Tuesday, February 26, 2013

why we stay in on a Saturday night: maple and chipotle barbecue chicken thighs

Indy has some pretty amazing restaurants with a good handful of James Beard award nominees.  I'll probably never dine at most of them and that's okay.  When your husband travels as much as mine does, you have a very appreciative audience for home cooked meals.  Besides, currently there's a bit of a lull in our sports viewing with Purdue underperforming in basketball, the Pacers rolling and Duke playing at very random times.  What do sports have to do with dining?  Well, if there's no game we have to watch, we can actually watch a movie.  Movie viewing rarely happens at our house.  It's the sports and it's the ability to stay awake.  So the past two weekends we have watched three new films and now we can watch the Oscars and have a bit more skin in the game.  So if you're going to stay in and watch a movie, you might as well stay in and cook a good meal before the movie.  Saturday night was a winner.  Well, the dinner was a champion but the nominated movie mostly just made me upset.  Have you seen "Flight"?  So frustrating.  The main character can not get his ***t together and stop behaving very badly.  Kind of like how watching the character Michael Scott on The Office always made me a little crazy.  So, make the chicken dinner but choose a different movie.  Our favorite of our recent movie binge has been "Argo".  Awesome.  You know how it ends, but it's still crazy suspenseful.  Loved it.
*Writer's note:  since this post lingered in draft stage, "Argo"'s general awesomeness has been rewarded with an Oscar.

On to the recipe.  If you read regularly you know we eat a lot of chicken at my house and we do a lot of grilling.  The February/March issue of Fine Cooking had an intriguing feature on barbecuing using your broiler.  Since we had a nice coating of frozen sleet the other night, I actually broiled my buffalo chicken burger patty from Whole Foods and it was easy and delicious.  So I picked out a barbecued chicken recipe and Greg offered to grill it instead since by yesterday we were pretty thawed out.  The rub has brown sugar in it so I warned him not to burn the chicken (easy to do if you have sugar contacting flame).  He loved the coaching on his grilling technique.  Ha.  Of course he did not, but he took it under advisement and grilled the chicken on low and just brushed the barbecue sauce on after grilling and the chicken was some of the most flavorful, moist and tasty chicken we've ever cooked or eaten.  Really.  So good.  I made roasted asparagus with just olive oil, kosher salt and freshly ground pepper and a nice salad with butter lettuce, watercress, tomatoes, radishes, avocado, feta, garlic, kosher salt, freshly ground pepper, white wine vinegar and good olive oil.  The key to that salad is to toss it a bunch to get the avocado all worked through.  

Please don't toss this recipe aside (unless you are a vegetarian) because it uses the lowly dark meat chicken thigh.  You remove the skin from the bone-in thighs mainly because it will burn on the grill or under the broiler.  Then you just have very flavorful dark meat on bones which is more moist and tender than chicken breasts prepared without skin.  Dark meat is not evil.  It's just tasty.  Cooking Light has tons of chicken thigh recipes.  I've tried swapping out chicken breasts but it's never as good.  Trust me.  You can make the sauce up to a day ahead and just refrigerate it until using.  If you don't have 2-4 hours to let the rub work it's magic on the chicken, just leave the rubbed chicken out on your counter for 30 minutes.  Cook it thoroughly.  You'll be fine.

Oh yeah, one last note:  I use a jaccard to push the rub into the meat.  Mine has 48 little blades and really comes in handy when you are speeding up tenderizing and flavoring meat.  It also helps flatten meat for faster cooking time.  Click on the link for the Jaccard Supertendermatic 48-Blade Tenderizer.  You just have to own something named "supertendermatic".

Maple and Chipotle Barbecue Sauce
1/2 C ketchup (right, I never use it but here is the exception), try a low sugar option
1/3 C pure maple syrup (no imitation syrups, ick)
2 T cider vinegar
1 T minced chipotle chile with adobo sauce (pretty sure mine was at least 2 T)
1 T lower sodium Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic salt 

For the Chicken
3 lb. bone-in chicken thighs, skinned (about 8 good size thighs)
1 T sweet smoked paprika
1 T packed brown sugar (light or dark)
1 tsp garlic salt
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp chile powder
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper

Make the sauce:  in a saucepan whisk together the ketchup, maple syrup, vinegar, chipotles, Worcestershire, dry mustard, onion powder and garlic salt.  Bring to a boil over medium heat and reduce to low heat to simmer for about 15 minutes to blend flavors (watch it, it's thick and you don't want it reduced to nothing).  Set aside.  Can be made up to a day ahead and kept refrigerated.

Make the chicken:  in a small bowl whisk together the paprika, brown sugar, garlic salt, onion powder, chile powder and ground pepper.  Rub the chicken thighs with the mixture and cut-in with a jaccard tenderizer if you have one.  If not, no worries.  Refrigerate 2-3 hours.  Bring to room temperature before grilling or broiling.

To grill:  preheat your grill.  Reduce heat to low and grill chicken about 5-7 minutes per side until cooked through (internal temperature should be 165 degrees).  Warm up barbecue sauce and brush grilled thighs when done.  Remove from grill and let rest 10 minutes before serving.   

To broil:  position rack about 4 inches from the broiler and heat on high.  Line the top rack of a broiler pan with foil and slit/puncture the foil at the openings to allow the fat to drain (or you might just get a little too smoky under the broiler).  Arrange chicken pieces skin side down (well, where there was the skin) and broil for 5 minutes.  Flip the chicken and broil until chicken is barely pink inside, or about another 4-5 minutes.  Brush with some of the sauce and broil until sauce begins to caramelize, or about 1-2 minutes.  Watch it so it does not burn.  Chicken should be 165 degrees.  Let rest 10 minutes before serving.  

Thursday, February 21, 2013

the mother of all carrot cakes: Carrot Cake with Pecan Cream Filling and Cream Cheese Frosting

Carrot Cake with Pecan Cream Filling and Cream Cheese Frosting
Well friends, it appears that storm Q is wreaking havoc on my husband's ability to get into IND tonight,  and for that matter most of tomorrow, so I have a little unexpected free time.  It's not like he would mind if I sat at my computer and blogged, he's a big fan.  But the dinner I was planning on making, chopped buffalo chicken salad can wait until tomorrow and I can finish this post.  This is a post that has been sitting in draft form since Greg's birthday in November.  He decided at the last minute that he really wanted cheesecake, but when I served this cake (it was too late, I had already made the filling) all was forgotten.

This particularly spectacular carrot cake is from my "The Frog/Commissary Cookbook" from my favorite restaurant in downtown Philadelphia in the 80's when I was a newly wed, newly graduated and newly employed Loss Control Specialist for CIGNA Property and Casualty.  Both the restaurant and CIGNA P&C are long gone.  And many of my readers were years from being born when I bought this cookbook on a training trip to HQ in 1986.  Anyway, that's all very strange to write and realize but we'll not dwell on it.  The Frog upstairs restaurant and it's downstairs Commissary cafeteria line would be so on trend right now.  All fresh, all local and all real whole food.  Honestly, the entire experience was genius.  Not really ahead of it's time, people have known for a long time that real food is delicious.  Absolutely no regard for the dangers of butter, eggs, red meat, sugar, flour, carbs and all the other things that have at one time or another been the things that will kill us all if we eat them.  Hang around long enough and you get the feeling that balance has just got to be the answer.  I am fairly convinced that more plants is for sure a good thing that no one will ever reverse their position on, but heaven forbid we ever agree on which ones are problematic.  It's tiresome, really.

So if you want to amaze your friends and family with the absolutely most amazing carrot cake ever made, this is your cake.  It was the logo of the restaurant.  It was good almost 30 years ago and it's still crazy good today.  Have a little piece.  Tomorrow have salad.  Well, maybe a couple of meals need to be salad to balance this bad boy out.  But really, it's spectacular.  I make it in three 9-inch cake rounds (the layers are not surprisingly a little short), but it is written for a tube pan and then you slice it into layers (tricky with nuts and raisins).  You could bake it in a 9x13x2 pan, but then you would miss the filling.  Same for cupcakes, but they would be good.  If you bake it in some other form, just adjust your baking times.  If you are making the filling, it can be made days ahead and kept refrigerated.  It's best if you at least refrigerate it overnight to thicken it up for easy spreading.  I always toast my pecans, you'll be using a total of 2 1/4 C, so spread them on a baking sheet and toast in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes, stirring once or twice and keeping watch they do not burn.  Nuts are almost always better toasted when you add them to anything.  Not hard, just a few extra steps. You got it.  I know you do.

Pecan Cream Filling
1 1/2 C sugar
1/4 C flour
3/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 C heavy cream
6 ounces unsalted butter
1 1/4 C chopped pecans, toasted
2 tsp vanilla extract

Carrot Cake
1 1/4 C canola oil
2 C sugar
2 C flour
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
4 eggs
4 C grated carrots (one pound bag)
1 C chopped pecans, toasted
1 C raisins

Cream Cheese Frosting
8 ounces unsalted butter, softened
8 ounces light cream cheese, room temperature
one pound confectioner's sugar
1 tsp vanilla

1 1/2 C shredded sweetened coconut or big toasted coconut flakes

Filling:  In a heavy saucepan, whisk together the sugar, flour and salt.  Gradually stir in cream and heat over low heat adding in butter to melt.  Let simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown in color.  Cool to lukewarm.  Stir in nuts and vanilla.  Let cool completely and then refrigerate, preferably overnight.  If too thick to spread, bring to room temperature before using.

Cake:  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray and flour a 10-inch tube cake pan (angel food cake pan) or three 9-inch cake pans (or use two, whatever you have will work just keep an eye on them).  Before you start mixing, soak your raisins in either hot water to cover for 15 minutes, or spiced rum or whiskey to cover for about an hour.  Drain the raisins before adding to the cake.
In a mixing bowl or stand mixer, combine canola oil and sugar.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Stir flour mixture into oil mixture.  Add eggs, one at a time and beat until well-combined.  Add the carrots, raisins and pecans.  Pour into the prepared pan or pans.  Bake the tube pan for 70 minutes or the cake pans about 22-30 minutes.  Test the cake(s) with a toothpick that should come out clean.  Cool in tube pan until completely cool.  Cake layers can be inverted about 10 minutes after baking.

Cream Cheese Frosting:   Cream the butter well.  Add the cream cheese and beat until well-blended. Add the confectioner's sugar and vanilla and beat (start slowly or you'll have a white cloud all over everything) until fluffy.  Refrigerate if not using immediately, but bring to a spreadable temperature before using.

Assembly:  Invert cake onto a serving platter and if using a tube pan, carefully split the cake into 3 horizontal layers using a long serrated (bread) knife.  Spread the filling between the layers.  Spread the frosting over the top and sides.  If you're really going for it you can garnish the top with toasted coconut.  The finished cake should be refrigerated.

Serves 16-20

layers and filling and a mound of frosting, oh my

oh look, I decorated mine with pecans
which I did not remember 3 months later

slicing on the butler's pantry with a classic photo in the background

Monday, February 18, 2013

Birthday Girl Carrot Cake for the Gluten-Free

I have an unfinished draft version of the carrot layer cake I made in November for Greg's birthday just taunting me when I look at my blog post page and it is my goal to get you that seriously decadent dessert recipe this week.  But meanwhile, I'm going to post you this much easier to write and to bake carrot cake recipe I made for a gluten-free by necessity and not by choice friend at work.  (I still struggle to understand gluten free by choice, I get cake free by choice but that's sad too).  Sweet Lindsey celebrated her birthday a week or so ago and when I asked what kind of cake liked, I learned she hasn't had her favorite carrot cake since she had to go GF.  Nothing like a little baking challenge.  So I read a bunch of GF recipes and quickly realized that the two shelves I have devoted to baking supplies contained almost nothing I needed for a scratch GF cake.  Thankfully, King Arthur Flour saved the day and had a recipe for carrot cake using their GF yellow cake mix.  I found King Arthur gluten-free cake mixes today at The Good Earth in Broad Ripple  But last week when I was baking I found Bob's Red Mill gluten-free Vanilla cake mix at Meijer.  I guessed the mixes would be fairly interchangeable.  I boosted the spice quantities because I've baked enough spice, gingerbread and carrot cakes to know better.  I barely had 2 1/2 cups of confectioner's sugar for the frosting, but that was fine since I was not icing a layer cake, but the easy to share 9x13x2 version.

Happy belated birthday to Lindsey!  Thanks for inspiring the challenge.  Now I have a cake to make for my BFF who, if she's ever back on this continent, is also a GF girl.  Lindsey was gracious to share the cake with everyone in the back room on Saturday.  Well, if you bring a cake into work it's pretty hard to keep it hidden.  Rave reviews all around and so today's post just had to be the carrot cake.  If you aren't on a gluten free diet, I imagine you can use a regular cake mix and get similar results.  Or you can just wait for my next carrot cake post and try that bad boy.

when you frost a cake at 11 pm, sometimes you forget to take a picture

Gluten Free Carrot Cake

1 C raisins
1/2 C vegetable oil
4 large eggs
4 1/2 C shredded carrots (a one-pound bag)
2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 box gluten-free yellow cake mix
1 1/2 C chopped pecans

1/2 C softened unsalted butter
8-ounce package reduced fat cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla
2 1/2-3 1/2 C confectioner's sugar
milk to thin frosting, if necessary

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 9x13x2 pan.  Cover raisins with very hot water and let soak for about 15 minutes to plump.  Soak them in whiskey or spiced rum for a little change sometime, trust me.
Beat together the oil, eggs, carrots, cinnamon, ginger and cloves.  Stir in the cake mix.  Drain the raisins and fold into the cake batter along with the nuts.  Distribute evenly.  Pour batter into prepared pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 50 minutes until lightly browned, firm on top and cake tester comes out clean.  Cool completely before frosting.

Cream together butter and cream cheese with salt and vanilla until fluffy.  Add confectioner's sugar on very low speed unless you want a big powdered sugar cloud all over your kitchen.  Beat until smooth.  Thin with a tablespoon or two of milk if necessary.  Frost with an offset spatula if you have one.  Refrigerate until serving.

cake ingredients

carrots, oil, eggs, spices
cake mix in, raisins and nuts about to be blended next

batter in pan

ta-da!  gluten free and looking good

Monday, February 4, 2013

good carbs: creamy avocado pasta

Sara introduced me to the Oh She Glows blog a couple of years ago and every now and then when I'm feeling like I need to check in with the vegan world and see what I can fit into my omnivore world I stop by.  Thought for sure someone would need me to make guacamole last week with avocados averaging $1 a piece everywhere prior to the Big Game so I stocked up.  And then no one needed the guacamole.  Too many avocados is not an actual real problem.  I eat them in salads, on sandwiches, my favorite avocado toasts and etc.  But clicking around Oh She Glows and looking for something completely different, I found this recipe for Creamy Avocado Pasta.  Bingo.

Greg was down this weekend with the big cold I had a month ago and I can tell I'm fighting it again.  One sign is always my body craving carbs.  I know sugary carbs wreck my immune system, so today I fed the beast with a little brown rice at lunch and whole wheat pasta at dinner.  Lots of fruits and veggies made the cut too.  Plus I started the day with a very needed detox-ing hot vinyasa class.  After the fun and cheesy dip-filled Super Bowl bash, I knew that was going to hurt a little.  Just a little woozy there in the middle, but that's a good sign from my over-fed body.  Followed it up with tennis team practice and finished the day with a highly entertaining ballet barre class with two lulus, one of which is  a guy.  He totally knew he was entertaining for us.  Good sport.

And back to the pasta.  I had a two servings of whole grain angel hair pasta and everything else I needed except for fresh basil.  Without the basil this dish was divine, so throw that in when I'm growing basil by the buckets this summer along with some fresh cherry tomatoes and it's a whole new kind of amazing.  Lemon and avocado is as perfect a combination as lime and avocado.  I know carbs are the enemy for a lot of people, but you know I believe in balance.  Whole grain carbs are good energy sources for most of us.  If you are moving and you are not clinically diagnosed as Celiac or gluten intolerant, have a little whole grain pasta.  Have a little brown rice (Trader Joe's frozen brown rice is ready in 3 minutes instead of 50, genius).  Enjoy a toothsome, crusty, seeded whole grain bread.  Life is short.  Sweat it out.  Every day if you can.  Balance, my friends, balance.

Make this yummy pasta for dinner and serve a nice little chicken breast or go easy and have a little rotisserie chicken from Costco with it.  Make a crunchy salad.  Quick and filling.  I have Meyer lemons while they are in season and I think the sweetness of the juice worked very well in this pasta dish.  Plus they are very easy to zest.  You can easily double this by using two avocados and lemons, but I would keep the olive oil to 3 tablespoons and leave the salt and pepper the same unless more is needed after tasting.

Creamy Avocado Pasta

two servings of whole grain pasta (spaghetti, linguini or angel hair would be nice)
one avocado, pitted
one small lemon, zest and juice
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 T olive oil
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
2 T fresh basil leaves, optional
cherry tomatoes, optional

Bring a pot of water with 1 tablespoon of salt to a boil and cook your pasta to al dente as directed.

Meanwhile, zest the lemon and then cut it in half.  Place garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and salt in a food processor and process for about 30 seconds.  Add avocado, ground pepper, lemon zest and basil (if using).  Process until smooth.

Drain pasta and pour over avocado mixture.  Toss with cherry tomatoes in season if you like.

Serves 2
garlic, olive oil, salt and lemon juice 
blurry addition of avocado, zest and pepper
avocado mixture ready to go
hot drained pasta with avocado mixture
my dinner

Friday, February 1, 2013

Super Bowl party ideas: bonus recipe for Kristin's Mix

"the mix"
Are you hosting a Super Bowl party?  Are you taking something to someone's bash?  Are you hanging out with the family and wondering what to feed them?

We are watching the commercials and the Harbaugh brothers (will it be like watching Serena v Venus?  it might be, but the Ravens hate Indianapolis so we have to root against them) at a party in the hood hosted by Paula and Danny.  The two of them have party hosting down and we are looking forward to the abundance of delicious food and cold drinks (although today it's barely in the teens outside, so the cold drinks might be more like room temperature red wine).  So I am off the hook this year.  Not a lot of Super Bowl buzz this year after Indy hosted the event last year and the whole thing turned out pretty flawless.  So glad we spared our guests the bone chilling cold and had a crazy warm week instead.

I've rounded up a few favorites for you with handy little links. *Decided to throw in a bonus sweet and salty snack mix.  A throwback classic.  Scroll on through.  Have a great weekend!

Chipotle Shrimp Dip:  light and full of flavor with shrimp, cream cheese, chipotle peppers, red pepper, corn, cilantro, lime and a few other things.  Love it.

chipotle shrimp dip in a really small bowl, like I could eat this for a snack size

Roasted Filet of Beef:  go big and roast a nice beef tenderloin early in the day and serve it sliced for little sandwiches for the party.  Carnivores will love you.  Greg would tell you to remember a horseradish spread for the sandwiches.  There's a recipe for a homemade version included.  Or serve the sandwiches warm as sliders with some caramelized onions and maybe a little provolone or blue cheese.

Budweiser Italian Beef:  yep, bust out the slow cooker and crack open a bottle of Bud to add to your beef, onions, and pepperoncini peppers.

Slow Roasted Pork Tacos:  make a taco bar, do your regular ground beef thing and or this melt in your mouth pork with lime, salt, sour cream and corn tortillas.

Beef Barbacoa:  slow cooked beef with some seriously yummy mingling of spices.  Serve on a taco bar or serve with provolone on nice sub rolls.  Always a big hit.

beef barbacoa

Grilled Buffalo Shrimp with Blue Cheese Dip:  you love your friends.  Buy some good shrimp and treat them to something fabulous.

Guacamole:  duh.  My first post and still the one thing that is my claim to fame.  The key is excessive use of fresh lime juice and a little chunky texture.  This is my 227th post.  Really.  Number one was a good long while ago.

guacamole for a pig roast (that's 10 avocados)

Queso:  This is a tailgate classic.  Full of tomatoes, onions, chiles and of course cheese.  It's a Cooking Light recipe.

double batch of queso with guest stirrer, Kelly

And here's one for the sweet and salty people.  Our Alabama friends just call this "The Mix".  It's super addicting and really has no redeeming nutritional qualities.  It is old school.  A recipe from bunko and book club days.  Apparently there is a gourmet shop somewhere in North Carolina that sells this as "Kristin's Trail Mix"  because the owner got the recipe from one of my bunco friends here in Indiana.  I really need to ask her where my mix is sold and see if it's anywhere near Durham.  Definitely need my picture taken by it.  "Trail mix" is a stretch.  Pretty far from the GORP and other semi-nutritious blends.  

Kristin's Mix

12 oz. Crispix cereal
16 oz. dry roasted peanuts
16 oz. small pretzels
2 C packed brown sugar
1 C butter
1/2 C light corn syrup

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a medium saucepan, melt the butter, brown sugar and corn syrup and bring to a boil.  Keep stirring and keep the mixture at a boil for 1 1/2 minutes.  In a large roasting pan, mix together Crispix, peanuts, and small pretzels.  Pour hot butter mixture over cereal mixture and stir together.  Bake for about 20 minutes, stirring 3-4 times.  Pour on waxed paper or parchment spread over your counter to cool.  You'll need about 2 baking sheets worth of parchment, this makes a big batch!

see all the good stuff in the pan?
ready to toss, note peanut free version

ready to bake
cooling on parchment
party ready