Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

My Venture into Barbecued Pork

This recipe is perfect to make during the winter when access to a smoker or grill is limited. You have to plan ahead to make it but it's painfully easy to make. You could serve this at football parties, New Year's Eve get-togethers, or even during the summer for the 4th of July.

Barbecue recipes vary from region to region in the U.S. Where I'm from, we prefer our barbecue sweet and slightly acidic. If you don't like sweet barbecue, this recipe is not for you. I actually served this for Christmas and several family members raved about it – including teenagers! Sometimes, I like to prepare this without adding any barbecue sauce at all. Sometimes, I take the easy way out and buy some barbecue sauce at the store instead of making my own. However, most of the time, I make this dish by taking the extra time and effort to make my own sauce.

Don't be put off by the long instructions. The ingredients are simple. The preparation is simple. In short, you make a wet rub and let the pork marinate overnight. Then you put it in a slow cooker for 11 to 12 hours. Then you make a sauce and bake the pulled pork with the homemade sauce for an hour. Trust me – it's well worth the time. Best of all, I got nearly all of the ingredients for this on sale! This dish can be very budget-friendly. I got a well-trimmed pork shoulder for only US$1.19 per pound – an inexpensive protein that served a crowd. Leftovers are to die for.

If you have a big family or are planning a party, this is a great choice for an entrée. It is so good! Enjoy – and happy barbecuing!

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Slow-Cooker Pulled Pork

(Printable Version)

1 6 lb pork shoulder (Boston butt)
2 medium onions, diced
1 head garlic, chopped
Hamburger buns

Wet Rub:
1/4 cup white sugar
2 TBSP paprika
4 tsp table salt
1 1/2 TBSP garlic powder
2 TBSP onion powder
2 TBSP chili seasoning
1 TBSP black pepper
2 tsp mustard powder
1 tsp liquid smoke
1/2 cup plus 2 TBSP red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil

Sweet Barbecue Sauce (Optional)
1 large onion, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic
3 cups ketchup
1/4 cup water
2 1/4 cups brown sugar
1 1/2 TBSP liquid smoke
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)

The Day Before Cooking:
Make the wet rub by whisking all of the ingredients together. Set aside while you prepare the pork shoulder. The wet rub will thicken slightly as it sits.

Trim as much exterior fat from the pork shoulder as possible. Cut the shoulder into 3 pieces of roughly equal size. One side will likely have a bone so it may be a little bigger than the other 2 pieces – which is no big deal. Add 1/3 of the wet rub to each piece and rub it in on all sides. Add the pieces of pork to a large dish, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.

Early on the Day of Serving:
The shoulder needs to cook for 11 to 12 hours so plan accordingly. Remove the pork from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for 1 hour. Meanwhile, chop the onions and garlic. After the pork has rested for 1 hour, add about 3/4 of the chopped onions and about 3/4 of the chopped garlic to the bottom of the slow cooker. Add the pork then top with the remaining onions and garlic. If any liquids have come out of the pork while it was marinating, tilt the pan and spoon the liquid on top of the meat. Cook on low for 11 to 12 hours (or high for 6 to 7 hours).

You will be shocked by the amount of liquid that comes out of the shoulder even though you did not add any extra water or broth to the slow cooker. When the pork is done, it will pull apart without any effort. Use a slotted spoon to remove the pork and onions/garlic from the juices in the slow cooker. Place the meat and onion mixture on a sided sheet pan and cover with aluminum foil and allow it to rest for 20 minutes. Discard the juices. The pork will taste great at this point and will be slightly sweet. You may serve the pulled pork after it has rested with (or without) a store-bought barbecue sauce.

I, however, like to go one extra step when making this pork. When the pork is almost done, start making the barbecue sauce by adding the roughly chopped onion and garlic to a food processor. Puree the onions and garlic and transfer the mixture to a medium sauce pan. Add the remaining sauce ingredients and stir to combine.

When the pork is resting after it has been removed from the slower cooker, preheat the oven to 350F. In addition, start heating the sauce ingredients over medium heat. Stir the sauce often as it heats so that it does not burn on the bottom of the sauce pan. It may splatter when it begins to simmer so feel free to use a splatter screen or a lid that is kept slightly ajar to allow excess moisture to escape. Simmer the sauce for about 15 minutes (about the length of time you are resting the pork). The sauce will darken considerably as it cooks.

Remove the foil from the pork. Use a couple of forks to shred the meat into smaller pieces. Add about 1/3 of the sauce to the pork and stir to combine. Then, spoon another third of the sauce on top of the meat but do not stir it in. Add the sheet pan to the oven and cook for about 1 hour or until the sauce is very thickened on top and beginning to char in a few places. After I add the pork to the oven, I continue to slowly cook the remaining third of the sauce over medium-low to medium heat until it has thickened (about 10 minutes longer or so). Transfer the extra sauce to a serving bowl.

When you take the pork out of the oven, stir it and serve immediately on hamburger buns. Pass around the extra sauce for those who prefer a wetter/sweeter barbecue sandwich.

1) Don't be tempted to buy a pork shoulder that is significantly bigger than 6 lbs. A 7 lb pork shoulder is a very tight fit in most slow cookers so 6 to 6 1/2 lbs is a better choice.
2) This tastes even better as leftovers. In fact, I rarely serve it on the day I make it. I prefer to make it a day or two in advance then just heat it up in the microwave. In this respect, it's perfect party food.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Two-Ply Strawberry Pie

My Venture into Bad Poetry

Today's recipe is really easy-to-make and tastes great, too. It's got two things I really love…cream cheese and strawberries. This is actually a combination of two recipes (slightly adapted) that I found in my mother's recipe box many years ago. I last made this pie when I was a teenager and forgot all about it. It's so good, I need to start making it more often.

For those of you who regularly read my blog, you might recall that I have an annoying neighbor whom I affectionately call Fitch. You can read my earlier rant about Fitch in my Nacho Cheesy Chili posting a few weeks ago. I continue to run into her every now and then. I decided to write about a recent run-in I had with Fitch but I wanted to give it a little Christmas flair. I'm so busy right now with Christmas baking, I wasn't sure I would have time to write something creative. I decided to go for it and wrote a poem ala "Twas the Night Before Christmas." This was hard because I don't normally write poetry! Given how busy I am right now, you're lucky I didn't take the easy way out and just write a Christmas haiku. Anyway, this is my first attempt at blog poetry. Enjoy – and have a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, or whatever special holiday you might be celebrating in the coming weeks!

Twas the Night Before Christmas
Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

With the cookies baked and my pantry now bare,
I slouched on my sofa with my feet in the air

While watching the news, a book spread on my lap,
Exhausted from cooking, I wanted to nap

When out in the hallway there arose such a clatter,
I heard high heels clapping and loud, angry chatter

Away to the door I flew like a flash,
I slipped on my book and almost fell on my ash

I peered through the peephole for someone I knew,
It was Fitch and her dog – a feisty shih tzu

It's tail in the air, my eyes could not believe,
It was pooing in the hallway on Christmas Eve

Swallowing hard and getting really sick,
I covered my mouth and wished it was St. Nick

That clueless blond! No, that half-witted vixen!
Oh, what kind of drugs had she been mixin'?

Throwing the door open, I stood there appalled,
Assured my ankles would soon to be mauled

Seeing my nemesis, my anger now grew,
As I stood there staring at freshly laid poo

Flustered and uneasy and not knowing what to say,
She wished me Merry Christmas and a glorious day

She picked up her dog when assured he was through,
Saying "Would you get that Sweetie?" as she bid me adieu.

She offered me advice as she went down the hall,
You best clean that up fast, lest someone might fall.

Merry Christmas!

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Two-Ply Strawberry Pie
(Printable Version)

1 prepared Graham Cracker Crust (the large one -- 10")

Bottom Layer:
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup milk
1 TBSP lemon juice
1 3 3/4 oz box of pudding (I prefer coconut but vanilla, lemon, or cheesecake all work well)

Top Layer:
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup of frozen strawberries in sugar, thawed in the refrigerator
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups whipped topping (about 1/2 of an 8 oz container)

In a mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth. In a separate bowl, combine the milk, lemon juice, and pudding. Whisk until thoroughly combined. Slowly add about 1/3 of the mixture to the cream cheese and beat until smooth – scraping the bowl as needed. Slowly add the remaining pudding mixture. Spoon the mixture into the graham cracker crust and smooth out the top. Refrigerate for 30 minutes before preparing the top layer.

To prepare the top layer, beat the cream cheese and sugar until smooth (preferably using the whisk attachment on your mixer). The mixture must be absolutely smooth. Slowly add the thawed strawberries and their juice, scraping the bowl as needed. Add the vanilla and continue mixing until combined. Finally, add the whipped topping until just combined. Spoon the mixture on top of the bottom layer and decoratively swirl the top. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or until the pie has set up completely.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Walnut Frosties

My Venture into Cookies

This is my all-time favorite cookie. When I was growing up, my mother used to make these every Christmas. In a way, they're like jam thumbprint cookies in that you make a well in each cookie and fill it with a yummy filling. They are more labor intensive than a regular cookies because you have to make a divot in each one but, trust me, they are WELL worth it. You should take the time to really make the well in the cookie as big as possible so that you can fit in more filling. They are so good!

My mother uses margarine in this cookie and I use butter but, aside from that, I kept the ingredients the same. I make mine larger than my mother's for a simple reason – they're faster to fill because you're not making as many wells. There is no reason you can't make these cookies all year round. It was a tradition in my family to eat them only at Christmas but you certainly do not have to do that.

When I was young, I had no idea what the ingredients were . I just knew they tasted great. I'm not a big sour cream fan so I was shocked to see the filling had sour cream in it when I made these the first time. Trust me – you can't taste the sour cream or I wouldn't be eating them. The brown sugar perfectly balances out the acidic tang of the sour cream. The filling is truly to die for.

Like I mentioned earlier, you can make these with a "normal" amount of filling or really pile it on. The picture at the top of this page has extra filling in each of the cookies. The picture on the right has a normal amount of filling. Both are great so you can't go wrong with either. It's just a matter of preference. Click on either picture for a larger, better-quality image.

Christmas baking is using up a lot of my time so I apologize for the less-than-creative posts as of late. I hope you try these cookies and make them part of your normal repertoire. They are SO good! You'll love 'em. Enjoy – and happy baking!

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Walnut Frosties
(Printable Version)

Cookie Dough:
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup sour cream (not reduced-fat)
1 cup finely chopped walnuts

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, soda, and salt. Set aside.

Using a mixer, cream together the butter and brown sugar until the mixture is fluffy – about 3 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla and mix until combined – scraping down the bowl as needed. Slowly add the flour mixture until just incorporated. Tightly cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

While the dough is chilling, preparing the filling by mixing together the brown sugar and sour cream in a small bowl. Add the walnuts and stir until incorporated. Refrigerate the filling until needed.

Preheat the oven to 350F. After the dough has chilled, line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Use a cookie scoop to put 6 to 7 mounds of dough on the sheet pan. I prefer to use a large cookie scoop (2 TBSP), which makes large cookies. You will get about 16 cookies when using a large cookie scoop. You may certainly use a smaller cookies scoop or roll the dough into 1" balls. If you make the cookies smaller, you will get a larger number of cookies out of each batch.

Refrigerate the remaining dough to keep it chilled. These cookies do spread when baking so be sure to leave PLENTY of room between the cookies or they'll run together. Poke your thumb into each mound of dough – leaving about 1/8" thickness of dough on the bottom. Take the effort to make the well as large as possible while keeping a sturdy wall around the perimeter. Fill each well with some filling. I prefer to really mound the filling in the well because I think the filling is the best part of the cookie. Some people prefer less filling because it makes the cookies too sweet. When making these cookies for the first time, I recommend that you put only two cookies on your sheet pan – one with a moderate amount of filling and one with a lot. When the cookies come out of the oven, taste them and decide which one appeals to you better. Note: If you plan to use a lot of filling in each cookie, you may need to make a little extra so you have enough to fill all of the cookies. The filling only takes a minute to make so, if you need to make more, it can be made at a moment's notice.

Bake the cookies for about 9 to 10 minutes or until they are lightly brown. For smaller cookies, decrease the baking time appropriately. Don't over bake. Allow the cookies to cool on the sheet pan for 2 minutes before transferring to a wire rack. While the first sheet pan is in the oven, prepare another one with 6 to 7 cookies. Keep the dough refrigerated until it is ready to go in the oven or the cookies will spread too much. When storing, don't stack the cookies on top of each other or they may stick together.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Potato Boats

My Venture into Elegant Side Dishes

The holidays are coming up! Many of you may host a dinner party during the coming weeks. If so, this is the perfect recipe to try. It's easy to make and makes a beautiful presentation. What's really nice is that you can make the mashed potatoes the day before and assemble the boats a few hours before your guests arrive. This way, you can throw them in the oven and forget about them while you're preparing the rest of the meal. Most important, they're really good!

I know this recipe might seem long and complicated. It's not! Essentially, you plop some cold mashed potatoes on a little piece of pie dough and bring up the sides – leaving some of the potatoes exposed at the top. You bake them a little while, top them with some cheese and bacon, and then bake them a little longer. That's it! You certainly do not have to use my mashed potato recipe. Feel free to use your own! In fact, plain' ol mashed potatoes work just fine in this dish.

My inspiration for this recipe comes from a common Finnish food called Karjalan Piirakat. With those, you use rye dough instead of pie dough. They don’t have any cheese or fancy stuff in them. I love them! My recipe is a very Americanized version of those delicious pastries. Karjalan Piirakat are sometimes eaten with something called munavoi – a spread made of hard-boiled eggs and softened butter. For whatever reason, many Americans are grossed out at the thought of eating hard-boiled eggs and butter but it's really tasty. The next time you're in Finland, make sure you try the real thing.

My holiday baking is not going well! There is just not enough hours in the day. I'm sure you can all relate. I hope you try this recipe sometime whether it's for an intimate dinner party or Sunday dinner with the family. They're really good and simple to make. Enjoy – and happy eating!

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Potato Boats
(Printable Version)

1 box (2 sheets) of refrigerated pie dough

Seasoned Mashed Potatoes:
3 1/2 lbs Yukon gold or russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1" pieces
1/2 cup butter (1 stick), softened – divided use
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup (1 bunch) scallions, chopped (white and light green parts only)
4 cloves garlic, minced
About 1/2 cup milk, half and half, or cream
3 TBSP sour cream
Salt to taste
Black Pepper (optional)

sharp cheddar cheese, freshly grated
3 oz package of real bacon bits (sold in the salad dressing aisle)
Chopped Scallions (the dark green parts)
Chives (the oars of the boat)
Sour Cream or Ranch Dip

I know this recipe might seem long and daunting. It's not! Essentially, you plop some cold mashed potatoes on a little pie dough and bring up the sides – leaving the potatoes exposed at the top. You bake them a little while, top them with some cheese and bacon, and then bake them a little longer. That's it!

To make the mashed potatoes (the day before serving):
You, of course, do not need to make my version of these mashed potatoes. Feel free to substitute your own favorite mashed potato recipe. Plain, 'ol mashed potatoes work great. If you want to try a new mashed potato recipe, I think you will like this one.

In a large pot, add the peeled and cut potatoes. Cover with cold water by 1". Bring to a boil and add about a tablespoon of kosher salt or 1/2 tablespoon of table salt. Cover and reduce the heat and simmer the potatoes until fork tender – about 12 to 14 minutes. Turn off the heat and drain the potatoes. Immediately return the hot potatoes to the hot pan and allow the excess water to evaporate.

While the potatoes are simmering, heat a small skillet over medium heat with 2 tablespoons of butter. Add the scallions and cook about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another minute or two. Set aside until needed.

Add the cream cheese to a mixing bowl and beat a few seconds.

Use a ricer or potato masher to mash the potatoes. Transfer the potatoes to the mixing bowl with the cream cheese. Add the scallion/garlic mixture as well as the remaining 6 tablespoons of butter. Beat the potatoes until everything is incorporated – scraping the bowl as needed. Add about 1/2 cup of milk (or half and half or cream), the sour cream, and some salt. Beat until incorporated. If desired, add additional milk – but don't get the potatoes too thin. Add pepper if desired. Taste for salt and adjust as needed. Place the potatoes in a bowl, cover, and refrigerate overnight.

To assemble the boats:
Unwrap one sheet of the dough and unroll it. Use a rolling pin to smooth out the dough and roll it out just a tad thinner. Cut three 5-inch circles out of the dough (I use the lid of a 42 oz oatmeal container as a guide). You may reroll the scraps and make additional circles.

Add 1/3 cup of the cold mashed potatoes to each of the centers of the dough. Lightly brush some water (not too much!) around the outer edge of the dough. Slide your index finger and thumb about 3/4" under the dough on the right side of the circle. Lift up slightly and allow a little of the dough to drop between your index finger and thumb. Squeeze together to form the bow of the boat. Repeat using your left hand on the left side of the circle to form the stern of the boat.

Decoratively pleat the sides of the boat. When finished, the boat should be an oval shape. If desired, you may add some additional mashed potatoes to the top. NOTE: The more potatoes you add, the more likely the boats will spread out (or the pleats will open) during baking. When using extra potatoes, take extra time to make sure your pleats are well sealed. The recipe for my mashed potatoes makes more than you will need for the boats so you should have plenty of extra mashed potatoes left to mound more on the top, if desired.

Repeat this process for the other boats. You may also roll out the second sheet of dough and cut out more boats – making a total of six. After all of the boats have been made, you may place them in a deep dish, cover with plastic wrap, and keep refrigerated until ready to bake. I often do this a couple of hours before my guests arrive for dinner. This way, I only need to throw the boats in the oven when everybody shows up for dinner. This is why this recipe is perfect for small dinner parties.

To bake the boats, preheat the oven to 350F. When the oven is hot, place the boats on a sheet pan (uncovered) and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the boats from the oven and top with a small mound of sharp cheddar cheese. Return the sheet pan to the oven and bake 4 minutes longer. Remove the sheet pan one additional time and add some bacon bits to the top. Return to the oven and bake about 3 minutes longer.

When fully cooked, add a small dollop of sour cream or ranch dip on top (if desired) and sprinkle with some chopped scallions. Crisscross a couple of chives on top (to look like oars for the boat). Feel free to warm up any extra mashed potatoes in case people want a second helping of the potatoes.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Butter Chicken

My Venture into Butter Chicken

The holidays are coming up and it's getting harder to find time to make a decent dinner and keep up with my blog. This dish is perfect because it is 1) FAST to make, 2) EASY to make, and 3) CHEAP to make. This recipe is perfect for 1 to 3 people. Leftovers are great the next day. You can easily double it for a larger family.

I always buy chicken when it's on sale. It got the chicken for this recipe at half price so it was particularly inexpensive. I got the crackers for 50% off, too. I had the butter and eggs on-hand already. I spent a total of about $3.50 for three large breasts and the crackers. I'm a big believer in making dishes using what's in season and what's on sale. I see nothing wrong with pinching a few pennies at the store! Even better – I had this on the table in less than 15 minutes!

I call this "Butter Chicken" because I use buttery crackers and real butter when sautéing the breasts. I used reduced-fat crackers so I wouldn't feel as guilty eating them. Why not save a few calories here and there?!

After I pan fry these, I like to eat them plain (or dip them in ranch dressing) or add them to the top of a salad. However, my absolute favorite way is to eat them in a sandwich with some toasted bread, mayo, lettuce, and tomato. It's so good!

During the next couple of weeks, I may not be able to spend as much time as I would like on my blog since I will be doing a lot of holiday baking. Therefore, I apologize in advance if my posts are not as entertaining and long-winded as usual. I hope to post a few of my family's favorite holiday recipes! Enjoy – and happy eating!

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Butter Chicken
(Printable Version)

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Seasoning salt to taste
Pepper to taste
2 eggs, beaten
2 tsp water
1 sleeve of buttery crackers (such as Club Crackers), very finely crushed
2 to 3 TBSP butter

Pound the chicken breasts until they are about 1/4" thick. Thoroughly dry the chicken breasts with a paper towel. The coating sticks better to dry chicken breasts. Generously sprinkle the breasts with seasoning salt and pepper. Set aside.

Crack the eggs into a shallow dish and add 2 teaspoons of water. Beat the eggs.

Add one sleeve of buttery crackers to a large resealable bag. I prefer Club Crackers for this dish but you can certainly use your favorite brand. Use a rolling pin to crush the crackers into very fine crumbs.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of butter to the pan as it is heating.

When the butter has melted and the foaming has subsided, you are ready to add the chicken. To coat the chicken, dip each piece (separately) into the eggs and then into the crushed crackers. Make sure the chicken is well coated on all sides. Add to the skillet and repeat with the remaining breasts. Fry the breasts until golden brown on the first side – about 3 minutes. If the breasts are browning too fast, reduce the heat. When golden brown, flip the breasts. If the pan is pretty dry, go ahead and add another 1/2 to 1 tablespoon of butter. It's called "Butter Chicken" for a reason! Fry until brown – another 2 to 3 minutes.

I like to dip the chicken in a little ranch dressing with some sautéed vegetables on the side. However, my absolute favorite way to eat them is in a sandwich made with some toasted bread, mayo, lettuce, and tomato – particularly yummy. I've also used chicken tenderloins before and added them to the top a big salad. The options are endless.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Oven-Baked Curried Chicken

My Venture into Oven-Baked Curried Chicken

I love curry! I know what you're thinking. This recipe sounds spicy. It's not! In fact, I normally use mild curry when I make this chicken (even though I love spicy food) and it was not spicy-hot AT ALL.

I've been experimenting with this recipe for years. I've even tried frying the chicken in oil in a skillet on the stove top – and that was a culinary disaster! The spices in the curry burned very easily so it turned out to be a blacked chicken mess – with very little curry flavor. When baked in the oven, it may not get as crispy as deep frying but the flavor is a thousand times better. On top of that, it's healthier and much easier to clean up.

I've done this recipe with chicken wings, breasts, and thighs. However, I don't like to mix those cuts and bake them all at one time because they cook at different rates. I usually buy a pack of, for example, chicken breasts so I don't have to worry about the varying cooking times of white and dark pieces (or big and small pieces). If you decide to bake a mixture of different cuts all at one time, you'll have to watch them carefully to make sure that they are all cooked to the proper internal temperature (170F for dark meat and 160F for white meat).

This recipe is incredibly easy to make, requires very few ingredients, can be inexpensive to prepare, and is on the table with very little effort. You will love the smell of the chicken as it bakes but you will like it even more when you taste it. Your taste buds will thank you. This recipe is perfect for curry lovers who want to try something a little different – without burning your mouth on that spicy curry at your favorite Indian restaurant. Enjoy – and happy eating!

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Oven-Baked Curried Chicken
(Printable Version)

8 - 10 pieces of chicken (skin-on and bone-in)
Salt and pepper
Oil for spritzing or brushing

Mixture for Dredging:
1 cup flour

1/3 cup curry powder (mild or spicy)

3/4 tsp table salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)

About six hours before baking the chicken, liberally salt and pepper the pieces of chicken. Place the chicken on a sheet pan in a single layer and place the pan in the refrigerator.

After about six hours, remove the chicken from the refrigerator. Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a sided sheet pan with some heavy-duty aluminum foil. Spray the foil with some cooking spray and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, curry powder, 3/4 tsp of table salt, 1/4 tsp black pepper, and cayenne (if using). Thoroughly dredge each piece of chicken in the flour mixture and place the chicken on the sprayed sheet pan – skin-side up. Spritz just enough oil on the top of each piece of chicken to slightly moisten the flour.

Alternatively, you could lightly brush or dab on some oil on the top of each piece of chicken.
Once the oven has preheated, bake the chicken for about 50 minutes for thighs (less for breasts and even less for wings).

Special Notes:
I prefer to use the same cut of chicken when making this recipe. For example, I prepared this recipe using all chicken thighs (as pictured here) and they cooked in 50 minutes (to an internal temperature of 170F). If you use all chicken breasts, they will take about 40 minutes (to an internal temperature of 160F). Chicken wings taste GREAT but only need about 30 minutes. I do not like using mixed pieces of chicken (breasts, thighs, wings, etc) because they cook at different rates and that makes it harder to not overcook or undercook some of the pieces.

If you are thinking of frying the chicken in a skillet, don't! The curry powder will burn in the oil and you'll have blackened chicken before it is cooked through. This recipe was not designed for shallow or deep frying.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Garlic Cheese Rolls

My Venture into Garlic Cheese Rolls

There is something heavenly about the combination of bread, butter, garlic, and cheese. It's simple but delicious nonetheless. Simple foods often have the biggest appeal. Pizza, one of the world's most popular foods, is, after all, nothing but bread topped with a tomato sauce and cheese.

I adore garlic bread and soft breadsticks. Anything doused in butte
r and garlic is right up my alley. I love the way garlic bread gets all butter-soaked when it bakes in the oven. When I began experimenting with this recipe, I knew that I wanted the rolls to have a strong garlic flavor – something that is often lacking in garlic bread or breadsticks. Sometimes, people bake breadsticks that have been rolled in garlic butter and they're OK but the garlic has a tendency to burn when exposed in the oven. I hate that. I also hate it when people are skimpy on the butter. I don't want to get all "Paula Deen" on y'all but a copious amount of butter is needed with any bread.

I came up with two different methods of preparation for these rolls but couldn't decide which one to post. My mother and sister preferred one method and I preferred the other. So, because I was not in the mood to labor over a decision, I decided to post both methods and let you choose which one is better for you. The ingredients are virtually the same but the difference in preparation produces vastly different end results.

METHOD 1 – My preferred method
In this method, you bak
e the rolls in a pan and, after they're out of the oven, you drizzle on some melted butter infused with garlic and a little parmesan cheese. Here is what you can expect with this method:
1) The bottoms
of the rolls will brown nicely but will not get butter-soaked like in Method #2.
2) This method is better for those who do not like an intense garlic flavor. Not only is the garlic less pungent, you can control how much garlic goes on each roll.
3) Your guests or
family members can control how much butter to add to each roll. This is especially nice for those who are watching their calories or fat intake.
4) I think this method has a better presentation for formal occasions.

METHOD 2 – My mother and sister's preferred method
With this method, you add the garlic, butter, and parmesan cheese to the bottom of the pan and the rolls bake on top of it. When you pull the pan out of the oven, you flip the rolls out and they will have soaked up all of the flavors of the garlic, butter, and parmesan cheese. Here is what you can expect:

1) This method is for t
rue garlic lovers only. The garlic flavor is more intense than in Method #1. 2) After baking, the bottoms of the rolls will have absorbed all of that butter. The bottoms will be thoroughly baked but soaked in butter. Very butterlicious.
3) The parmesan cheese will brown some – especially around the sides of the pan.

4) This method seems less pretentious and is perfectly suited for dinner with family and close friends.

Both methods are delicious so it's hard to choose which one is better. That's why I'm posting instructions for both. The end result is different for each preparation – but they're both really good. These make a PERFECT appetizer or a sinful side at any meal. You can fix them for the guys who come over to watch football or make them for Bridge Night with the ladies. Whatever you do, just fix 'em!

If you make them, be sure to leave a comment and let me know how they turned out – and which preparation you opted for. If you made some using both methods, let me know which method you prefer
red. Enjoy – and happy snarfing!

Printable Recipe for Both Methods of Preparation

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Click on an image to see a larger version

Unbaked rolls that have risen and are ready to put in the oven.

Freshly baked rolls hot out of the oven.

Here is what Method #1 looks like. Garlic and melted butter are drizzled over the top. The rolls are then sprinkled with freshly grated parmesan.

Here is what Method #2 looks like. The rolls bake on top of a mixture of butter, garlic, and parmesan. After baking, the rolls are inverted onto a serving plate.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Garlic Fried Rice

My Venture into Fried Rice

In the late 1980's, I made my very first trip to Asia. I was still in college and was traveling with a group of other Americans on business. Our first stop in Asia was the beautiful city Hong Kong. Even before we landed, the excitement flooded through my body as we flew over this awe-inspiring city. At that time, the old airport was still in operation and I had no idea what I was in for as we landed. The old airport was built amongst high-rise skyscrapers and, as you landed, you could easily see people going about their business in apartments that seemed to be only a matter of meters away from the wingtips of the aircraft. For those of you who complain because you live next to train tracks or a loud highway, try having a 747 flying by your bedroom window every 3 minutes.

There was so much to see and do in Hong Kong. One evening, I hung out with an American lady, Janet, who had been to Hong Kong several times. She wanted to go to the night market in an area called Mong Kok. Before we went shopping, she wanted to grab a bite to eat at one of her favorite eateries that specialized in a kind of fried rice called Yeung Chow Fried Rice (Yang Zhou Chao Fan) – which is a specialty in southern China. This kind of fried rice is made with barbecue pork called char siu (cha shao). Very tasty.

After eating, we walked along a street that had stall after stall of street vendors selling everything from bootleg music to fake watches. It was a sight to behold. Janet stopped at a stall selling women's clothing and she meticulously picked through several outfits. I was amused when the lady working in the stall exclaimed "We got clothes for fat lady! You like?" By American standards, Janet had an ideal figure. However, in comparison to the scrawny Chinese women in Hong Kong, she looked morbidly obese. Janet firmly retorted back, "I'm not FAT. I'm a size EIGHT!" Undeterred, the Chinese woman screeched "Don't worry! We got big size. Big size for fat lady." If she thought Janet was fat, I can't imagine what she thought about ME.

I decided to look at some of the goods being sold at nearby stalls. I came upon a stall selling these very strange-looking objects. They were pink and made out of plastic and were shaped like missiles about 6" high. I picked one up and couldn't figure out why these missiles didn't have any fins to help control their flight. If they weren't toy missiles, I couldn't imagine what they were so I flipped it upside down to see if there was any writing on the base. I'm sure I looked like a curious chimpanzee trying to figure out how to make a call on an iPhone. The old lady working the booth took the missile from my hands and twisted the base. I could hear it vibrating as she handed it back to me. I said, "Oooooh, I see. It's some kind of vibrator." So, I tilted my head to one side and started using the vibrator on my neck and shoulders . I turned and saw Janet starring back at me -- with her mouth gaping open and looking at me like I had two heads. She yelled, "WHAT are you doing?!" As I continued using it on my neck, I said, "This lady is selling these vibrator thingies. I don't know – they're not very strong. They don't seem to be logically designed."

Janet started laughing her head off. In between snorts, she explained what I was holding. I had NOOOO idea. I was just this young, naive kid from Kansas. Trust me, we don't sell these on street corners in Wichita! Upon hearing what it was, I clumsily tried to hand it back to the lady and it slipped out of my hands. I was so scared to touch it, I kept knocking it in the air like I was juggling a red-hot coal briquette. In trying to give it back to the lady, I knocked half of the missiles over on her table. Undeterred, the lady said "50 dollar!" That was 50 Hong Kong dollars, of course. I said, "No. NO!" She countered, "OK, OK. For you, 45 dollar." I grabbed Janet, who was still guffawing, and we left the area as quickly as possible. Of course, she had to share this horribly embarrassing story with the other Americans who were traveling with us so I never lived it down the rest of the trip.

I was so traumitized that it was years before I could eat fried rice again after that. This recipe is nothing like the fried rice I had in Hong Kong but it is good nevertheless. Enjoy – and happy eating!

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Garlic Fried Rice
(Printable Version)

6 TBSP butter, divided use
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp lemon juice
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 cup frozen peas and carrots
1/2 cup diced ham or cooked chicken
3 eggs, beaten
3 cups cooked rice, chilled
2 TBSP soy sauce or more to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
2 scallions, diced

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a small glass dish in the microwave. Add the minced garlic and lemon juice to the melted butter and stir to combine. Set aside to allow the flavors to mingle.

This dish comes together so fast that EVERYTHING needs to be chopped, measured, and ready to add. Chop the onions and scallions then measure out the peas/carrots, ham, rice, and soy sauce. Finally, you should beat the eggs in a small bowl.

In a large, non-stick skillet, melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until soft – about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the peas and carrots and cook about 3 minutes then add the diced ham or chicken. Cook 1 minute. Push all of the contents of the skillet to one side to keep them from cooking too much. On the empty side of the skillet, add the beaten eggs. Season with a little salt and pepper and scramble until just set. Integrate the eggs with the veggies and move everything back to the edge of the skillet. Quickly add the garlic mixture to the pan and use a spatula to break it up. Cook it about 1 minute or so (longer if you do not want an intense, in-your-face garlic bite). If you are worried about the strong flavor of garlic, you can add the same amount of garlic but add it with the peas and carrots. This will give the garlic ample time to mellow and sweeten by the time everything is cooked.

Add the cold, cooked rice and mix it in with the other ingredients. Add the soy sauce and stir to combine. Stir it every 30 seconds for about 2 minutes. Add the scallions and stir. Taste for seasoning and add salt, pepper, and/or additional soy sauce, if desired. Stir one last time and transfer everything to a serving bowl.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


My Venture into Comfort Food

I've been making this dish for years but I've never considered it "blog worthy" enough to post. I happened to make it last weekend for my mother and sister because they thought it sounded good. Because I use reduced-fat milk in this recipe, it tends to curdle easily when heated – a common problem when heating milk with lower percentages of milk fat. As such, I assumed that many of you would not like the look of the finished dish – even if you really liked the taste. I, therefore, had never considered posting the recipe.

I was a little worried about making it for my mother, in particular. She loves things flavored with chicken but is not fond of chicken meat itself. She doesn't like biscuits and she tends to prefer dumplings, etc, with LOTS of broth and this dish is not soupy at all. In fact, there's very little liquid remaining after it has cooked because the biscuits absorb most of the soup – making the finished product oh-so-good. For all of the above reasons, I really didn't think this dish would be up her alley. I was surprised. She and my sister both LOVED it! Trust me. They'd tell me if they didn't like it. My mother thought I was over-reacting about the curdling issue since she could barely see what I was talking about. This is no comfort coming from a woman who wears trifocals. I explained that I didn't want to lose people's respect if they cooked it and the milk somewhat curdled after it was heated. She assured me that the curdling issue could not possibly make people respect me any less. You know, I'm beginning to think that was an insult. Guess who's getting a little ex-lax in her brownies this weekend?!

If the curdling bugs you, as it does me, it can be reduced in a number of ways. In this recipe, you could easily use evaporated milk or heavy cream – both of which would curdle much less than fresh milk. I don't know about you but I'm certainly not going to use over 5 cups of heavy cream in this or ANYTHING. My patootie is big enough already!

My mother and sister asked me where I got the name "Chick-n-Caboodle" from. As you know, I'm horrible about naming recipes. After experimenting with this recipe over the years, I came up with the version I'm posting today. When I got it just right, I almost ate the whole kit and caboodle in one sitting! Chick-n-Caboodle is just a play on that expression.

This recipe is great on any cool day. It's always warm and comforting. This is another mom-approved recipe! Enjoy – and happy caboodling!

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(Printable Version)

6 TBSP butter
1 1/2 bunches scallions (white and light green parts), minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup flour
5 1/2 cups reduced-fat milk
2 TBSP (or 6 cubes) chicken-flavored bouillon
Pepper to taste
1 cup cooked chicken, cut into small pieces (I use leftover roasted chicken)
1 TBSP oil
2 medium red potatoes, peeled and cut into a small dice
About 1/2 cup frozen peas and carrots (you could use more if desired)
1 16.3 oz can refrigerated biscuit dough (reduced-fat works great)

Preheat oven to 325F.

In a dutch oven, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the scallions and cook 2 to 3 minutes or until they are soft. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute longer. Toss in the flour and cook a couple of minutes, whisking often. Slowly pour in the milk while continuously whisking. Add the bouillon and pepper and stir. Bring the soup to a simmer, whisking every couple of minutes.

While you are cooking the scallions, heat a skillet over medium heat with 1 TBSP oil. Add the potatoes and a little salt and pepper. Cook about 3 minutes then add the peas and carrots. Cook another 3 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat while you wait for the soup to come to a simmer.

When the soup begins simmering, add the potato mixture, stir, and cover the pot. Allow it to lightly simmer for about 7 to 10 minutes, stirring once or twice during cooking. Meanwhile, spray a dinner plate with cooking spray. Open the can of biscuits and pinch off 1/2" pieces of dough and arrange them in a single layer on the plate.

After the soup has been simmering for about 7 to 10 minutes, add the chicken and stir. Next, quickly add the pinched-off dough to the pot in an even layer. Stir occasionally while you are adding the dough. Stir one additional time before covering the pot with a heavy lid. Place the pot in the oven and bake for 45 minutes. Stir before serving.

Note: Because I normally use low-fat milk in this recipe, it has a tendency to curdle somewhat when it gets hot. This does not affect the flavor but some people may consider it visually unappealing. If you want to reduce the chance of curdling the milk, you can use either evaporated milk or heavy cream instead of reduced-fat milk.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sweet Potato Mousse with Gooey Praline Sauce

My Venture into Sweet Potatoes

'Tis the season for sweet potatoes! A few years ago, my friend and co-worker, Theresa, brought a delicious sweet potato mousse to an office potluck. I fell in love with it and immediately had some ideas on how I'd like to change it. You know me – I love experimenting with recipes!

Theresa got the recipe from her sister, Catherine, who first got the recipe in 1977. Catherine got an incomplete version from her mother-in-law, who was not known for being a great cook, so Catherine had to play with the recipe a lot to get it just right. She has shared the recipe with countless people from around the world. What I particularly like with Catherine's version is that it's not too sweet. You, of course, can make it as sweet as you like but her version allows the wonderful flavor of sweet potatoes to shine through.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are people who really enjoy sweet potatoes on the very sweet side. My version of Catherine's recipe incorporates spices often used in pumpkin pie and a gooey praline sauce with pecans that bake on the bottom of the mousse. I've tried lots of sweet potato recipes that have a praline topping. The problem with a lot of those is that the topping doesn't melt properly and gets crusty – but crusty in a bad way. When you bite into it, you often bite into sugar that, instead of having melted, has crystallized. Not pleasant. Have you ever had cinnamon rolls with a sticky bun topping? That's essentially what I'm doing in my version of the recipe. I put the nuts and gooey sauce on the bottom of the pan, add the mousse on top, and bake it. When you serve it, you should dig all of the way to the bottom with your serving spoon so you can get some of the rich, gooey sauce. When its baking, it smells like sweet potato sticky buns! Very tasty.

So, you have choice of recipes today:
Catherine's Sweet Potato Mousse
Vince's Sweet Potato Mousse with Gooey Praline Sauce

Try one or both! You can't go wrong with either one. Enjoy -- and Happy Thanksgiving!

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Sweet Potato Mousse with Gooey Praline Sauce

(Printable Version)

Sweet Potato Mixture
5 lbs medium-sized sweet potatoes (about 6 to 7)
1/4 cup sour cream
5 TBSP honey
1/2 tsp table salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp cloves
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup heavy cream

Praline Sauce
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
2 TBSP honey
6 TBSP butter
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup pecans (or more to taste)

Step 1: Preheat the oven to 350F. Wash the sweet potatoes and prick them all over with a fork. Wrap each potato individually with aluminum foil. Bake for 1 1/2 hours or until the potatoes are very soft. Carefully unwrap the hot potatoes and place them on a cooling rack. Slice lengthwise through each potato and spread them open. If baking the mousse the same day, leave the oven on while you are preparing everything else.

Step 2: While the potatoes are baking, butter the bottom and sides of a 2-quart casserole dish. Sprinkle the bottom of the dish evenly with the pecans.

Step 3: Also while the potatoes are baking, make the praline sauce by combining the brown sugar, honey, butter, and cinnamon in a saucepan over medium heat. Allow the mixture to come to a simmer then cook for 2 minutes. Pour the warm sauce over the pecans in the bottom of the dish. Make sure the mixture has cooled and solidified (waiting at least 10 minutes) before adding any of the sweet potatoes on top.

Step 4: When the sweet potatoes have cooled enough to handle, remove the skins and put the pulp in a mixing bowl. If needed, use gloves or paper towels to keep from burning your hands. Using a mixer equipped with a whisk attachment, whip the potatoes until smooth (about 2 to 4 minutes at medium speed). Add the sour cream, honey, spices and salt and beat until combined. Next, add the eggs and vanilla and beat until incorporated. Finally, add the heavy cream and whisk to combine. Spoon the sweet potato mousse into the dish with the cooled praline sauce.

Step 5: Bake the mousse until the center has reached an internal temperature of about 155F (about 1 hour and 10 minutes). Serve hot. When serving, make sure to dig all of the way to the bottom to get some of that gooey praline sauce with each spoonful.

Alternate Preparation: On the day before serving, do Steps 1 through 4. However, make sure the potatoes have cooled completely before adding them to the mixer. After completing Step 4, cover and refrigerate overnight.

On the day of serving, remove the dish from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature (45 minutes to an hour). About 20 minutes before baking, start preheating the oven to 350F. Bake the potatoes until they have reached an internal temperature of 155F (about 1 hour and 20 minutes).

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Chocolate Cherry Cupcakes

My Venture into Chocolate Cupcakes

I'm not a big fan of chocolate. I also can't stand maraschino cherries and I think store-bought cherry frosting tastes very artificial to me. In fact, I'm going to come out and just say it. I hate EVERYTHING about this recipe. I'd rather eat a cupcake liner and a couple of the cherry stems than this sinfully rich dessert. I guess if you're one of those weirdoes who likes chocolate or maraschino cherries, you'll probably like it. For me -- aaaack!

As you have probably noticed, I don't post a lot of chocolate recipes. Like any cook, I sample the food that I prepare and try to think of ways to improve the taste. I also really enjoy making new recipes. I can't do that with chocolate. When I take a bite of it, I'm overwhelmed with the taste of, well, chocolate. It's so hard for me to get past the taste that I can't think of ways of making it better – other than, of course, eliminating the chocolate. I do make exceptions. My friend Denise, a chocoholic to the bone, encouraged me to try a chocolate-curry confection at a local, gourmet chocolate store. I was very dubious because 1) I don't like chocolate, and 2) chocolate and curry would appear to go as well together as cats and water. On a whim, I bought one and you know what? I loved it! I know it sounds disgusting but it's was really good. I'm SO going to make a recipe with chocolate and curry sometime. If your local chocolatier sells something with chocolate and curry, try it. I bet you'll be amazed by the flavor.

Even though I hate the taste of these cupcakes, I did have fun piping frosting on the top. I never have the patience to do it properly. I had to pipe three of them just to get one that was presentable enough to photograph. If you want to check out someone who does a much better job of piping and has great recipes, check out Betchacanteatjustone. She's really good.

If you don't like chocolate, skip this recipe. If you DO like chocolate and decide to make it, leave a comment with ideas on how to make it better. I'm sure most of you are MUCH better bakers than I am anyway. Enjoy – and happy baking!

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Chocolate Cherry Cupcakes
(Printable Version)

1 18.25 oz dark chocolate cake mix
1/3 cup juice from a jar of maraschino cherries
1 cup water
1/2 cup oil
3 eggs
1 cup halved maraschino cherries
3/ 4 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 or 2 containers of cherry-flavored frosting
18 maraschino cherries for the top (preferably with the stems on)

Preheat oven per the instructions on the cake mix (usually 350F). Add 18 paper cupcake liners to cupcake tins. Depending on how full you fill each muffin cup, you may be able to get more cupcakes out of each batch. Set aside.

Do not prepare the cake mix per the package instructions. Instead, measure out 1/3 cup of maraschino cherry juice and add it to a mixing bowl along with the water, oil, and eggs. Whisk to combine.

Cut enough maraschino cherries in half to make one cup (larger cherries should be quartered). Dump the cherries into a small bowl (not the same bowl as the liquids). Add 2 tablespoons of the powdered cake mix to the cherries and use a spoon to evenly coat them. This will help to keep the cherries from sinking to the bottom of the cupcakes while they are baking.

To the liquid ingredients, add the remaining cake mix and whisk to combine. Use a spatula to fold in the mix-coated cherries and mini chocolate chips. Fill each paper liner nearly to the top with the batter (I use an ice cream scoop). Bake per the package instructions (about 20 minutes).

Let the cupcakes cool in the pan for 15 minutes before removing. Remove the cupcakes from the pan and let them to cool completely on a wire rack.

You have two options for frosting the cupcakes. You can add a "normal" amount of frosting to the cupcakes and use only one container of frosting. Alternatively, you can frost them "bakery-style" and pipe a large amount of frosting on top. The bakery-style method will require a second container of frosting. Top each cupcake with a maraschino cherry.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Turkey and Dumplings

My Venture into Dreaded Turkey Leftovers
You may have seen the recipe I posted last week for Slow-Roasted Turkey Breast with Gravy. Like many people after roasting a turkey, I was stuck with the dreaded turkey leftovers. I've done everything with leftover turkey except put it in my breakfast cereal and make ice cream out of it. Luckily, my mother is always craving turkey so she helped to eat all of the leftovers.

My mother makes WONDERFUL chicken and dumplings. If my mother allows me to, I'll post her recipe sometime. It makes a KILLER meal and you'll want to sob the entire time you're eating because it is sooo good. I think it would be really nice of my mother to make me some chicken and dumplings sometime. Hint, hint. Anyway, this recipe is a spinoff of my mother's. I was very happy with the way it turned out and will definitely be making this again sometime in the near future. Oh, and by the way, this recipe is mom-approved. She, thankfully, ate most of the leftovers so I wouldn't have to add to those dumplings that have been growing on my thighs and backside over the years. This recipe makes a well-seasoned soup that the dumplings bathe in while cooking. It's a one-pot meal that uses some leftover turkey and turkey broth (or turkey gravy) and is a real cinch to throw together in only about 30 minutes. After eating this, you'll be wanting to roast another turkey just to have the leftovers!

This dish is comfort food at its finest. Simple, easy, and delicious. Leftovers don't have to be a four-letter word anymore. Enjoy – and happy eating!

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Turkey and Dumplings
(Printable Version)

Gravy Base
1 1/2 TBSP butter
1 bunch scallions (white and light green parts), finely chopped
1/ 2 cup frozen mixed peas and carrots
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups leftover turkey, cut into bite-size pieces
4 cups turkey broth or leftover turkey gravy
Chicken broth as needed
Salt and pepper to taste

2 cups all-purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp table salt
1 cup milk
1/4 cup melted butter

Measure out 4 cups of turkey broth or leftover turkey gravy. If using gravy instead of stock, it needs to be quite thin. If the gravy was on the thick side even when it was hot last night at dinner, thin it down with a little chicken stock. If you do not have enough turkey broth or leftover turkey gravy, measure what you have and add some chicken broth until you have approximately 4 total cups of liquid. When I made it last time, I had to add nearly 1 cup of chicken broth because I only had 3 cups of leftover turkey gravy. It tasted just fine.

In a 10" skillet with straight sides, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the scallions, peas, and carrots and cook for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute longer. Add the turkey then the turkey broth/gravy/chicken broth and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer and taste for seasoning. Add salt and pepper to taste. Don't under season the broth. Once the dumplings are added, the flavors will be muted so season the broth a little more robustly than you normally would.

While you are waiting for the broth to come to a simmer, make the dumplings by whisking together the flour, baking powder, and salt. When the broth mixture comes to a simmer and you have adjusted the seasonings, add the milk and melted butter to the flour mixture and use a spoon to stir everything together until it is just combined. Don't over mix or you'll toughen the dumplings.

I use two soup spoons to add the dumpling dough to the broth. I scoop up some of the dough with one spoon and push it off into the broth with the other. Continue adding dough as quickly as you can – leaving a little room between dumplings, if possible. It'll be a tight squeeze to get all of the dough into the broth but it'll fit. IMMEDIATELY cover the dumplings with a tight fitting lid and cook for 20 minutes. Whatever you do, DON'T PEEK while they're cooking. The dumplings should lightly simmer while cooking. I normally reduce the heat to someplace between medium low and medium after the first 5 minutes of cooking so the liquid does not simmer too aggressively.

After 20 minutes, take the skillet off the heat and serve piping hot. This is an EXCELLENT way to use up Thanksgiving leftovers. Delicious and easy!

TIP: This recipe has a high ratio of dumplings to broth – which means that it is not particularly soupy when fully cooked. If you like a lot of soup with your dumplings, use the same amount of gravy base but halve the dumpling recipe.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Klingon Chicken

My Venture into Klingon Space

Anybody who knows me knows three things about me: 1) I love to eat, 2) I love developing new recipes, and 3) I love Star Trek. I'm not insane about my love for Star Trek. Yes, I've gone to a few conventions but rarely dressed up as Spock. Yes, I've seen every episode…multiple times…and every movie…multiple times….and own all of the DVDs – but I'm not one of those nerdy guys who can quote lines from all of the episodes. My love for Star Trek is complex but well grounded. This leads me to my story about Klingon Chicken.

A few years ago, I went to Vegas JUST to see the Star Trek Experience at the Las Vegas Hilton. The Star Trek Experience is now closed so don't go rushing off to Vegas cuz' that starship has already done sailed – and I'm still really bitter about that. Anyway, when I was there, I ate lunch at Quark's – the café inside the Star Trek Experience. While eating my bowl of Qagh (the best Qagh outside of the Klingon Empire, I might add) and taking sips of Romulan ale, I overheard two guys talking at the table next to mine. At first, I thought they were international visitors because they were speaking another language. Their strange-sounding language was very guttural. In fact, it was so guttural, at first I thought they were trying to cough up fur balls or something. After a couple minutes of listening to their angered grunts, clicks, and throat-clearing hocking, I realized they were speaking…Klingon. Yes. Klingon. A completely made-up language for a television show. Oh, I can see their resumes now. Under the "Special Skills" section, they could write "Fluent in Klingon" and then just wait for the job offers to come flying in. I mean, what are they planning to do with this particular skill set? Work in Customer Service for a company that has an automated telephone system that tells callers to Press 1 for English, 2 for Spanish, and 3 for KLINGON?! Geez. I mean, how many Klingons do they think live on this planet when everybody knows their home world is, like, light years away from Federation space? I couldn't help but sneak a peek at them from time to time as they animatedly chatted with each other. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed they were sharing a plate of chicken strips with an orangish coating. I wasn't sure what it was but it looked pretty darn good.

Anyway, after I finished eating, I went and stood in the line for my particular show time. I could barely contain myself because I had read so many rave reviews about the Star Trek Experience. Even though I was in public, I tried to subtly floss my teeth because that Qagh was just stuck everywhere and it was driving me nuts. As I was flossing, I heard the unmistakable guttural sounds of a high-pitched voice speaking Klingon from somewhere back in line. I thought, "Oh, geez. Is everybody in this line a freak except me?" I turned and it was those two guys who were seated next to me in the café. Great. I was about to share my Star Trek Experience with two guys speaking Klingon, a woman with three teeth, and a guy who kept angrily smacking his fake tricorder because the batteries had run down. ...and I was worried about flossing my teeth in public.

A guide then lead us inside and I was so excited about being able to experience the show with clean teeth. We walked through the corridors of the Enterprise D and then got onto a turbolift to go to another deck. Suddenly and without warning, the Enterprise came under attack and the only thing I could think of was, "Oh, PLEASE let me fire the phasers!" They wouldn't let me. Stupid jerks.

Anyway, since the Enterprise was under attack, we were ushered into a shuttle craft to escape the fake battle. The special effects were AMAZING. The shuttle craft must have been sitting on hydraulics that allowed it to pivot up and down, left and right. The large windshield in front was displaying what we would have really been seeing had we been in space with enemy ships firing at us. Everything was perfectly choreographed because, each time the shuttle craft was hit by a photon torpedo, you would hear the detonation and ship would violently rock back and forth. Cool stuff.

I was starting to get motion sickness from all of the movement aboard the shuttle craft. I noticed that one of the guys I sat next to at lunch was beginning to look a little green and he had his hand covering his mouth. I no sooner had thought "Oh, that guy looks like he's going to b…" and then he did. All over the place. I'll spare you the details but, rest assured, it was disgusting. It looked like he emptied the inner recesses of his soul all over the back of the toothless woman's seat. Curses!!! That stupid Klingon RUINED my Star Trek Experience!

So what does this have to do with my Klingon Chicken? You might have seen my recent post for Nacho Cheesy Chili. I had some Doritos leftover from that. I also had some Ranch Dip Mix that had been sitting in my pantry screaming to be used and some chicken breasts in my freezer that I wanted to use up. What on earth could I do with all of this food? I smell a new recipe!!! So, after fooling around with the ingredients, I came up with this concoction. After it came out of the oven, I thought "Hey! This looks just like the chicken those Klingon guys were eating when I was Las Vegas a few years ago." And that's how Klingon Chicken came to be.

This chicken is really good and painfully easy to make. Enjoy – and qaPLAH!

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Klingon Chicken
(Printable Version)

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3 tsp Ranch Dip Mix from a 1 oz packet
Pepper to taste
3 egg whites, beaten

1 cup finely crushed nacho-flavored tortillas chips (such as Doritos)
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese (grated finely)
1 1/2 tsp Ranch Dip Mix
Pepper to taste

Oil or cooking spray
Prepared Ranch Dressing (Regular or Spicy)

Preheat oven to 350F.

Use paper towels to pat the chicken breasts dry. They must be very dry in order for the coating to adhere properly. Sprinkle each chicken breast evenly with one teaspoon of ranch dip mix (1/2 teaspoon on each side) and a little pepper. Set aside while you prepare the other ingredients.

Lightly beat the egg whites and set aside. In order to make 1 cup of finely crushed Doritos, grab a small handful of Doritos and lightly crush them in your hand so that they lay properly in a measuring cup. Repeat. You will need 3 cups of roughly crushed Doritos. Add the 3 cups of roughly crushed Doritos to a resealable bag and use a rolling pin to finely crush them. When you're done, you'll have about 1 cup of finely crushed tortilla chips. Add the crushed chips to a flat container that has sides. Add the parmesan cheese, some pepper, and 1 1/2 teaspoons of Ranch Dip Mix. Use your hands to mix the coating ingredients together. Use any leftover dip mix for another purpose.

Dip a chicken breast in the egg whites and then into the crushed chip mixture and press to firmly coat the chicken breast. Place the coated chicken breast onto a sheet pan spritzed with a little oil. Repeat with the other chicken breasts. Lightly spray the tops of the chicken breasts with oil or cooking spray. Bake 28 to 30 minutes or until the juices run clear. Serve with some prepared Ranch Dressing.
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