Thursday, October 09, 2014

BAKED BARBECUE CHICKEN

















I know it’s fall for the rest of you, but here in L.A. the hot, dry weather persists. I’m aching for a cool breeze right now, but at least it doesn’t feel strange to still be catching up on my summer recipes. This one hearkens all the way back to when I gambled on trying potato salad for the first time (and won in a big way). I wanted something appropriately picnic-like to accompany it, and also to round out a valid meal in case it turned out I hated potato salad. Sweet, smoky, spicy barbecue seemed like the perfect balance for all that creamy starchiness, but since the salad was fairly labor-intensive I wanted the second dish to be as easy as possible. Baking up some chicken in some sauce sounded about right.

I’ve made basic barbecue sauces before, for pizza and sandwiches, but since the sauce would be the main event here, I thought I should try something a little more complex. Unfortunately, the first recipe I chose was Not So Great. I had to make and apply a dry rub, sear the (bone in, skin-on) chicken on the stove, make and apply the sauce, then bake it in the oven, and both the rub and the sauce were loaded with sugar. It was perfectly edible, but a hassle. The next time around, I went straight to the boneless, skinless chicken thighs—way less fuss to make, and easier to eat too. For the sauce, I searched high and low to find something that looked like it wasn’t too sweet and had enough flavor complexity without calling for any extra steps (dicing an onion, etc.) or special ingredients I don’t normally keep on hand (like chipotle chiles). As is often the case, I found exactly what I wanted at Serious Eats, aptly labeled Basic Barbecue Sauce. Because one of the ingredients is “your favorite barbecue rub,” I had to find a separate seasoning recipe and do some clever math to get the quantities right, but it was all worth it.

Barbecue sauce is a controversial topic (for instance, many purists cringe to see a recipe calling for ketchup), but this one suits me to a T. It’s still got some sweetness, but also acid and plenty of spice—in fact, I dial down the Tabasco a bit now, because the full amount was making my lips burn. You could bathe just about anything in this and it would taste delicious. The amounts below are for a half-recipe, which is roughly the amount you need for the chicken recipe with a little to spare, but the sauce keeps a long time in the fridge, so consider going for the full batch and you can have this meal again soon. You’ll definitely want it.

1 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
1 tablespoon prepared yellow mustard
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
½ teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon chili powder
¼ teaspoon chipotle chili powder
¼ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon mustard powder
1/8 teaspoon onion powder
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  1. Combine all of the ingredients except chicken in a nonreactive saucepan, and slowly bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low or low, and gently simmer until dark, thick, and richly flavored, 10 to 15 minutes. (Sauce can be made ahead of time; store in a sealed glass container in the refrigerator.)
  2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a large baking sheet with foil.
  3. Place the chicken in a large bowl and add about ½ cup of the barbecue sauce. Toss well until the chicken is completely coated. Arrange the chicken on the baking sheet.
  4. Bake chicken for 20-30 minutes, or until cooked through. Baste with additional barbecue sauce and place under the broiler for a few minutes, until the sauce just starts to bubble. Serve with more sauce if desired.
Serves: 4-5
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Good, and any extra, unused sauce will keep in a sealed container in the fridge for up to several months.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

BUTTERMILK CHICKEN SALAD WITH CUCUMBERS, RADISHES, AND DILL

















I found this chicken recipe while paging through The Lemonade Cookbook. For those of you outside L.A., Lemonade is a local cafeteria-style chain serving “seasonal Southern California comfort food” (Twin Citians, think along the lines of a hipster CafĂ© Latte). A location recently opened next door to my office, and it’s definitely handy on those rare days when I don’t have leftovers to bring for lunch.

Ironically, though, the first thing that sprang to mind when I looked at this recipe was a salad from a competing local chain, Tender Greens. For a while, the Southern Fried Chicken Salad (“freckled romaine, butter lettuce, cucumber, radish dill dressing”) was my choice for emergency dinners or picnics on the go—until I started to feel like maybe I could do it just as well myself. So, from someone who doesn’t even eat out very often, here is a salad inspired by two different restaurants.

This is really just a spring/summery version of my old standby, Crispy Chicken and Apple Salad, so I went ahead and used the same creamy vinaigrette, my all-time fave dressing. I added homemade croutons for a little more heft and crunch, but feel free to leave them out. (The first time I made this I could only find a seeded baguette, and now I’m in love with making croutons that way—the toasted sesame seeds add a wonderful crunch and flavor.) I’m really happy with the resulting salad; the flavors meld together beautifully (cucumbers, radishes, and dill were made for each other), it’s refreshing yet satisfying, and I honestly like it even more than the restaurant version.

A word on the chicken, however: The marinade is a winner for sure, adding tenderness, tang, and a hint of spice to boring old chicken breasts, but I’m not sure I’m sold on the cooking method. I’ve made this twice so far, and both times found it hard to get the exterior fully crisp and brown without drying out the chicken or having all the breadcrumbs stick to the pan and fall off. Maybe you’ll have more luck, but I’m starting to suspect that keeping the marinade but switching to the flour-egg-panko coating and pan-frying method from the Crispy Chicken and Apple Salad recipe would be the best way to go here, even though it adds even more steps to an already long recipe. I’ll give it a try next time and let you know.

For the chicken:
2 cups buttermilk
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon hot sauce, such as Tabasco
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon coarse salt, plus more for seasoning
1 onion, coarsely chopped
5 garlic cloves, smashed
4 (6-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1-2 cups panko breadcrumbs
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive or canola oil
For the salad:
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons plain yogurt
1½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
4-5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3-4 cups cubed (about ¾-inch pieces) French bread (I like to use a seeded baguette)
About 8 cups butter lettuce or arugula leaves (or a mixture)
6-8 large radishes, sliced
2 medium Persian cucumbers, sliced
1-2 tablespoons chopped dill
  1. To prepare the marinade, in a large mixing bowl whisk the buttermilk, mustard, hot sauce, paprika, salt, onion and garlic together to combine. Put the chicken in a plastic storage bag, add the buttermilk mixture and smoosh the chicken around to thoroughly coat in the marinade. Press out the air, seal the bag and marinate the chicken in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours, and preferably 48.
  2. When ready to cook the chicken, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove the chicken from the marinade, wiping off any excess buttermilk, and discard. Season both sides of the chicken breasts lightly with salt and pepper. Spread the breadcrumbs out on a plate or place them in a shallow bowl. Press the chicken breasts into the breadcrumbs to completely coat all sides, shaking off the excess.
  3. Put a cast-iron or ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Coat the pan with 2 tablespoons of oil. Once the oil is shimmering, lay the chicken in the pan and sear for 3 minutes on each side. Transfer the skillet (and chicken) to the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and the crust is golden. Remove chicken from the pan, place on a cooling rack, and let rest until about room temperature.
  4. While the chicken cooks, heat 1-2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the cubed bread, toss well, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Toast, stirring occasionally, until crispy and browned on all sides. Let cool to room temperature.
  5. Whisk together vinegar, yogurt, mustard, and ½ teaspoon salt in a small bowl; season with pepper to taste. Add 3 tablespoons olive oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking until emulsified.
  6. Divide the lettuce/arugula, sliced radishes and cucumbers, and dill evenly between four bowls. Slice the chicken and place one breast atop each serving. Divide the croutons among the bowls, drizzle each salad with ¼ of the dressing, and toss well.
Serves: 4
Time: 1 hour, plus 1-2 days marinating
Leftover potential: Good; store components (chicken, lettuce, croutons, radishes/cucumbers/dill) separately and assemble just before serving.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER PUDDING

















When I first discovered how simple and gratifying it is to make homemade pudding, I went bonkers for it. Over the next three years, I gradually worked my way through every type I could think of and loved them all, but I regret to say that chocolate peanut butter didn’t cross my mind until I saw this recipe in an issue of Cooking Light. I further regret to say that it took me about a year and half to get around to making it, which is ridiculous because I love this flavor combination, and sad because I could have spent those 18 months eating a ton of extremely delicious pudding.

If you’re a fan of the choco-PB combo, this will satisfy your cravings with ease, and if you’re new to making pudding, it’s a great place to start. With no egg to temper, this is a quick boil-and-stir affair, and thanks to the natural thickness of the peanut butter and solid chocolate, it stiffens up very dramatically (almost to a mousse-like consistency) without much cooking at all. Just to keep things from becoming too simple, I added a pinch of salt and a splash of vanilla, both good enhancements. I also used semisweet chocolate chips instead of the original recipe’s chopped milk chocolate, because it’s what I had on hand, and I think it was the better option—a deeper, richer taste with less sweetness. Cooking Light has you top it with sliced bananas (bleah) and chopped peanuts, but I don’t like chunks interrupting my creamy pudding texture, or any extra elements interfering all the with chocolatey, peanut buttery goodness.

1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons Dutch process cocoa
1½ cups milk
½ cup light cream or half-and-half
2 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
¼ cup all-natural creamy peanut butter
1 pinch salt
½ teaspoon vanilla
  1. Combine sugar, cornstarch, and cocoa in a medium saucepan; stir with a whisk. Whisk in milk and cream. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook 1 minute or until thick and bubbly.
  2. Remove from heat. Add chocolate, peanut butter, salt, and vanilla, stirring until smooth.
  3. Divide among bowls and chill until set.
Serves: 4-6
Time: 20 minutes
Leftover potential: Good.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

GREEN QUINOA SALAD

















My ardor for quinoa has dimmed somewhat (blame overexposure, the fact that A has discovered/decided he doesn’t like it, and the newfound allure of farro), but I felt it spark anew when I saw this salad at The Kitchn. The original recipe calls it a Green Goddess dressing, but since it omits the traditional anchovies (fine by me) and replaces mayonnaise with creamy avocado, I’m just calling it “green.” Zesty with herbs, red pepper, vinegar, and lemon, it reminds me of chimichurri instead, even more so because I didn’t have the full quantity of basil and had to swap in some cilantro—a substitution that ended up being so tasty I made it official below.

If you find quinoa bland, this vibrant dressing is just the fix. All the other quinoa salads I’ve tried have light vinaigrettes, so a heavy dousing of thick, assertive sauce seemed strange at first, but it tastes so right. The dressing is totally the star here, but the other elements work surprisingly well together too; I’ve paired radishes and arugula before, but wouldn’t necessarily have thought to add edamame and walnuts to the mix. The colors are pretty, the flavors are fresh, and the mix of crunchy and creamy textures is addictive. I thought this might be the dish to redeem quinoa for A, but alas, he still didn’t dig it. Oh, well—that means more for me of what might be my new favorite salad. With three sources of protein (quinoa, edamame, and nuts), it makes a satisfying lunch all week long.

Dressing:
2 scallions, minced (white and light green parts only)
1 large ripe avocado, peeled and diced
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1-2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons water
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup fresh basil, chopped
½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Kosher salt to taste
Salad:
1 cup dry quinoa
3 cups arugula
1 cup shelled cooked edamame
½ cup chopped walnuts, toasted
4 large radishes, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Prepare the dressing by combining all of the ingredients in a food processor and blending until smooth. Add a little more water or oil to thin if necessary. Set aside.
  2. Rinse the quinoa in a strainer under cool running water, then combine it in a saucepan with 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low. Cook until quinoa has absorbed the liquid and can easily be fluffed with a fork, about 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool slightly.
  3. While the quinoa is still a little warm, toss it with about half of the salad dressing, then add the arugula so the leaves wilt down a bit. Stir in the edamame, walnuts, and radishes, then slowly drizzle in the dressing.
Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: Good.

Monday, September 01, 2014

JAM ALMOND CRUMB BARS

















I’m canning less than I used to (I blame this year’s interminable heat, coupled with an increasingly demanding job that leaves me less energy for big kitchen projects), but I still have a perpetual spare-jam supply. Beyond my big holiday distribution, I always hoard a few jars just in case I need them for eating or gifts throughout the year, plus there always seems to be one in every batch that doesn’t seal properly and has to get added to the crowd in the back of the fridge, where it languishes long enough for me to forget when it was made.

When blueberry-picking time rolled around this year and I prepared to make a fresh batch of blueberry-lime jam, I discovered to my chagrin not only a big jar still left over from last year in my stash under the bed, but also two open, partially used jars of indeterminate age floating around in the refrigerator. I have coworkers who will happily polish off any extra jam I happen to have, but I felt odd trying to give away such old stuff, even though I knew it was perfectly safe to eat (with so much sugar and acid, jam rarely goes bad, and if it does it tells you so by getting moldy—but it should still be eaten within a year, and the texture does alter a bit with age).

I needed a recipe that would use up a lot of jam and mitigate any potential staleness, and I quickly found just the thing at Two Peas and Their Pod: easy bars that sandwich the fruit between a simple crust and a crumb topping. I had made similar jam bars once before, but they were loaded with butter and sugar, and even though I wrote about them so enthusiastically here, I never made them again. This new recipe has less sugar and half the fat, uses coconut oil instead of butter, and replaces white flour with whole wheat. It’s still not health food, but it’s less overwhelmingly rich and actually tastes better too; the nuttiness of the wheat and almonds and the slight coconut flavor add a nice counterpoint to the sweet preserves. These bars make an addictive dessert—I brought them to a picnic and they were a big hit—but it wouldn’t be totally crazy to eat them for breakfast or a snack, either. In short, I’m in love, and very sorry to have gotten my jam situation so well under control that I don’t have any left over to make more jam bars. Yes, I could just buy jam at the store, but that seems like cheating… So as soon as the weather cools off (please let it cool off!), I’ve got to get canning, stat. In the meantime, if you’ve got homemade jam from me (or another source) sitting around gathering dust, this is a great way to use it up.

1½ cups white whole wheat flour
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon (I also added a pinch of cardamom)
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking powder
½ cup coconut oil, at room temperature
½ cup packed light brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup sliced almonds
¾ cup fruit jam
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-inch square baking dish with cooking spray or coconut oil. Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream coconut oil and sugars on high speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla extract. Mix well. With the mixer on low, slowly add in the flour mixture. Mix until combined (the dough will be crumbly). Stir in the sliced almonds.
  4. Gently press half the dough into the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Evenly spread jam over dough. Sprinkle remaining dough over the top, making sure you cover the entire thing. Press gently to form the top layer.
  5. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Cool completely and cut into squares.
Yields: 12-16 bars
Time: 40 minutes
Leftover potential: Good; freezes well.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

ROASTED TOMATO, KALE, AND FARRO SALAD

















I’m fond of farro, but not unconditionally; its appeal depends a lot on the company it keeps. The first time I tried it, in a salad with butternut squash, I didn’t like it. The second, third, and fourth times, with beef, mushrooms, and tomatoes, respectively, I loved it. But the fifth time, recently, with peaches and arugula (so pretty!), was less successful. Lesson learned: For me, the keys to a good farro dish are bold flavors, especially umami and acid. So when I saw a recipe online for orzo with roasted tomatoes and kale, I thought, “I bet that would work well with farro!”—and I was right.

Roasted tomatoes have become staples in my kitchen. They were on my list of favorite recipes of 2012, got added to a pizza that made the list in 2013, and are a major component of the pizza that will probably end up one of my 2014 greatest hits. It was actually that 2013 roasted tomato, kale, and feta pizza that inspired me to add feta to this salad, and its strong briny creaminess is another important counterbalance to the earthy, chewy farro. I amped up the tartness with a basic balsamic vinaigrette (the orzo recipe only had oil, no vinegar), and long story short, I loved the end result. It’s enough to inspire me to turn on the oven even in the dog days of summer, but it will also make a perfect winter salad during the long stretches when kale dominates the produce displays (particularly since you don’t need perfect in-season tomatoes for roasting; the insipid grocery-store kind do just as well). Grains and greens, cheese and caramelized tomatoes—what more can you ask for?

1 pound cherry or grape tomatoes (about 3 cups), halved
½ cup olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon maple syrup (preferably Grade B)
¾ teaspoon salt, divided, plus extra to taste
1 cup uncooked farro
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 small garlic clove, minced
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 bunch Tuscan kale, stemmed and thinly sliced
About 4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the cherry tomatoes on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. In a small bowl, whisk together ¼ cup olive oil, maple syrup, and ½ teaspoon salt. Pour the mixture over the tomatoes and gently toss until well coated. Arrange the tomatoes in a single layer, cut side up, and roast, without stirring, until the tomatoes shrink a bit and caramelize around the edges, 45 to 60 minutes. (You can do this up to a week ahead of time if you like—just let the tomatoes cool, scrape them into a glass or plastic container along with any liquid that was left on the baking sheet, seal tightly, and store in the refrigerator.)
  2. While the tomatoes roast, in a medium saucepan combine the farro and enough cold water to cover it by about an inch. Soak for 20 minutes. Drain well and return the farro to the pan, again covering it with cold water. Add a few generous pinches of salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes, until the farro is tender but still has some bite. Drain well and spread on a clean baking sheet to cool.
  3. While farro is cooking and cooling, whisk together the balsamic vinegar, minced garlic, ¼ teaspoon salt, pepper to taste, and ¼ cup olive oil in a small bowl until emulsified.
  4. Place the shredded kale in a large bowl and toss with about half the dressing. Mix well with your hands and let sit for at least 15 minutes until softened.
  5. When the farro and tomatoes have cooled to room temperature, add them to the kale along with the rest of the dressing. Crumble in feta to taste and toss well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serves: 4-5
Time: 1½ hours
Leftover potential: Great.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

BLUEBERRY PEACH CRUMBLE

















It wouldn’t be summer without another new blueberry recipe in the wake of our annual blueberry-picking expedition. Thanks to the extra-warm weather this year, the blueberries were ahead of season and already getting sparse when we made the trip to Somis in late June, which helped keep our haul at a reasonable level (around 7 pounds). One batch of blueberry jam, one blueberry-corn salad and a lot of eating by the handful left us with only a modest amount that need to be creatively used up, so I found this recipe at Two Peas and Their Pod to help us out.

Fruit crisps and crumbles are always delicious and are hardly rocket science, but this one especially floats my boat with just the right amount of sweetness and seasoning (lemon, vanilla, cinnamon—and I always add a little cardamom too, Swede that I am). I love the addition of peaches to cut the intensity of the cooked blueberries.

The original recipe says to peel the peaches, but if you’re lazy like me and don’t mind a more rustic texture, you can skip it. In other lazy news, I just mix the filling right in the baking dish instead of dirtying another bowl. Vanilla ice cream would make a magnificent topping, but I had some leftover heavy cream in the fridge, and a little bit splashed over the warm fruit was pretty incredible too.

Filling:
2 cups blueberries
2½ cups sliced peaches (about 4 large peaches), peeled if desired
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup all-purpose flour
Topping:
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup old-fashioned oats
1/3 cup brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 tablespoons cold butter, diced
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a 2-quart ceramic or glass baking dish, combine blueberries, sliced peaches, lemon juice, lemon zest, vanilla extract, granulated sugar, and flour. Gently toss until fruit is well coated. Let the fruit mixture sit while you prepare the topping.
  3. For the topping, in a large bowl, combine the flour, oatmeal, brown sugar, granulated sugar, salt, and cinnamon. Stir together with a whisk. Mix in the butter with your fingers until the mixture comes together and you have big crumbles.
  4. Sprinkle the crumble mixture evenly over the fruit. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the top is browned and crisp and the juices are bubbly. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Serves: 6-8
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Good. Refrigerate leftovers in airtight containers and either eat them cold or reheat them in the microwave.