Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Chicken Diablo

Every summer, my family goes to San Diego.  It's a thing for people from Phoenix.  When it's eleventy billion degrees outside with no end in sight, pretty much nothing sounds better than 70 degrees with an ocean breeze.  Being food people, a significant part of our vacation planning centers around where we're going to eat.  My mom, a fabulous cook, and stepdad, a fabulous eater and researcher extraordinaire, always come up with a great list of the newest, hottest, best places we need to check out.  They're always considerate and ask me if there's anywhere I want to try.  I never have anything to say on this one; I know I'm in great hands.  My restaurant requirements have been the same for a few years now--I always want to go to Oscar's for their incredible smoked fish breakfast burritos (never a problem since it's walking distance from our hotel) and to Isabel's Cantina, a Latino-Asian fusion place, for something a little lighter and healthier during an otherwise indulgent trip.

I always get the same thing at Isabel's, a giant bowl of soup called the Buddha bowl.  It's made from garlic, ginger, lemongrass, vegetables, coconut milk, noodles, and whatever protein I'm feeling at the time.  I can never finish the whole bowl, but I make sure to get every last drop of broth from the bowl.  I really should branch out and order something else, especially with dishes like this chicken diablo on the menu.  Then again, when I can make something this easy, versatile, tender, and flavorful at home, I may just stick to keeping this one in my kitchen and letting Isabel bring me bowl after Buddha bowl.

Chicken Diablo
from Isabel Cruz, Isabel's Cantina

1/3 c. Dijon or spicy brown mustard
1/3 c. lemon juice (from about 3 lemons)
1/3 c. olive oil
1 1/2 TBSP red chile flakes
salt and pepper, to taste
3 1/2 lbs. bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces (I used breasts)

1.  In a small bowl, whisk together mustard, lemon juice, olive oil, and red chile flakes.  Salt and pepper chicken on both sides and place in a glass baking dish.  Pour the mustard marinade over the chicken and turn to coat.  Cover tightly and refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to overnight.

2.  If you have a grill with an area for indirect heat, or can arrange coals so they're only on one side of the grill, preheat grill to high.  Arrange chicken over indirect heat, cover the grill, and cook 10-15 minutes per side, until chicken is crisp with dark grill marks.  Alternately, preheat the oven to 425° F and an oven-safe cast iron grill pan over medium-high heat on the stove.  Cook in the grill pan 8-10 minutes, breast side down, until chicken is crisp with dark grill marks.  Flip chicken over and finish in the oven, uncovered, 10-12 minutes more Regardless of cooking method, check for doneness by inserting an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat without touching the bone.  It should read 165° F.  Transfer chicken to a platter to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Yield: 4-6 servings

Monday, September 15, 2014

Meatless Monday--Spiced Apple Waffles

It's finally starting to feel like fall is on its way.  The temperature is still plenty warm down here in Texas, but I can tell the tide is starting to turn.  It's not quite so warm in the mornings and the sun is setting just a touch earlier.  Plus, college football is back, which is a sure sign of fall in my book.  It's not exactly sweatshirt, blanket, and apple cider weather just yet, but I know we'll get there soon.

In the meantime, I'm beginning to enjoy a few of my fall favorites.  I'm not ready to pumpkin spice all the things; I'm perfectly happy to give apples their rightful time in the autumn sun.  One whiff of your local farmer's market or grocery produce section is the most glorious reminder that it's this time of year when apples are at their sweetest, most fragrant peak.  As the name of my blog suggests, I really do eat an apple almost every single day.  If I can count that apple in waffle form, I won't argue.

These waffles are a touch on the labor intensive side, but they are well worth it.  They're crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, they way the best waffles should be.  Grating the apple ensures its flavor is evenly distributed, so no bite is without its sweet taste.  The spices are present without being overpowering, and the flax seeds and pecans, should you choose to use them, bring a nice nuttiness to round everything out.  You could use just about any toppings you'd like to serve these--butter and syrup, apple butter, sweetened whipped cream jazzed up with a hint of cinnamon (and maybe bourbon), or my personal favorite, peanut butter, honey, and an extra sprinkle of cinnamon.  No matter how you finish them off, I guarantee you'll love them.    

These sweet, nutty waffles packed with apples and cinnamon are the perfect start to a crisp fall morning.

Spiced Apple Waffles
slightly adapted from Williams-Sonoma

3 eggs, separated
3/4 c. buttermilk, warmed
3/4 c. milk, warmed
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 crisp apple (your choice), cored and grated
1 1/2 c. cake flour
2 TBSP ground flax seed (optional)
1 TBSP cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. ground cinnamon, plus extra for serving
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. sugar
1 c. toasted pecans, chopped (optional)
desired toppings such as peanut butter, apple butter, butter, syrup, honey, and or, sweetened whipped cream

1.  Place a baking sheet in the oven and preheat to 200° F and Belgian waffle iron according to manufacturer's instructions.

2.  In a large bowl, whisk together egg yolks, buttermilk, milk, and butter.  Add grated apple and stir to combine.  

3.  In a separate medium bowl, whisk together flour, flax seed, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and salt.  Add the flour mixture to the egg yolk mixture and whisk until mostly smooth (a few small lumps are fine).

4.  Using a electric mixer with a whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on medium speed about 1 minutes, until soft peaks form.  Increase mixer speed to high and add sugar 1 TBSP at a time until stiff, glossy peaks form, about 3 minutes.  Fold half the egg whites into the batter, then repeat with the remaining half.

5.  If using pecans, sprinkle about 2 TBSP onto the waffle maker.  Pour about 2/3 c. batter onto the surface and cook according to manufacturer's instructions until golden brown and slightly crisp on the outside, about 5 minutes.  Transfer waffle to baking sheet in oven to keep warm.  Repeat process until all the batter is used.

6.  Top as desired and serve hot.  

Yield: 8 (6-in.) round Belgian waffles or 4 large square Belgian waffles (made in a four-square waffle iron)

Monday, September 8, 2014

Meatless Monday--Skillet Eggplant Parmesan

Eggplant might just be the most underappreciated vegetable.  I'm convinced pretty much everyone who says they dislike it just hasn't had it prepared well.  I'll admit, when it's wrong, it's so very wrong--slimy and weird and not at all appetizing.  But cooked correctly, it's tender, rich, and soft without losing its bite.

If you think you don't like eggplant or you're on the fence, I implore you to try this recipe.  Not only is it about as simple as it could be, it yields the most perfect late summer meal, as well.  It's got tomato sauce and gooey, melted, browned cheese, which automatically puts it in the comfort food category.  It also has fresh basil, which is one of my most favorite ingredients ever.  If you so chose to serve it over pasta, it's got that going for it, as well.  It doesn't call for breading and frying the eggplant, so it's considerably less messy and leaves you feeling a lot less guilty about all that wonderful cheese.  On top of all of that, I experimented a little from the original and roasted the eggplant the night before.  It worked out great, making this an ideal weeknight meal.  Really, there isn't anything about this recipe I don't love.  I hope you'll feel the same way.

Tender eggplant is smothered in gooey, melted cheese and flavorful tomato sauce to create a perfect late summer comfort meal.

Skillet Eggplant Parmesan
slightly adapted from Annie's Eats

2 large eggplants (about 3 lbs. total), sliced into 1/2-in. rounds
olive oil, for brushing
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 1/4 c. tomato sauce
up to 3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
8 oz. shredded mozzarella
3/4 c. freshly grated Parmesan
1 lb. spaghetti, cooked al dente (I like whole grain here)
fresh basil, for garnish

1.  Preheat oven to 375° F.  Place eggplant slices on baking sheets in a single layer, brush lightly with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.  Turn slices over and repeat on the other side.  Roast about 35 minutes, flipping halfway through, until golden brown and slightly softened.  If roasting ahead of time, let the eggplant cool completely, then refrigerate in an airtight container up to 24 hours.  If cooking the recipe all the way through, increase oven temperature to 400° F.    

2.  Mix tomato sauce and garlic together.  Spoon 1 1/4 c. sauce into a large deep sauté pan or casserole dish.  Layer half the eggplant slices into the pan and sprinkle with one third of the Parmesan and half the mozzarella.  Spread the remaining cup of tomato sauce over the cheese, the layer on the remaining eggplant, another third of the Parmesan, and rest of the mozzarella.  Top with remaining Parmesan.

3.  Bake 30-35 minutes, until the cheese is browned and bubbly.  Remove from the oven and let cool 15 minutes.  

4.  To serve, divide pasta among six plates, then top with equal portions of the eggplant and sauce.  Garnish with fresh basil. 

Yield: 6 servings

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Slow Cooker Tacos al Pastor

Summer 2014...that went by fast.  Somehow, it's September already, school's back in session, and so are many of the sports, clubs, and activities that come with the new school year.  As a teacher, the beginning of the school year is always a crazy time for me.  This year, I'm also a student, so it's hectic times ten.  Kudos to all the parents out there.  Seriously, how do you do it all?

For me, I know I can always turn to my good friend the slow cooker when I've got crazy days on the horizon.  They sometimes get a bad rap, but I'm a huge fan of my slow cooker.  For some people, I think the hard feelings come from memories of  bland, mushy, "use 48552375 kinds of canned cream of whatever soup" recipes out there.  Maybe it's the mountains of Pinstrosities out there.  (Don't even get me started.)  I think others may feel like using a slow cooker is a bit of a cop out on preparing a homemade dinner.  It's not.  Not even close.

This recipe is super simple, bursting with flavor, and uber versatile.  Much of the prep work can be done the night before, leaving you to do little else but sear the roast, dump the ingredients in your slow cooker, and make up a quick (quicker if you cut up the pineapple in advance) pineapple salsa just before serving.  The recipe calls for a 4-5 pound roast.  You may be thinking that's an awful lot of pork.  It is.  But this tender pork freezes perfectly, so do yourself a solid, make that five pounder, and freeze some leftovers for all those hectic days that are sure to come.  

Slow Cooker Tacos al Pastor
adapted from Southern Living, December 2013

2 tsp. Kosher salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 TBSP cumin
1 TBSP dried oregano (preferably Mexican)
1 (4-5 lb.) pork shoulder
1 (14.5-oz.) can pineapple tidbits in juice
1 (7-oz.) can chipotle peppers in adobo
2 TBSP olive oil
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 (12-oz.) bottle white ale
1 1/2 c. chopped fresh pineapple
1/3 c. chopped cilantro
1/4 c. minced red onion
2 TBSP fresh lime juice
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
24 corn tortillas, warmed (if you intend to eat the entire recipe)
cilantro, crumbled cotija or goat cheese, chopped avocado, sliced radishes, and/or lime wedges, for serving

1.  The night before: In a small bowl, mix together 2 tsp. salt, and all the pepper, cumin, and oregano.  Rub mixture onto the outside of the pork shoulder, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and place in a baking dish to catch any leaks.  Keep in the refrigerator overnight.

2.  In a blender, purée half the can of pineapple tidbits and all of the juice with the entire jar of chipotle peppers.  Mix in the remaining pineapple tidbits.  Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator overnight.

3. In a large pan (or in your slow cooker, if it has the capability), heat the oil and sear all sides of the pork shoulder until brown, about five minutes per side.  Place pork in the slow cooker, pour pineapple mixture, beer, and onion slices on top.  Cover and cook on low 8-10 hours or until bone slides out without resistance and meat shreds easily.    

4.  Meanwhile, make pineapple salsa by combining fresh pineapple, cilantro, red onion, lime juice, and red pepper flakes.  Set aside until ready to eat.

5.  Transfer pork to a cutting board and shred with two forks, removing any large pieces of fat.  Skim fat from the sauce, return pork to the slow cooker, and stir to combine meat and sauce.

6.  Serve with warm corn tortillas, crumbled cotija or goat cheese, chopped avocado, sliced radishes, lime wedges, and/or additional cilantro.

Yield: 10-12 servings (2 tacos each)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Sweet Corn Chowder

I know it's summer and I know it's hot out.  Still, I made soup.  Because, y'all, sweet corn.  And bacon.  And bourbon.  Yes, bourbon.  It's the new secret ingredient to making the best sweet corn chowder you'll ever have.  Honest to goodness.  You don't need much and it compliments the sweet corn, already at its peak, with just enough depth and smokiness to make the soup feel full-bodied without feeling heavy.  After all, bourbon is just more corn, right?

The soup itself is simple to make, doesn't take a terribly long time, and only requires one pot.  Plus, it used a couple of fun techniques like simmering the soup with the corn cobs to help it thicken and puréeing, which gave me an excuse to use one of my all-time favorite kitchen tools, my immersion blender.  I'm thinking it'll freeze really well, too, so I went ahead and made a full batch and froze three portions.  I know a month from now, when the school year is in full swing, the evenings are getting that first hint of fall crispness, and summer corn is long gone, I'll be so glad I did.

Sweet Corn Chowder
from Williams-Sonoma, New American Cooking

4-5 large ears of corn, husks and silk removed
4 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/2-in. pieces
1 yellow onion, chopped
1/2 lb. red or white boiling potatoes, peeled and chopped
4 c. vegetable or chicken stock
1 bay leaf
2 TBSP fresh or 2 tsp. dried thyme
1 1/2 c. milk, plus more as desired
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1-3 TBSP whiskey (optional)
salt and pepper, to taste
red pepper flakes, to taste
1/4 c. chopped fresh flat leaf Italian parsley

1.  Using a very sharp knife, cut the corn kernels from the cobs.  You should have about 4 c. of corn kernels.  Set the cobs aside.  

2.  In a heavy soup pot over medium heat, fry the bacon until crisp, 5-6 minutes.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a plate lined with a paper towel to drain. 

3.  Add the onion to the bacon drippings and sauté until translucent, about 10 minutes.

4.  Add the potatoes, stock, bay leaf, thyme, 2 c. of the corn kernels, and the cobs.  Simmer, uncovered, until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.  Remove the bay leaf and corn cobs and, either with an immersion blender or working in batches in a traditional blender, purée the soup until smooth.

5.  Reduce heat to low and stir in the remaining corn kernels and milk.  Add in the bell pepper, whiskey (if using), salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.  If desired, add more milk to reach your preferred consistency.  Taste and adjust seasonings.

6.  To serve, ladle soup into bowls and top with reserved bacon and parsley.

Yield: 4 servings