Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Chicken and Rice X2

The "silence is golden" announcement always stands out to me when I go to the movies. I cringe at the representation of all of the annoying ways we can distract one another from the film. As technology advances, there is an increasing number of ways people can interrupt the movie. From ringtones to glowing touchscreens, crying babies to squealing preteens, the possibilities are endless.

It makes me wonder why there are fewer and fewer drive-in theaters in the world. How could people not prefer enjoying films in the privacy of their own cars; where they can control the volume of the film and the people around them? Not only that, but drive-ins almost always offer double features. Double features are always a bonus.

Today's post is also a double feature. For week 33 of the cooking challenge, challengers were asked to "turn something boring into something great." With two packs of chicken thighs stowed away, I decided to turn chicken and rice into two very different dinners.

First up:  
Arroz con Pollo
Chicken and Rice in EspaƱol

3 to 4 lbs chicken parts (boneless/skinless thighs), seasoned with salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chopped onions
1 green bell pepper, diced
4 oz. smoked ham, diced
2 cups long-grain white rice
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3 cups chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon loosely packed saffron threads
1 cup frozen peas
3/4 cup pimento-stuffed green (queen) olives, cut in half

Pour the two tablespoons of vegetable oil into a large heavy pan and set the heat to medium-high. When the oil is heated and shimmery, add the chicken pieces in a single layer and brown well on both sides, (about 5 minutes per side). I cooked mine in two batches, set aside pieces when browned.

Scale down the heat to medium-low and add the chopped onions, diced bell pepper, and diced ham.

Stir every now and then, and cook until the onions become tender, (about 8 minutes). Add the cups of white rice and combine well. Stir rice around, and cook for about a minute before adding the minced garlic, paprika, salt and pepper. Stir around and cook for another minute. 

When the seasoning is well dispersed, add the 3 cups of chicken stock, dried oregano and saffron threads. Set heat up to high and bring mixture to a boil. Stir mixture, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan to unstick any browned bits. Nestle chicken pieces into the rice and pour in all of the juices. Cover pan with a tight-fitting lid and simmer over medium-low heat for 20 minutes.

Stir in the peas and olive halves. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the rice is tender. If cooking with a very large pot, make sure to distribute the heat well among the bottom of your pan in order to cook the rice evenly. Let rice sit, with the lid on, for at least 15 uninterrupted minutes before serving. Enjoy alone, or with a side salad.

Chicken and Rice #2:
Chicken Cacciatore
with Zucchini Rice Gratin

3 to 4 lbs chicken parts, (boneless/skinless thighs), seasoned with salt and pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onions
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
14.5 oz can diced tomatoes, with juice 
3/4 cup chicken stock
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced

Heat olive oil over medium-high in a large, heavy skillet. When the oil is shimmery and fragrant, add the seasoned chicken pieces, (in small batches), arranged in a single layer. Brown chicken on all sides, (about 5 minutes per side), and set aside on a plate when done.

Lower to medium heat and add the chopped onions, bay leaf, dried rosemary and sage. Stir frequently and cook until the onions are golden brown, (about 5 minutes). Add the minced garlic and cook for an additional minute. Place chicken pieces back in skillet and add the white wine.

Cook mixture over medium-high heat, turning the chicken and scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. When the wine is almost all evaporated, add the diced tomatoes, and chicken stock. Turn heat down to low, simmer gently for 25 minutes. Add the sliced mushrooms and cook, covered, for 10 more minutes. Add additional seasoning to taste.

Serve with Zucchini Rice Gratin by Smitten Kitchen.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Raspberry Limoncello Popsicles

I refuse to admit to myself that summer is ending.

It's difficult each year, but usually I become too bored to stay home any longer. 

Unfortunately, summer 2012 hasn't bored me, yet.

As the tan fades, and September approaches, I just have to be honest with myself; it's been a good break. 

There really isn't anything else I can do but sit back, (maybe in a hammock), put my feet up, and have a popsicle.

Raspberry Limoncello Popsicles
(makes 4 medium-large popsicles)
adapted from Everyday Food

1/2 pound fresh raspberries
3 oz. simple syrup
1 oz. plus 1 tablespoon limoncello
2 tablespoons lime juice

In a medium bowl, mash the raspberries. Add the simple syrup, limoncello, and lime juice to mashed berries. Stir until well combined. Pour into popsicle molds and freeze at least 4 hours, or until completely frozen. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Chicken Empanadas

Empanadas make me think of Pepsi. I don't even drink Pepsi.

Well, my mom used to be a huge Pepsi fan. So, growing up, I was a Pro-Pepsi, loved the sweetness, hated the way the Coke carbonation felt. It didn't seem to go down as smooth, in my mind. Over time, mom started buying less Pepsi, and then my school's dining hall was serviced by Coke. I was introduced to Coke Zero and I've converted. I've crossed-over. I'm a coke girl, now.

So, why do empanadas remind me of Pepsi? Not too long ago, Pepsi's ad campaign (perhaps specific to the Spanish channels) featured a commercial where a boy is at a party and tries to bite into a tamal without removing the husk. He then, after meeting a pretty girl and drinking some Pepsi, learns how to properly eat one. Maybe they dance, maybe they fall in love, who knows, it's a really short ad. At the end, he's about to chow down on an empanada, but he's no fool, he's not to be tricked again by foreign foods. He tries to "open" the pastry shell before digging in. Leaving the girl hopelessly shaking her head at him.

I didn't grow up eating empanadas, even though I'd hear about them constantly. Week 28 of the baking challenge was to make a South American food, and I was in the mood to bake something savory.

While I may not have chosen the most traditional of recipes, I did pick one that featured ingredients I could easily get a hold of. The prep was relatively easy.

Once baked, the empanadas seemed to lack sauce, so I would definitely serve them with salsa. I wouldn't adjust the filling recipe, as there was plenty to go around. Maybe even too much, (which wasn't a problem for me, as I just turned the rest of the filling into chimichangas).

Chicken Empanadas
slightly adapted from FoodNetwork

3 cups cooked chicken, cut into small cubes
4 oz. Colby cheese, shredded
4 oz. Pepper Jack cheese, shredded
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded, deveined and chopped
1 tablespoon cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 (15 oz) package of refrigerated pie crusts
1 large egg

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine the chopped chicken with the cream cheese, shredded cheese, chopped bell pepper, jalapeno, and spices. Mix well.

On a lightly floured surface, unroll one of the pie crusts. Cut out rounds, using a 3" cookie cutter. (I found I could get 8 circles out of a pie crust before re-rolling). Repeat procedure with 2nd pie crust, and roll scraps together to cut out more 3" circles. Arrange circles on the prepared baking sheet.

Place a heaping teaspoon of the chicken mixture onto each 3" circle.

Dip your finger into the water and trace the edges of the dough circle. Fold dough over, and seal shut with the tines of a fork. Repeat with the remaining circles of dough and chicken mixture. (At this point, the empanadas can now be frozen for up to a month.)

Beat the large egg and brush the tops of the empanadas with the egg wash. Bake on the prepared sheet, (I could fit 8 at a time), for 15 minutes, turning the pan around halfway through.

Serve with your favorite salsa, and, if you're looking to eat them as a meal, a side of rice and beans.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Raspberry Streusel Tart

Summertime is berry time. Summertime is also "I can't possibly turn on the oven in this heat" time. As I was living in an apartment without air conditioning, you can see how this could be a problem. I wish I could tell you there was an easy solution, but there isn't. So, what did I do? I moved. Plain and simple. Up and left my apartment, and moved into one that allowed me to bake in the middle of a heat wave.

Sure, I'm going to end up paying for it in the electric bill, but until I see my first invoice, I'm going to go ahead and say it's been worth it. This tart, topped with a dollop of whipped cream, worth it. Not to mention the smells that take over your home as it bakes. I'm obsessed with baking smells. This one is top notch.

Raspberry Streusel Tart
from The Joy of Cooking
makes one 9 1/2" - 10" tart, serves 8

(shortbread crust)
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 large egg yolks, divided

2/3 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt

3 cups raspberries
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

(Shortbread crust)
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, lemon zest and salt. Add the softened butter and mash into the flour mixture with the back of a fork, or the bottom of a whisk. Mash until the mixture resembles course crumbs. Add one large egg yolk and mix together with a spatula, pressing dry bits into the dough to incorporate. Mix until dough comes together in a ball. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, (up to 2 days).

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, sugars, walnuts, cinnamon and salt. Add dry mixture to melted butter and blend well. Mixture will also resemble course crumbs. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, stir together the raspberries, sugar, cornstarch and lemon juice until just combined.

Assembling the tart
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease the bottom of the pie pan, dusting with flour. Pat the shortbread dough evenly over the bottom and sides of the prepared pan. Using the tines of a fork, poke holes throughout the bottom and the sides of the soon-to-be tart crust.

Bake until deep golden brown, (18 - 22 minutes).

Whisk together the remaining egg yolk with a pinch of salt. Brush the inside of the shortbread crust with the yolk. Return crust to oven until egg glaze sets, (1 - 2 minutes). Let cool completely.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Distribute raspberry mixture evenly in tart crust. Sprinkle streusel over the berries and bake the tart until the streusel has browned and thick juices bubble up near the center, (45 - 60 minutes). Let cool completely on rack. Best served the day it is made.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Chocolate Chip Challah

Baking bread can seem daunting to people. There's yeast, kneading (or not), and multiple risings. These are steps in the baking process that aren't routine to us cookie/cupcake/whoopie pie-makers.

Yet, what most of us don't realize, is that the rewards of bread-making are so fan-freakin-tastic. The smells, the taste, the texture. All worth it.

For week 30 of the baking challenge I was to make a sweet bread, and since I had been invited to a friend's house for a Shabbat dinner, the timing couldn't have been better. I had made the recipe before but my braiding turned out pretty wonky. This time, I decided to go for a three-strand braid, under the direction of this site. Braid, brush, rise for an hour.

Brush the loaves again with a second egg coating, then enjoy the next 30 - 45 minutes as the smell of challah dances through your home.

Chocolate Chip Challah
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
makes 2 loaves

1 1/2 packages active yeast (about 11 grams)
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon of sugar (113 grams)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon salt
8 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup chocolate chips, (per challah), optional
1 large egg (for coating)

In a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast and sugar in 1 3/4 cups of warm water. Whisk together with vegetable oil until well combined.

Beat in each of the 4 eggs, individually. Stir in salt. Add flour, one cup at a time, stirring between each addition. When dough starts to form a ball, (albeit scraggly), turn dough onto floured surface and knead until smooth. (Make sure to incorporate all the flour bits that may have stuck to the edge of the mixing bowl.)

Spray bowl with cooking spray, and return dough to mixing bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise for at least an hour.

When dough has just about doubled in size, punch it down. Roll the dough over, so that the top of the ball becomes coated in the cooking spray. Cover again with plastic wrap, and let it rise in the refrigerator overnight. (Can't wait? Replace the chilled overnight rise with a 30 minute warm rise).

Remove bowl from fridge, bring the dough back to room temperature. (About 30 minutes). Knead the chocolate chips into the challah dough. Separate dough into two portions, (for the separate loaves).

Take each dough portion, and divide into 3 equal sized dough balls. (These will become your braid-strands). Roll each small dough ball into a long dough strand, about 12 - 15 inches long, (use the long edge of your baking sheet for comparison). Place the three strands side-by-side, parallel to one another, and about halfway down from the top, begin a 3-strand braid. Braid the strands together until you've reached the bottom, then flip the entire braid over so that you can braid the unfinished portion.

Once you have a braided loaf, place it on a greased baking sheet, making sure to leave plenty of room for challah #2. (Leaving a 2-inch gap between loaves). Repeat braid process for the remaining half of dough. Beat the final egg and coat the braided loaves with the egg wash. Cover with greased plastic wrap and let braids rise for an hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Brush loaves again with egg wash. Bake in the middle rack for 30 - 40 minutes, or until golden brown and the internal temperature reaches 190 degrees Fahrenheit. Cool challah on racks before serving.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Butter Sage Chicken

I love the smell of melted butter. It has such great associations, too. Melted butter on my mom's fresh flour tortillas, melted butter over pancakes, or on the side of a steaming plate of clams and lobster. The smell of melted butter means something great is about to be had.

I was having dinner a feast at a friend's place the other night, and she made some amazing dishes. Our main course being Butter Sage Chicken. Beautifully cooked, with lots of butter sage sauce; the smell of butter was intoxicating. Biting in to it, though, was almost like an entirely different dish. My taste buds were punched in their hypothetical faces by a very prominent lemon flavor. It was delicious. 

So, less than a week later, I find myself in the kitchen, with a pack of chicken breasts, ready to punch my taste buds again.

Lining up the ingredients. Each chicken piece gets a sprinkling of salt and pepper, and coated in flour.

Chicken pieces go into a pre-heated pan. Cooked on each side for about 5 to 6 minutes.

Cooked chicken is set aside to make way for the butter sage sauce.

Butter and herbs first, followed by onions, followed by lemon juice. Bring chicken back into the pan and coat the pieces in the sauce. Serve and enjoy!

Butter Sage Chicken
adapted from Cooking Light

2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in half width-wise
sea salt, freshly cracked black pepper
1/2 cup all purpose flour
3 1/2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 medium-sized sweet onion, diced
2 tablespoons lemon juice (about 1/2 a medium-large lemon)

Season each of the chicken breast pieces with salt and pepper. Set aside. Heat a large skillet, set at medium high, and prepare with cooking spray.

In a shallow dish/bowl, measure out the 1/2 cup of flour. One at a time, coat both sides of the chicken pieces.

Without overcrowding the pan, add a few pieces of chicken and cook for about 6 minutes per side, or until cooked through. When fully cooked, remove chicken from pan and rest on a plate. You may have to cook the chicken in batches.

When all the chicken is cooked, add the butter, sage, and thyme to the pan. Cook over medium heat until the herbs are fragrant and just as the butter begins to browns. Add diced onions and cook until edges brown. Combine with lemon juice and reincorporate the chicken pieces to bring them back to desired temperature.

Remove from heat, and serve with your favorite sides.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Tandoori-Spiced Chicken Thighs

I never tried Indian food until after I started college. When I finally had it, I felt wronged. "Culinarily"-deprived. (I can't find a better phrase for it, so why not make one up?). I could not believe all of the delicious foods I had been missing out on. For years. Years! Naan, alone, was enough to make me feel like I never needed another cuisine.

A few more years of dining hall meal plans, and then I was out on my own. Off to fend for myself in the kitchen. It took me so long before I approached Indian recipes.

B's sister gifted him/us a cookbook, and as excited as I was, the ingredient lists felt overwhelming. Then, one fortunately lazy afternoon, I took a peek at B's mom's Gourmet Cookbook and fell upon a recipe for Tandoori Chicken Thighs. I immediately swooned for the bright red, bone-in, chicken that arrives at your table sizzling on a skillet.

It had to be done.

A couple of surprises when making this recipe. As you can see, the chicken isn't bright red! Turns out this recipe lacks the red spices (cayenne, kashmiri red chili powder, etc) that result in the typical red hue. I assume that Gourmet was looking for a more mild-spiced version to appeal to a variety of pallets. (They forgot about folks like me, the spicier the better!)

The next surprise, the spices were easy to come by. Unlike cardamom, which I can NEVER find. But that's a different story.

Tandoori Spiced Chicken Thighs
adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook
Serves 5-6


1 Tablespoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
6 oz plain Greek yogurt
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs

 In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the Greek yogurt with the lemon juice and all of the spices.

Trim the excess fat off the chicken thighs and stir into the yogurt mixture, making sure to coat all sides of the chicken.

Put chicken and spiced-yogurt mixture into a large heavy-duty sized plastic seal-able bag. Close bag tightly and ensure that chicken is well-coated. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, and up to 12 hours. (Mine marinated overnight.)

Preheat broiler, set on high. Line the broiler pan with foil and spread out chicken in a single layer. Broil chicken, about 5-6 inches from the flame, until they are cooked through (about 16 - 20 minutes). Make sure to turn once during the cook time. (Depending on the size of your pan, you may have to cook the chicken thighs in multiple batches)

Serve with basmati rice, and/or your other favorite sides, and enjoy!

A super special thanks to Lindy at Whiskful Thinking for thinking of me! I love how much you've committed to your baking! I hope we cross paths again, soon!