Sunday, October 25, 2009

Chicken Provencal (In a slow cooker)

A combination of writer's block, an FDA inspection, and my lack of inspiration at the moment (thanks crazy weather) has decreased my output on the blog lately. Sorry about that. But apologies get me nowhere if I cannot produce some food!

I enjoy my slow cooker. I love beef stroganoff and slow cooked beans are consistently a favorite. However, leaving something to heat all day is not always a good idea in the summer months. Thanks to a dip in the temperature lately, I can pack up the ice cream machine and unpack the slow cooker. The first thing I decided to make was chicken Provencal, a fantastic recipe I adapted from the Cook's Illustrated cookbook.

Starting with the chicken, I am very pleased that boneless, skinless chicken thighs have percolated into my super market. They are stupendous and almost more flexible than chicken breasts. They also stew very well.
I discovered this recipe while searching for a good putanesca recipe. I'm not extremely versed in French cooking, but this preparation is actually pretty simple. You can mix and match certain parts (like more olives) to match your tastes.
Chicken Provencal (adapted from Cook's Illustrated)

8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs or 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 onions, chopped medium
14 cloves garlic, chopped
1 1/2 cups white wine
28-oz crushed tomatoes
1 3/4 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 teaspoon dried oregano (or 1 tablespoon fresh)
1 teaspoon dried thyme (or 1 tablespoon fresh)
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons corn starch
4 oz. Kalamata olives, pitted and roughly chopped
1/4-1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest.

Heat 2 teaspoon of the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium high heat until smoking. Season chicken thighs with salt and pepper and place in hot skillet. Brown on both sides, about 10 minutes, and transfer to slow cooker. If the pan is too crowded brown in batches. Add remaining teaspoon oil and onions and a bit of salt, cooking until the onions are wilted, about 5-8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add wine, scraping up bits from the bottom of the pan, and cook until reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Add the onion mixture to the slow cooker, followed by the bay leaves, thyme, oregano, tomatoes, and 1 1/2 cups of the chicken stock. Cover and cook for about 4 hours or until the chicken is very tender.

Remove chicken from cooker and transfer to plate, covering with foil. Turn slow cooker to high, whisk remaining 1/4 cup chicken stock with cornstarch and add to the mix. Cover and cook until thickened, about 15-30 minutes. Stir in the olives, parsley, and lemon zest. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve sauce over chicken, passing additional sauce at the table.

Serve over rice, egg noodles, or soft polenta. Serves 6. Enjoy!


Monday, October 19, 2009

The Great Chili Cook-Off- Part 1

My workplace decided this week to have a chili cook-off. We had a pie baking contest a few months ago and I was a judge, a fantastic honor that ended with a lot of good pie and a serious sugar rush. Thankfully our chili cook-off will include complementary Tums. Now, competition cooking is not something I usually do, mainly because as a home cook I still have a somewhat fragile ego (as I'm sure we all do when it comes to cooking new things). But the only way to grow is to try new things, right? I'm giving this a shot, hopefully with good results.

I have been making a white chili since before I started this blog, and I'm pretty proud of it. I'm going to put it up against the others in hopes of actually placing, which is hard since most people prefer a traditional red chili. My biggest problem though is my love of spice. I eat fiery food. I used to eat habanero salsa when I worked a Mexican restaurant, if that says anything. Needless to say, a lot of people do not really share my "slow burn on the lips" philosophy. Which just means I get to make test batches.

The first batch was made pretty much following my original recipe. I swapped out fresh tomatillos for the canned ones (I found a great local Mexican market for them) as well as added a fresh jalapeno. However, WHY ARE THERE NO FRESH GREEN CHILES? I know, I know, I'm spoiled growing up in the Southwest. But I recently watched a travel show talking about how the Hatch chile supply is decreasing due to lack of sales. I guarantee if they put some fresh ones next to the poblanos in the store this would help the problem. In fact, they can replace the poblanos if that makes it better. With the surge of Mexican food going on in the States, it makes sense to stock something that is very unique to us. But back to the chili.

I brought my batch into work for some taste testing on calm and unbiased tongues. Mostly positive reviews, though some thought it was a bit thick and maybe the fresh tomatillos were a bit tart. It does need a bit of tweaking, so I think I'm going to make another batch next week. I'm a bachelor this weekend, so I'm thinking a nice pumpkin beer and a pot of chili will make this horrible Indiana weather a bit more bearable.

What about the food world out there, do you make white chili?

I apologize for no pictures with this post. The camera is in California at the moment :)

White Chili

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ground turkey (at least 90/10, I like 95/5)
1 onion, diced fine
4 cloves garlic, diced
2 chipotle peppers in their adobo sauce, diced
2 4 oz. cans diced green chiles
1 10oz can green enchilada sauce
1 pound fresh tomatillos, husks and stems removed
1 jalapeno
1/4 cup cilantro
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup dry pearled barley
32oz . cans chicken stock
1 15oz. can cannellini bean beans, rinsed
1/2 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder (go for the Ancho kind, its smokey)
1 tablespoon cornmeal
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Sour cream

Heat broiler to high. Arrange tomatillos (stem side down) on a foil lined baking sheet along with jalapeno. Place in middle of oven, roast for 5 minutes or until slightly charred. Flip and continue to roast until charred on other side. Remove from oven can cool slightly. Peel and seed jalapeno, remove stem part from tomatillo. Place tomatillos, jalapeno, cilantro, sugar, green enchilada sauce, and some salt in pepper in a food processor. Pulse until mostly smooth.

Heat about olive oil over medium heat in a large pot. Add onion and cook until slightly wilted, about 3-5 minutes. Add garlic and cook one minute longer. Add turkey, breaking it apart and cooking until it has lost its pink color. Add the chipotles, cumin, chili powder, and some salt and pepper. Stir and cook for about 1 minute. Add the tomatillo mixture and pearled barley, followed by chicken stock. Stir, bring to a boil and lower heat to a simmer. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. Add beans and cook 10 more minutes, or until barley becomes only slightly chewy. Remove lid, stir in cornmeal and tomato paste, and cook for about 5 more minutes. Serve topped with a bit of sour cream.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009


There are few places I enjoy more than a pub. Beer and I are on quite good terms, and I love the food that accompanies it. Thankfully, beer and food pairings are becoming more and more popular thanks to the emergence of good quality beer in the states (but that's another post). I recently ate lunch at Gage, a Chicago gastro-pub that offered a higher end spin on traditional brunch, lunch, and dinner pub fare.

Even at an off lunch hour, the place was downright packed. Not to mention the place is quite large (there is another bar in the basement that they open up for weekend nights). We sat in the bar (no wait), and were greeted with friendly and knowledgeable service. Gage runs specials every day including a fish, sandwich, soup, and entrée of the day. Em had fish and chips (made with the fish of the day, fresh cod) that probably rank as top 5 in best fried fish ever. Guinness batter and perfectly cooked, they were great. I had the sandwich of the day, roasted pork leg served with a cilantro aioli. Man was it good. Tender pork, a homemade sauce, and really good bread. I love pub food, and this hit the spot. The beer they have on tap is also quite nice, with a featured local beer on tap for each season. Nice.

The best part might have come with desert. Deconstructed coffee and doughnuts are something you do not usually see. Well, ok, I have never seen. A fresh drop doughnut rolled cinnamon sugar, a fried chocolate gonache (which was unsweetened), and a sweet coffee sauce poured over the top. Yes, it tasted as good as it sounds. We both decided to go back the next time we were in Chicago, and maybe even twice.


Friday, October 9, 2009

Making Banana Pancakes on the Weekend

The first time I heard of banana pancakes was from a Jack Johnson song. But he only makes them when he wants to pretends it’s the weekend. What about when it's really the weekend? Well, I decided to break the mold and make them last week. I am now a true believer of the putting the banana in the pancake.

The main problem I found was how to add them to not just get the banana flavor but also get some contrasting textures. Most banana pancake recipes I found incorporated banana into the batter by mashing, but that was it. Flavor is great, but only mashed banana and I don't really see eye to eye. I think it's my aversion to banana flavoring. When I worked at a bakery we had this glop called Fruit-O that we added to our banana nut bagels. They tasted alright, but that stuff made my stomach churn it smelled so strange. Not exactly a great food memory, which has in the past caused me to shy away from flavoring anything with banana (and don't even get me started on orange cake).

Turns out by adding banana two ways I was able to get the perfect combination of flavor and texture in my pancakes. I mashed up one banana to put in the batter, but I also sliced a few and placed them on the top of the pancake, pushing it in to the batter. When flipped, the bananas caramelized on the bottom. Em gave it two thumbs up.

The only better thing than a banana pancake is a leftover one smeared with peanut butter, rolled up, and consumed quickly. I don’t know why I did not think of that earlier, I feel like I was really missing out. I think I might just throw peanut butter in the batter next time.

Banana Pancakes

1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 cup buttermilk
1 banana, mashed
2 bananas, sliced thin

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, salt, and cinnamon in a large bowl. Stir until combined. In a separate bowl combine the egg, buttermilk, vanilla, mashed banana, and butter. Slowly add the wet to the dry and fold using a spatula. Once most of the batter is combined and a few lumps remain, set bowl aside and let rest for 5-10 minutes. If the batter is too thick, add a bit more buttermilk. Batter should be slightly thin but not pourable.

Preheat your griddle or pan to medium-high. Spray with a small amount of cooking spray or butter. Using a scoop or ladle, add small amount of batter to pan. Place sliced bananas in a single layer on the top of each pancake. Cook for 3-4 minutes until bottoms are browned. Flip pancakes over and continue to cook until bottom is browned and pancake is firm, about 2 more minutes. Serve with syrup.

Note- this recipe feeds 2-3 people, so if you have a larger family, you should probably double it.


Monday, October 5, 2009

Barbecued Redemption

As much as I love to grill, barbecue has not always been a strong point for me. Notice that barbecue and grilled are used in two separate contexts, as they are NOT the same thing (if you tell a barbecue person they are the same, prepare to be punched). Barbecue is more about the low and slow, something I have had a hard time getting my head around due to my lack of patience. This is especially true when it comes to ribs. I have made ribs three times in my life. The first, I was 14 or 15 and had no business being near a rack of pork. The second was a few summers ago, when I made them in the oven using an Alton Brown recipe. They were ok, but the whole house smelled for days and they were a bit sweet for anyone's taste. This is my third attempt. I often turn to Cook's Illustrated for some inspiration of cooking methods and flavor bases. We do not always see eye to eye on the simplicity of applications, but for the most part they can guide me in the right direction with all of their research and testing. Being a scientist myself, I truly respect what they do. In fact, I would work for them in a heartbeat, something of a dream job for me by combining the two things I love the most. But I am getting off topic, this is about ribs. If you want to make truly good ribs, you need to give yourself an afternoon to make them. Again, low and slow. The directions that follow mainly detail a gas grill. If you have a charcoal or wood grill, I put a little blurb at the end to cover it.

Barbecued Ribs (adapted from Cook's Illustrated)

2 full racks pork ribs (spare or baby back), about 2-3 pounds each
1/4 cup chili powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
4 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne
2 cups wood chips
Barbecue sauce (I cheated and used bottled from a rib festival)

Combine chili powder, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and cayenne in a small bowl. Rub a copious amount onto the ribs on all sides. Wrap the ribs tightly in plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for at least one hour or up to overnight. Let come to room temperature before placing on grill.

Soak woodchips in water for 30-45 minutes. Drain and place in a disposable aluminum pan (like a cake pan). Remove one of your grill grates and place the pan directly on the bottom of the grill, placed on top of the primary burner (a lot of grills have those V shaped bars above the burners, that's what I'm talking about, on top of those). Turn all burners to high and cover grill. Heat until the chips are smoking, 10-15 minutes. Turn all burners off except the primary burner, and adjust that to medium. Place ribs on the non-heated end of the grill and cover. The goal is to maintain an internal grill temperature of 275-300°F while keeping the ribs off of direct heat. Cook ribs, flipping and rotating about every 30 minutes, until the meat starts to pull away from the bone, about 3-4 hours. If desired, brush with sauce on both sides the last 15 minutes of cooking. Wrap tightly in aluminum foil and let rest for 30 minutes- 1 hour. Enjoy.

Note- For a charcoal grill, apply the same principal of a two side fire. Pile coals on one side of the grill and heat until ashed over. Place wood chips directly on the coals. Place ribs on the other (cooler) side of the grill and cover when grilling. Every hour add a few more briquettes to maintain heat.


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