Boy oh boy, The Man is getting good at smoking stuff. Yesterday it was a chicken. He sent me pictures, and although my mouth watered at the idea of it, my brain screeched to a halt - what does one serve with smoked chicken? After consulting with the food heads at work and getting a different answer from each of them, I decided to do something incredibly simple but delish.
Hand made corn tortillas (no, not by these gringa hands, though I have made them before), fried in a little coconut oil until crisp is the base of this delightful stack. I spread a layer of refried beans on that, then sliced avocado, the baby spinach, a pile of smoked chicken, then shredded cheddar. This was served with leftover rice sauteed in coconut oil with onion, garlic, corn, red bell pepper, cilantro and cumin. Oh, and a little piece of the skin crisped up in the oil with the tortilla. Yeah, it was pretty awesome, very healthful and took only a few minutes to throw together. The chicken was without a doubt the star, being smoky and moist and packed with flavor; the rest of the supporting players doing just that, supporting and carrying that flavor without upstaging it. After another 50 hour week, it was nice to settle down to a plate of yumminess, an ice cold beer and the Pro Bowl without working up a sweat.
Fried chicken is perfectly acceptable when eating a healthy diet. Everything is, in moderation. I don't believe that you should deny yourself anything, but you do need to learn control. Tonight was a test of that control. I got a great deal on a chicken at work, so I decided to make buttermilk fried chicken. It's one of my favorite things, and something I can consume mass quantities of if I'm not careful. I confine myself to a thigh, maybe a wing, and that's it for the day. But, oh, it's so hard to stop. Hot and juicy meat contained in a light, crispy crust, there are few things in this world as perfect as good fried chicken. No, I don't take the skin off. Yes, I fry it in lots of oil. Get over it. I don't do it often, and when I do I want to do it right. This is right.
First, you soak the chicken parts, whatever parts you like, in a buttermilk marinade. This is a mix of buttermilk, herbs, spices, and lots of salt and pepper. Tonight it was parsley, garlic, onion, paprika, and some secret stuff that I can't share or you'll never need me again. Mix that all together and pour it into a heavy gallon size freezer zip top bag. Put the chicken in and massage it around gently, getting all of the chicken coated. Let this sit at least an hour, and as much as 12 hours. The buttermilk gets into the meat, tenderizing it, adding flavor and making it ridiculously moist. It will also hold the coating on without needing an egg wash. Okay, coating. Flour is the base. I use unbleached white, I've never used whole wheat so I don't know if it works or not. I also add potato flakes (the same ones that I used in the salmon chowder). Equal parts flour and flakes seems to be the best. Scrunch them up a bit with your hands but leave the pieces in pieces, it makes a nice flaky coating. I add onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper, a bit of paprika and parsley. Put this in a 8X8 pyrex, it gives you the most room to toss stuff around. Heat a couple of inches of oil in a deep frying pan. I use a blend of canola and peanut. Heat this over medium heat until it shimmers. Pull the biggest pieces out of the marinade, leaving as much on as possible, and put it into the coating. Pressing down gently, making sure the coating covers everything completely and sticks well. Lay the chicken in the pan, skin side down, without crowding. I usually do the breasts and legs first, then thighs and wings in a second batch.
DO NOT MOVE THE PIECES UNTIL A NICE BROWN CRUST IS FORMED. I can't stress that enough. If you toss them around before the crust forms, it will all come off and you will have naked chicken and ruined oil. Leave it alone for at least ten minutes. Walk away if you have to. When it's a nice golden brown, turn it over gently and let the other side cook. The second side should take about 8 minutes. Another little secret is how you finish them. Set the oven to 300*, and a cookie sheet on the lower rack. Put the now perfectly browned chicken on the rack above the cookie sheet. Right on the rack. This way it will stay crisp on all sides and gently finish cooking, then stay nice and warm until you're ready to serve. When the breasts and legs are out, do the same for the wings and thighs.
This chicken is great hot, but it's great cold the next day as well. The Man made noises that would have been completely inappropriate in society, so I guess I did okay.
Seriously, there is nothing wrong with this once in a while. If you want to, take the skin off, if it makes you feel better. This works great for boneless breasts, either whole or cut into fingers or nuggets. I prefer meat cooked on the bone, though. It has more flavor and stays far more moist. Make it once in a while and treat yourself to something fabulous. Tomorrow can be a juicing day.
Well, we're in the middle of an ice storm, and not sure we're going to make it to work today. So I decided to clean out the 'fridge. (don't have a heart attack, Mom, I do it all the time.) In preparation for that, I mentally took inventory yesterday, so I could do the appropriate shopping last night to use up what needed to be used. This is what I did to clean out the veggie drawer and use the rest of that amazing smoked salmon.
Chowders are an incredible way to use up all sorts of stuff, and it's a chowder as long as you use onions, celery and potatoes. Oh, and milk. Not heavy cream, milk. This is not a bisque, people. Personally I think that chowder without bacon is a sin, but I think most things without bacon are just wrong. In 42 minutes (yeah, I timed it. The Man is baffled by how quickly I can get things cooked, so I've started timing everything for entertainment value.)
Diced bacon, onions and celery go in to the bottom of a heavy pot with a bit of butter over medium heat. I have to use the butter because the apple wood bacon that I get is on the lean side and doesn't render enough fat. When the bacon is crisping and the veggies are browning, add a good dose of salt and pepper, chopped herbs of your choice (Simon and Garfunkel in this one) and lots of diced potatoes. I used russets, and leave the skin on! Let that go for just a bit, then add some chicken stock to just cover everything (or vegetable stock, or fish stock), scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Then add good full fat milk to make it a soup. Let that simmer (never boil, you'll break the milk) for a few minutes, then add the smoked salmon broken up into big chunks. Now, I'll let you in on a little secret. I like a bit of body in my chowder, but hate to add flour. So I use potato flakes. Bob's Red Mill makes a great instant potato flake that is actually that, all potato. I add about a half cup to a pot of soup, and it gives it a little thicker, a little silkier texture that I find very pleasing. Let that cook another couple of minutes, adjust the seasoning and serve. Once again, I am truly a kitchen witch, able to produce incredible yumminess in no time flat. Reputation saved, my work here is done.
I reiterate, I hate waste. Packing lunches for The Man helps get rid of a lot of leftovers, but it can get boring for him. I try to reinvent as I go, as you can see from last night's dinner. So, this morning I was faced with a dilemma - we both have a long day, and have plans with friends tonight after work without dinner, so we need substantial lunches to get us through. The quinoa pilaf from the other night wasn't enough for two but just a little too much for one, even with a protein. So I went back a little further, and pulled the turkey bolognese out of the freezer, grabbed a bag of shredded cheese, and made a mexican-esque lasagne thingie. Layers of quinoa, turkey and veggies in red sauce, and cheese went in to the baby Crock-Pots.
After a couple of hours in the baby Crock, this is what we got:
Layers of flavors, warm and bubbly, and really yummy. We will definitely be making this again!
I hate waste. I will use every part of a meal again if they don't get consumed as leftovers in their original state. This time it was the snowy night pork roast. One double cut chop left, two of us to feed. No sweat.
Minced garlic, ginger and sliced onion go into a pan with coconut oil. I let those get browned, then added tamari, mirin, a splash of umi vinegar, minced cilantro, a little almond butter, a touch of chicken stock, ground pepper and big broccoli florets. When the broccoli was just barely tender, I added the diced pork and let it heat gently so it didn't get overcooked. Served with rice (done in the rice cooker, of course), The Man devoured it. Not bad for making it up as I go along, huh. Tomorrow, the quinoa salad from the smoked salmon dinner gets it's third round..... stay tuned!
The smoker that I got The Man for Christmas may be the best gift I have ever given someone I love. Ribs were first, and yesterday he branched out into salmon with amazing success. I purchased a whole side of wild caught Alaskan sockeye from work the other day, still frozen so it was as fresh as possible for him. He rubbed the frozen fish down with salt, pepper and a little lemon, and then smoked it with apple-wood chips and hardwood charcoal. Placed skin-side down on heavy duty foil, there was no risk of sticking, and it served as a cradle for removing it from the grates unbroken.
Now, here is where I screwed up just a little. I thought he was using mesquite. He bought mesquite to use for the salmon. When he purchased the chips, I made the comment that it's not my favorite wood, as most people overdo it and it tastes like you're chewing on charcoal. The Man being The Man, he then used the last of the apple-wood chips for the salmon because he wanted me to love it. Sigh, he's awesome. I, however, am not. I purchased a bunch of stuff to make a black bean quinoa pilaf with the leftovers from the pork dinner. Mesquite = mexican, right? Didn't know this until I got home, so I had to go with what I had. Turns out it paired perfectly.
Sauteed a diced red onion in a little coconut oil, then added diced red bell pepper and minced garlic. Then added a can of black beans (drained) and a drained can of corn. Salt and pepper, then a whole handful of chopped cilantro, a pinch of cumin, about a tablespoon of dark wildflower honey and the zest and juice of two big limes. Pretty freaking good!
Almost two years in Tennessee, and this is my first real snow! Fine, we only got an inch or two, and it's been so warm and rainy since Sunday that there is no way it will still be here in the morning, but it was a real live snow. We got out of work early so I had time to cook a nice meal for The Man. Scored a great little four rib bone in pork roast, about 2 1/2 pounds, some beautiful baby carrots and tri-color quinoa, and from that I made this.
Roast was seasoned well with salt and pepper, then slowly seared, fat cap down first. Then I drained all of the fat from the pan and made a glaze - fresh herbs, dark wildflower honey, coarse grain mustard and dry English mustard. I spread that on the fat side, popped the pan into a 375* oven and let it slowly roast for about 40 minutes. I basted it with the pan juices a couple of times, building that beautiful crust.
I dumped a 1 pound bag of carrots into the pan and let the roast finish, about 20 more minutes. I removed the roast to the cutting board to rest, then put the carrots on the stovetop on medium high to reduce the glaze and caramelize the carrots.
Quinoa cooked in the rice cooker (the best, easiest way to do it in my opinion). One part quinoa to three parts liquid, some fresh herbs, salt and pepper, and a little nob of butter, and it does it all by itself. Count that as a major time saver.
Once again, The Man was impressed with my ability to create something out of seemingly simple ingredients. I really hope I don't run out of tricks too soon.
Hmmmm.... so the party is over, and you're left with little nubbins of a whole lot of cheeses. Wrapping them up seems silly, but wasting them would send you directly to hell. What to do....
Well, if you're in our family, you make mac n' cheese. With a few additional ingredients, you can make a pot of exactly what is needed to satisfy your need for comfort food. (Oh, and if you don't want to make it right away, take all those odds and ends, toss them in a zip top bag and put them right in the freezer for the perfect moment to impress all those that are under your roof.)
Like all brilliant recipes, this starts with a couple of strips of good bacon. Dice it small and put it in to the bottom of a good, heavy pot over medium heat. You want to render as much of the fat as possible, while making it crispy. I use the Earth Fare uncured applewood smoked bacon because it is certainly what angels eat in heaven. Thick cut, perfectly smoked and just the right ratio of fat to meat, I refuse to eat anything else. Start a big pot of well salted water at the same time to cook the pasta in.
A really good mustard, Worcestershire sauce and a good pasta are all essential, as are finely minced onion and garlic, flour, whole milk, salt and pepper. If you like it, a dash of hot sauce is also welcomed, but not for me, please. This whole wheat pasta is one of the best tasting I have had, and the texture is great. I highly recommend it.
Remove the now amazingly crispy bacon from the pan, leaving as much of the bacon fat as possible. Sprinkle in some flour, about twice as much as the fat that is in the pot. No, you don't need exact amounts, you really can't screw this up.
Stir this around, letting it pick up all the fat and any browned bits at the bottom of the pot. Cook the flour until it starts to smell a little toasty, then add the finely minced onion and garlic, the mustard, Worcestershire, and a good dose of salt and pepper. Let the onions and garlic start smelling really good, then add the milk. Again, I can't give you amounts. Add a couple of cups, and start to whisk it around. As it starts to simmer it will thicken. If it's too thick add more milk, a little at a time, until it's like a nice white gravy.
Now comes the fun part. Add all that cheese, and any other little bits of cheese you have in your 'fridge. When it was all said and done, 11 different cheeses went in to this pot. E L E V E N. Everything from a bit of stilton that was hanging out from New Year's Eve, the leftovers from last night's cheese platter, a couple of other cheddars that were in the freezer, and a lump of jack that somehow just appeared in a drawer. Turn the heat to low and let them melt slowly so nothing burns. Once they begin to meld into that sauce, you'll start to smell what magic you've created.
By now your pasta is perfectly cooked and well drained. I picked shells because they will grab all that incredible sauce and bacon into little pouches of love, but you can use whatever you like. Sweet Daddy Bones likes rotini or fusilli, but he'll just have to learn to deal.
Add the pasta to the cheese sauce, stir the bacon back in and either serve right away or pour into a well greased baking dish, top with buttered crumbs and bake until bubbly. We have a hard time waiting for it to come out of the oven, so the first bites are right out of the pot.
Had a little shindig last night to celebrate the auspicious visit of my son, Sweet Daddy Bones, and one of his bestests, The Boss, so I felt the need to create some yumminess. I'll list some of the recipes at a later date, upon request.
Baked brie with cranberry fig chutney. Yeah, bitches, a triple creme brie. 'Cause one creme just ain't enough.
Sweet and spicy caramel nutty popcorn snack mix.
A fab cheese platter with a rosemary asiago, nice local goat chevre, gruyere, aged vermont cheddar, applewood smoked new york cheddar, pecorino romano, herbed chevre, prosciutto wrapped dates, salame with fennel pollen and dried chorizo.
Avocado dip with yogurt, horseradish and bacon.
Artichoke and spinach hummus, and a nice roasted garlic hummus.
Nice assortment of crackers.
A 12 pack of Sam Adams Seasonal (I love the mix packs, a little something for everyone) and a box of Seven, a Spanish red table wine that is pretty damned good. Had a couple of pitchers of iced tea and a decent assortment of soda for those that were not imbibing.
A couple of the guests brought dishes to share, and The Man smoked some ribs and made sausage, peppers and onions with his fabulous homemade sauce on hoagie rolls. I'm still kind of in a food coma, but what a glorious delirium it is.
A great time was had by all, trust me.