in case you were wondering — and playing with a concept that I recently saw in a book titled One-Pan Wonders (see the link below).  That cookbook is from the good folks at America’s Test Kitchen and is full of recipes designed to use only a single cooking vessel, whether a Dutch oven, a baking sheet, a casserole, or in this case, a skillet.  Among its offerings is their recipe for a sausage lasagna in a skillet.  I was intrigued by their method, so I decided to try it using my own sauce and cheese recipe.  With the Italian cooking music playing on Pandora and a glass of fine Bordeaux to cheer me on, I set about the task at hand.

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The method in the book involves making the sauce in the skillet, then removing it to allow you to build the lasagna before baking it in the same skillet.  For the sake of saving time on a weeknight I deviated from that just a bit by making my own sauce on the weekend so I could let it simmer longer, and then stored it in the refrigerator.  If you choose to do that, just warm the sauce up before moving on to the main recipe.  This is yet another variation of my red sauce — sometimes I think I never make it quite the same way twice:

  • 1 lb mild Italian sausage, casings removed and cut into chunks
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can (28 oz) whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1 can (6 oz) tomato paste
  • 1 can (15 oz) diced tomatoes
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ tsp Kosher salt
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon

We’re using a 12″ straight-sided skillet for this dish.  Brown the sausage over medium-high heat, drain the grease and set aside.  In the same skillet, heat the olive oil and sweat the onions until tender.  Add the garlic and cook for about a minute, then add the San Marzano tomatoes.  Break them up with the back of a fork or wooden spoon.  Add all of the remaining ingredients, blend thoroughly, and simmer at least 30 minutes — longer if you have the time.  Add the sausage to the sauce and allow it to simmer a while longer to blend the flavors.

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When your sauce is ready, it’s time to move on to the rest of our lasagna-building.  Preheat the oven to 375.  If you plan to use the same skillet to bake the lasagna, transfer your sauce to a bowl for the moment.  Here is what you will need:

  • 2 cups ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan
  • 1 tsp dried basil leaves
  • 1 tsp dried oregano leaves
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 12 no-boil lasagna sheets, broken in half
  • 3 cups shredded mozzarrella
  • Fresh basil for garnish

In a separate bowl, mix the ricotta, parmesan and dried seasonings until well blended.  Spoon about one-fourth of your chunky, delicious red sauce into the skillet and spread it around.  Shingle 8 of the half-piece lasagna sheets in a rough circle, then top with a third of the ricotta mixture, followed by a cup of mozzarella, and one-third of the remaining sauce.  Repeat this layering of lasagna-ricotta-mozzarella-sauce two more times, which should use up the balance of your ingredients.  Toss the skillet into the oven and bake for 45 minutes.  This is what comes out.

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The pasta was perfectly cooked and, because it absorbed excess moisture from the sauce, the structure of the finished product was excellent.  Serve it up with a chiffonade of fresh basil and a green salad on the side.  The overall result was absolutely delicious, and we predictably munched it right down with a big happy grin on our faces.  Give this a try and I’m sure you’ll be pleased.  Until next time:  Eat well, my friends!

One Pan Wonders:  Fuss-Free Meals for Your Sheet Pan, Dutch Oven, Skillet, Roasting Pan, Casserole, and Slow Cooker

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Creamy Mushroom Soup

It’s by golly cold in Cincinnati today, and Lolly has decreed that I cook her a warm, comfort-foody soup to make it all better.  Her Eminence let it be known that she would be most amused with a cream of mushroom soup.  So let it be written — so let it be done.

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Tonight’s offering is from an excellent recipe that I learned in culinary school, but rewired just a bit to suit my personal preference.  There are essentially three moving parts.  Here are your ingredients to make you 4 hearty servings:

For the velouté:

  • 2 oz. clarified butter
  • 2 oz. all purpose flour
  • 1 qt. chicken or vegetable stock

For the main soup:

  • 1 oz. clarified butter
  • 12-14 oz. mushrooms, stemmed and chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 large celery stalk, chopped
  • 1 quart velouté
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp. dry thyme
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock, hot
  • 6 oz. heavy cream
  • Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

For the garnish

  • 1 oz. whole butter
  • 2 oz. mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • Pinch of kosher salt

The base of this soup is a velouté, which is a classic French mother sauce made of white stock thickened with a roux.  I spent yesterday afternoon making a few quarts of homemade chicken stock, so that is what I used for this soup, but a vegetable stock will transform this into a vegetarian dish.

To make the velouté, heat the one quart of stock in a saucepan to a simmer and hold it there.  We will make the roux in a skillet by melting the 2 oz. portion of clarified butter over medium heat and, when it is hot, whisk in the flour to form a thin paste.  Whisk constantly until the flour is fully blended and continue stirring for a few minutes until the roux begins to turn a light golden color (you may also notice the familiar smell of popcorn — that’s a good thing).  When it gets to that point, add the hot stock, whisking vigorously to prevent lumps from forming.  Bring the mixture to a boil, which should happen quickly, then back it down to a low simmer and let it cook for about an hour, stirring occasionally.  During that time the sauce will become smooth (velouté is French for velvety, or so I’m told) and it will lose the starchy taste of the flour.

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When the velouté is nearly finished, it’s time to start the main soup.  In a large pot, melt the other 1 oz. of clarified butter over medium heat, and add the chopped mushrooms with a pinch of salt and a couple turns from the pepper grinder.  The first thing you will notice is that they appear to absorb all the butter and the bottom of the pot dries out.  That’s normal.  After a few minutes the mushrooms will begin to release their moisture and start to cook down.  After that happens and the mushrooms are browning a bit, throw in the onion and celery with a bit more salt and pepper, and sweat them for about 5 minutes until tender.

By this point the velouté should be ready.  Strain the sauce into the soup pot to remove any stray lumps of flour and keep everything super-creamy.  Add the bay leaf, thyme and the remaining 2 cups of hot stock, and let the soup simmer on low for about 30 minutes to blend the flavors.  While that is happening, make your garnish by pan-frying the remaining mushroom slices in the whole butter and a pinch of salt until well browned and crisp on both sides.  Hold them on a paper towel until you’re ready to serve.

When the soup is done cooking, remove the bay leaf and break out your immersion blender to puree the soup.  How smooth you make it is entirely up to you.  I like this soup to be very smooth, so I’ll give it an initial puree on low speed, then repeat on high to make sure it is uniformly creamy.  Finally, stir in the heavy cream, adjust your seasonings, and you’re ready to serve.

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Her Royal Lollyness was very pleased with the result of my humble efforts, and we munched this down, as is our wont, with a big happy grin on our faces.  I hope you enjoy this warm, tasty offering on a cold winter’s day as much as we did.  Until next time:  Eat well, my friends!

 

 

Texas Beef and Bean Chili

Yesterday we did healthy and vegetarian. Today, not so much. Today we’re going full carnivore with a hearty Texas style beef chili. And not just any old chili, but with homemade chile paste and big, tasty chunks of tender beef. This dish is my adaptation of a recipe from Kenji Lopez-Alt’s superb book “The Food Lab”, for which I have included a link below so you can check it out for yourself.

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This is a weekend kind of recipe since we’re using a braise technique, and of course we’re making our own chile paste. That may sound hard, but trust me, it’s extremely easy, and it will elevate the quality of your finished dish to new heights. Totally worth it, I assure you. I like to make extra so I can freeze it and just pull it out as needed, like I did tonight. Let’s start with that part of the technique. Here are your ingredients to make about 2 cups of paste, or two iterations of this recipe:

  • 3-4 oz. dried whole chile peppers, stemmed, seeded and cut into pieces
  • 2 cups chicken stock

The kind of peppers you use will depend on how hot you like it. I’m a spicy food junkie, but Lolly is the opposite of that, so I make mine more on the mild side using a blend of ancho, pasilla and New Mexico chiles. A little bit of arbol will liven things up a bit, or if you’re really hardcore, throw in a ghost chile or even a Carolina Reaper — at your own risk.  Just remember to print and sign the waiver of liability form at the bottom of the post.  Kidding – a little lawyer humor for you.

Heat a Dutch oven and roast the pepper pieces over medium-high heat for a few minutes until they develop a toasty aroma. Pour in the chicken stock and simmer for about 5 minutes, maybe a little more, until the peppers are tender. Transfer the mixture to a blender and puree it into a paste, which should only take a few seconds. I freeze my extra in 4-ounce containers.

Now we’re ready to move on to making the Texas Chili dish itself. Here is what you will need to make 6 hungry guys very happy:

  • 4 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 3 to 3 ½ lb. boneless chuck roast, trimmed and cubed
  • Kosher Salt and black pepper
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. cumin
  • ½ tsp. cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp. allspice
  • 2 Tbsp. dried oregano
  • 1 cup prepared chile paste
  • 6 cups beef or chicken stock
  • ¼ to ½ cup cornmeal
  • 2 cans (15 oz.) chili beans (optional)
  • Sour cream, shredded cheese and sliced scallions for garnish

We’re going back to our trusty Dutch oven for this part. Heat 2 Tbsp. of the oil over medium-high flame, then work in three batches to cook the beef cubes in a single layer each time without stirring.  After  each batch is placed into the pot, season with salt and pepper, and let it sear until it develops a deep brown crust on the bottom, which should take maybe 5 minutes. Remove the cooked beef to a bowl to hold, add another tablespoon of oil, and repeat the price twice for the remaining batches.

Our goal is to have each chunk of the finished beef hard-seared while at the same time still being tender. This method will get us there.  You will no doubt notice that the tops of the beef chunks are not cooked yet. Not to worry — that will happen later during our braise.

After all the beef is cooked and removed from the pot, reduce the heat to medium, throw in your onion and cook for about 5 minutes until tender, stirring frequently. Next add the garlic and dry spices and cook for another minute. Finally, return the beef to the pot, along with the Chile paste and the stock. Bring it up to a boil, then back it down to a simmer and let it cook uncovered, low and slow, for 2 to 3 hours until the beef is melt-in-your-mouth tender. The exact time will depend on how big you made your beef chunks.

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A side note on the stock, if it’s made properly it really doesn’t matter much whether you use a beef or chicken stock. You will get pretty consistent results either way. As it turns out, I just happened to have the right amount of homemade chicken stock in my freezer, so I used that – which means I have an excuse to make more next weekend.

When your braise time on the beef is complete, gradually stir in the corn meal to act as a thickener. How much you use depends on how thick you like it. Part of the purpose of cooking uncovered (which is a deviation from standard braising procedure) is to let the sauce reduce a bit as it cooks, both to thicken it and to intensify the flavor. For tonight’s pot I split the proverbial baby and used ¼ cup plus 2 tbsp. of corn meal, and got a great result. If you like beans in your chili, add them here.  Either way, cook for about 10 more minutes before serving.

And you’re done. The total prep time on this recipe is about 4 hours, particularly if you are making your Chile paste at the beginning as opposed to using some that was previously prepared. The knife work is about 20-30 minutes, depending on how facile you are with a chef’s knife – although you can save some time by buying precut stewing beef, which just means you’re just paying a premium for the same cut of beef to have someone else do the knife work for you.

We served ours with traditional chili garnishes with some white corn tortillas on the side, and munched it right down with a big happy grin on our faces. This is a seriously hearty, rich and satisfying meal that will forever change your expectations of what a good chili should taste like. Until next time: Eat well, my friends!

The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science

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Roasted Cauliflower and Kale Soup

For my inaugural post of the new year, let me say emphatically that this recipe should not be misconstrued as any kind of resolution to eat healthier foods.  I scoff at the very notion, even as I sit here sipping a calorie-laden adult beverage while I write.  Indeed, by the time you get to the end of the post, I trust you will have been thoroughly disabused of such foolish ideas — although admittedly this a really delicious soup and I just had a healthy dinner kind of by accident.

No, posting a kale recipe on the first day of the new year has nothing to do with Lolly constantly twisting my arm, riding my back, chewing my ear, nipping at my heels, and any number of other anatomical metaphors, about the need to improve my diet.  Rather, it has everything to do with someone at Williams-Sonoma forgetting to send us the recipe brochures for today’s class.  So, as a service to all the lovely people who attended today, I am providing the recipe in this forum.

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This is the second time today I made this dish, and I think it came off better the second time around — practice, and all that.  Here are your ingredients to make 6-8 servings:

  • 1 large head of cauliflower
  • 6 Tbsp. olive oil
  • Kosher salt and cracked pepper to taste
  • 1 large bunch of kale
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 7 cups chicken stock
  • Optional:  1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted

A couple quick notes on the ingredients:  First, if you want to make this a vegetarian friendly dish, simply substitute vegetable stock in place of the chicken stock.  Second, one of the ladies at today’s class had a sensitivity to alliums, i.e. the onion and garlic.  A suggestion to replace the flavors that those provide would be to add a cup each of additional diced celery and diced carrots, and toss in 1/2 tsp. of dry thyme leaves.

Preheat your oven to 450°.  The first step will be to trim the cauliflower and cut it up into florets.  Don’t worry about precision because this will all be pureed at the end.  I did a fairly rough cut.  In a mixing bowl, toss the cauliflower with 2 Tbsp. of the oil and season it with salt and pepper.  Spread it on a baking sheet and roast it in the oven until it reaches the color you want.  Give it an occasional stir to prevent burning.  This should take about 20-25 minutes.

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For the next step, turn the oven down to 300°.  Tear the kale leaves off the stems in rough pieces.  Reserve half of them to add to the soup later.  The rest will be tossed with 2 Tbsp. of oil, salt and pepper, then roasted just like the cauliflower, but without any stirring.  In about 20-25 minutes these will turn into lovely kale chips that will provide a crunchy garnish for the finished soup.

Moving on to the main recipe, in a large soup pot or Dutch oven, heat the remaining 2 Tbsp. of oil over medium high heat.  Sweat the onion and celery for a few minutes until the onions are tender and translucent.  You’re not going for caramelization, but if a little bit of that happens don’t worry about it — that tad of extra flavor never hurt anyone.  Toss in the garlic next and cook for another minute.  Next add your stock and roasted cauliflower and bring the mixture up to a simmer.  Finally, add the uncooked portion of the kale leaves, cover the pot and turn the heat down to low.  Let the soup simmer for about 30 minutes until the kale is tender.

Next comes the fun part, pureeing the soup — an excuse to play with kitchen toys.  At today’s class we used a VitaMix blender to do that job.  Just remember, whenever you puree a hot liquid in a blender, work in batches and never never never never (are you getting the point?) never fill the carafe more than a third of the way at a time.  An overfilled carafe of hot liquid will explode on you and cause very nasty, painful burns that will put a major damper on your cooking experience.   Alternatively, I prefer to puree my soups at home with an immersion blender, in this case my handy Cuisinart Smart Stick.  Here was the result.

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By the way, in the background of this picture are the finished kale chips.  You can also garnish with some toasted pine nuts, which are very delicious but also a bit pricey.  To do that, cook them a dry sauté skillet over medium heat, tossing frequently to prevent burning.  It will take a few minutes for the color to develop, but when that starts it progresses quickly, so watch them carefully or they will turn black in the blink of an eye.

So, here is our finished soup with the kale chip garnish and a swirl of olive oil just for giggles.    We did, of course, munch it down with a big, happy (and healthy) grin on our faces.

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But not too healthy, because here it what I made for appetizer and dessert.

Yeah, we can do some healthy stuff that tastes great too, but no new diets or gym memberships for me.  New year resolutions are made for people with stiffer spines than me.  Anyway, I wish you all happy cooking and a happy New Year.  Until next time:  Eat well, my friends!