Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Totally Nutty

The same week my cheesecake-lovin’ friend Chelsea told me she was cutting back on dairy, I found this recipe for dairy-free cheesecake made with cashews. Then I happened to stumble upon a similar recipe in three different blogs. Coincidence? I think not. At a dinner party last weekend, Chelsea delighted us with her version of the nutcake—creamy, nutty, tart, and every bit as good as a dairy-filled cheesecake (and the crust! Amazing!).


Monday, March 21, 2011

Bowl of Love: The Family Paprikash

Even with the arrival of spring, I feel like it’s not too late for a hearty, warm-your-soul type of stew. Especially if you’re like us vampires in Seattle and you won’t see actual sun until the 4th of July. And really, who needs cold weather to eat my Oma’s amazingly delicious and comforting Chicken Paprikash? I don’t recall the time of year ever having any bearing on when I ate this dish growing up.

Had a bad day at school or work? Paprikash will cheer you up. Won your softball game, landed that big account, or beat the most difficult level of Angry Birds? You deserve a big bowl of paprikash! Big house full of people? Make a big pot of paprikash! Potluck? Take paprikash! Hungry? Hey…why not paprikash!? See! Anytime is paprikash time… and it’s so fun to say! Paprikash, paprikash, paprikash! And, let’s be real here… people love to eat paprikash even more than they love to say it. Even if you didn’t grow up eating up the stuff, you’ll like it. It might be a bit unfamiliar at first—the chicken and plump, chewy dumplings, floating in deep red, creamy gravy spotted with little shiny pockets of oil. Tangy and sweet, with a slight peppery bitterness when the paprika hits the back of your throat…trust me, it’s good. Really, really good. And Mel has the recipe down to a tee.

My mom’s mom, Grandma Carol, is from Oklahoma, so Mel grew up on biscuits and gravy, pots of lima beans with smoky hamhocks, and pit-bbq’d pork shoulder served with whisky or cold iced tea. When she married into my dad’s Eastern European, strudel-and-goulash eating family; with their homemade wine and slivovitz (plum brandy); it must have been a delicious union. John learned to love chip beef on toast (also fondly known as Shit on a Shingle) and chicken fried steak, and Mel learned to make paprikash. She watched my Oma make this dish time and time again to get it right. And, although she made some changes along the way, get it right she did.

My parents’ 30th anniversary is coming up this summer, so obviously Mel's been doing something right…I think it’s the paprikash. Evan has even enjoyed a bowl or two himself…just sayin, it makes a man fall in love.

Oma’s Chicken Paprikash, Mel Style

2 tablespoons Vegetable oil
1 large onion- chopped or sliced
3-4 heaping tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika
2 large chicken breasts, quartered (Oma used bone-in thighs)
Salt, pepper
2 cups water
½ cup sour cream, whisked together with a splash of water and spoonful of flour

In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat oil, and add onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until almost translucent. Add paprika—it will seem like a lot, but trust me, the more the better—and stir to combine. Heat through for several more minutes—adding at the beginning of the cooking process intensifies the smoky-sweet, robust flavor—and cook until the onions are cooked through, stirring almost continuously. Add chicken and stir to coat with paprika, let brown slightly, and add 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then turn heat down and simmer for an hour. Add more water if needed.

Meanwhile, make the dumplings. Combine 3 eggs, 1 teaspoon vegetable oil, ¾ cup water, and 3 cups flour the bowl of your stand mixer. Mix with bread hook until combined—dough will be thick and sticky. In a pot of boiling, salted water, add 5-6 tablespoon sized dollops at a time, and cook for 1-2 minutes, until cooked through. Dumplings should be slippery on the outside, and bready on the inside. Set aside a bowl-full for later, in the refrigerator, and add the rest to the simmered paprikash.

Before serving, stir in sour cream mixture, salt, and pepper to taste. Give the chicken a rough shred with your fork, and serve in a bowl, as you would a stew.

The next morning, slice the remaining dumplings, heat with a healthy-sized pat of butter, and douse with cinnamon and sugar.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Exposed: Thomas Keller's Roast Chicken

I have a dark, dirty, shameful secret. It’s so absolutely revolting, that it makes even the wildest Hollywood sex scandal look tame. At this point, I’d rather be confessing to a torrid affair, or an embezzlement scheme, or even a past life as a coffee-stand bikini barista, but no… what I have to tell you is far more disgraceful and humiliating. As your resident food blogger and self-proclaimed food LOVER, someone who wants you to believe I know what I’m talking about in the kitchen, I regret to tell you that until last night…

I had never roasted a chicken. I know, it’s revolting—feel free to take a moment to gather your composure, divert your eyes to hide the disappointment. I’ll understand. I was disappointed in myself too. But now...well, friends, now I’m glad that I held out as long as I did. Because if I had been roasting chickens left and right this whole time, I may have passed up this unassuming little number. If I was a bird-in-the-oven a week type of gal, I would probably be coating them with truffle oil and dusting them with gold, at this point. Or at least using lots of garlic, citrus, fats, and spices; brines, marinades, and rubs. But alas, I didn’t truss up a hen and call her dinner until last night, and I used the one-and-only roast chicken recipe people need to know about: Thomas Keller’s.

I did my fair share of research before deciding to make Keller my first. I mean, obviously Thomas Keller is a god among men, but a chicken roasted with nothing but salt and pepper?! No butter or oil? No basting mid-way through?! No sage under the skin and lemons inside?! I read the reviews. I knew that everyone who had ever tried Keller’s simple roast chicken found themselves swooning at the thought of that salty, crispy, crackly skin. The ruling was out, it was a winner. But I still had to see it, and taste it, to believe it.

First of all, if you’ve been intimidated by roasting a whole chicken, don’t be. Keller’s method is so simple and easy, a child could do it. Or even a chicken. Seriously, it’s such a cinch, a chicken could do it. And really, if you’re gonna be a cooked chicken, this is the way to go. It was juicy and tender, but in a hearty, meaty kind of way. The salt and pepper made a crunchy shell on the skin, but also infused the entire bird with rich, savory, full flavor. With no other seasoning but an optional sprinkle of thyme when it came out of the oven, this was the most delicious roast chicken, I dare say it, I’ve ever had (sorry mom). I would even go as far to call it mouth-watering—a phrase I rarely use for a generally flavorless, bland, boring bird.

So what if I’m a late chicken-roasting bloomer? I think it’s high time you wipe that judgment and look of superiority off your smug little mug, and forget everything you ever knew about roast chicken. Then, with an open mind…go out, buy yourself a whole chicken, learn how to truss it for uniform cooking (and lovely pictures), throw it in a really hot oven for a fairly short time, open the windows and turn on the fan to avoid the smoke alarm, and make yourself the best damned roast chicken you’ll ever have.

Dirty little secrets never tasted so good.

*FYI—in an effort to not break the law and to respect the artistic rights of my fellow recipe-creators, I recently re-read the copyright laws for recipes. While it’s ok to copy a list of ingredients from a recipe, it is unlawful to copy the detailed preparation method. I generally don’t feature recipes on this site that aren’t my originals, or that I haven’t adapted with new ingredients, measurements, or preparation methods. And, if I do use someone else’s recipe, I’m sure to give credit where it’s due. Thomas Keller’s chicken recipe, however, is so beautifully written, that I chose to link to it rather than adapt it. Any man that advises eating a full roast chicken with your fingers, well, that man should be recognized. Luckily for me (and you) Epicurious was able to adapt Keller’s recipe with his language from his cookbook, Bouchon.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler

Sometimes I can be obsessive about things. Not about keeping a spotless house (unfortunately) but mostly about researching random topics…I just want to know more! If I watch a documentary or read a nonfiction book—or even a fiction book with any basis in reality, for that matter—I won't stop, even after I turn the last page. I'll hop online and search for photos of the characters; I'll do in-depth “research” about the story’s era or location, and I’ll find out everything that Wikipedia and Google will tell me about local customs and cultural nuances. This will inevitably lead me down a totally random tangent, full of more information and research…new things for me to become obsessed with. The Internet is a crazy place, I tell ya!

I follow this same crazy process when it comes to food and throwing parties. For Mardi Gras, I hosted a Fat Tuesday dinner party that started out with a search for menu ideas, then led to a last minute French lesson and an in-depth study of Cajun culture and the Big Easy, and finally culminated in me watching Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Trust me, there's a logical chain of events that led to me spending a Saturday night with Liz Taylor and Paul Newman (followed by more “research” about Tennessee Williams).

Post Liz, Paul, and Tennessee, I got back to party planning. In the end, my crazy research led to Evan harnessing the powers of a deep fryer, a tiny apartment crowded with friends, and lots of Mason jars full of fizzy cocktails.

In a mad weeknight rush, I made spicy, saucy, savory gumbo—full of chicken, Andouille sausage, and shrimp. Evan worked his newly-found fry-boy magic on okra and prawns coated in a cornmeal-flour-old bay mixture, and I threw together a bananas foster bread pudding from the seat of my pants (well, not literally). In the midst of the madness, Amanda dropped off a cast iron skillet of southern buttermilk corn bread, and Tasha mixed up bubbly Gin and champagne French 75s.

As everyone crammed together with steaming bowls of gumbo, sitting wherever they could find an open spot, I couldn’t help but feel lucky to have so many great friends. Then my wheels started turning, and I launched into a huge research project into home rentals with big dining rooms and backyards. Naturally, this will culminate in something totally unrelated, like a study about Mid-Atlantic dialects...

Laissez les bons temps rouler, or as they say in the NOLA... let the good times roll! 

Mardi Gras Gumbo
Adapted from Bon Appetit
Serves 10-12

½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup flour
2 ½ onions, chopped
2 green and 1 red bell pepper, chopped
5 celery stalks, chopped
8 garlic cloves, chopped
1.5 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
Few shakes Louisiana hot sauce
½ cup white wine
½ cup chopped fresh thyme
3 bay leaves
28-ounce can diced tomatoes with juice
1 8-ounce bottle clam juice
2 cups chicken broth
2 pounds andouille sausage, sliced
3 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or equivalent thighs) cut in bite size pieces
24 ounces sliced frozen okra (two 12 ounce packages)
2 pounds peeled deveined medium shrimp

Make Ahead: For roux, heat oil in a stock pot over medium-high until very hot. Add flour and stir constantly until darkish brown (about 5 minutes). Add the trinity—onions, bell peppers, and celery—and cook, stirring frequently, 15-20 minutes. Add garlic, cayenne, Old Bay, and hot sauce, and cook 2 minutes. Add wine, thyme, and bay leaves; bring to boil, stirring occasionally. Add tomatoes with juice, clam juice, broth, sausage, and chicken—simmer until chicken is cooked (about 15 minutes). Add okra, cook 10 minutes. If you’re making ahead, let cool, and refrigerate. Bring to a light boil before adding shrimp.

Before Serving: Add shrimp and cook until just opaque, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, as needed.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Just Call Me April O'Neil

Lately I’ve been eating so much pizza that I feel like I should be saying “cowabunga dude,” wielding nunchucks, and living in a sewer. Or at least donning a sweet trench coat and hangin’ with the heroes in a half-shell, like the super awesome, always beautiful, friend to the good guys: April O’Neil. I was sort of like April O’Neil when I was kid… and by that I mean I hung out with the Ninja Turtles. I really did… Michelangelo was my friend—imaginary, you may say, but that’s subjective—and he and I spent hours playing and eating pizza. He was always invited over when we had pizza for dinner. I don’t see my ol’ pal Michelangelo much these days, but if I did, I can guarantee I’d be seeing a lot of him this week. Completely by chance, I had pizza for dinner Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday—all at different locations—and I just had pizza for lunch today.

LZ and I went to Pizzeria Napoletana, which is basically a wood-fire oven tucked into the corner of the Café Vita coffee shop a few blocks from the office. The barista/pizza maven told us that the salami pizza was actually pepperoni…and that the pepperoni rounds were the most savory, delicious little pepperoni rounds ever. She wasn’t lyin’. They really were the most savory, delicious little pepperoni rounds ever. All curled up and crispy around the edges, little cups filled with spicy pepperoni grease…

I think Mikey and the crew would be proud.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Nutty for Coconut

If you know anything about me at all, then you probably I know I love coconut. I’ve been in camp-coconut as long as I can remember—I like the way it smells, I like the way it tastes, I like the way it resists for just a brief moment then gives under your teeth when you bite into it. I just love everything about coconut. I’m the girl who passes up the caramel and goes straight for the creamy, gooey coconut filled chocolate in a box of chocolates. I order the coconut cream pie, the coconut cupcake, the coconut Italian soda, and coconut gelato. Growing up, my birthday cake was always German chocolate with coconut pecan frosting, and I’m always down for an Almond Joy… or a Mounds, because sometimes you don’t feel like a nut. I usually do though, especially when it’s with chocolate and coconut.

So, with my affinity to coconut and chocolate, it was a given that I was through the moon when I spied a recipe for coconut cake with chocolate chunks and coconut drizzle. And, since the only thing I love more than coconut and chocolate together is coconut, chocolate, and nuts together, it was a given that I added almonds to the cake. And, since there’s really nothing better than an everyday type of cake that you can eat any time of day (with a cup of coffee in the morning, with a cup of tea in the afternoon, with a scoop of ice cream for dessert), it was a given that I basically devoured this cake within a day of making it.

By complete accident, I made an amazing gooey topping that was hands-down the best part of the whole shebang. I didn’t have the patience to wait until the cake cooled (a very bad habit for a cook), and ended up adding half the glaze to the warm cake… which quickly melted into the coconut and chocolate topping, and through to the top layer of the cake. When the cake finally cooled, I drizzled on the rest. The resulting cake was hearty and dense, filled with coconut and chocolate chunks, topped with a layer of thick, gooey glaze, a sweet coconutty drizzle, and crunchy, nutty almonds. Everything I want in a cake.

Why this cake wasn’t named after me, I’ll never know.

Coconut Chocolate Chunk Cake
Adapted from Bon Appétit

I subbed half the flour for whole wheat, because I like the heartiness it gives a good coffee-cake—it’s one of the things that makes this an all-day cake. The original recipe calls for orange zest, which I used… and regret. With the added orange, there were just too many competing flavors.

1 cup all purpose flour
¾ cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut, divided in half
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup canned unsweetened coconut milk
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate bars (do not exceed 61% cacao), broken into 1/2-inch irregular pieces, divided
1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut

¾ to 1 cup powdered sugar
1/3 canned unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup sliced almonds
1/3 cup unsweetened flaked coconut
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 9-inch cake pan with 2-inch-high sides; dust pan with flour, shaking out excess. Sift flours, baking powder, and sea salt into medium bowl. Stir in unsweetened shredded coconut, and half of sweetened coconut, set aside. Cream sugar and butter in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Add flour mixture in 3 additions alternately with coconut milk in 2 additions, beating just until blended after each addition. Fold in half of chocolate pieces. Spread batter evenly in prepared cake pan. Sprinkle remaining chocolate pieces over batter, then sprinkle with remaining sweetened flaked coconut.

Bake cake until golden and tester inserted into center comes out clean, tenting with sheet of foil if coconut on top is browning too quickly, 60 to 70 minutes. Transfer cake to rack and cool in pan 15-20 minutes.

Whisk powdered sugar, coconut milk, and vanilla in small bowl to blend well. Carefully run small knife around sides of cake to loosen. Invert cake onto platter, then carefully invert again onto another platter, coconut side up. Evenly drizzle half of powdered sugar mixture over cake. Cool cake completely on platter, and add 1/3 cup coconut, almonds, and remaining drizzle.
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