Monday, March 6, 2017

Doritos-Crusted Chicken...Wait, What?

I have a confession to make.  I've never eaten at a Taco Bell.  The truth is that I just don't like Mexican style food all that much, so we never went as kids and I don't really eat a lot of fast food as an adult.

That said I do love fried chicken and there's something oddly alluring, if not downright creepy, about these new "inside-out" tacos they've been advertising where they've basically wrapped taco condiments inside of a rolled-up fried chicken patty.  There's something equally alluring and weird about the Doritos-flavored hard taco shells they've been hawking.

And then it hit me...  DING!  Doritos-coated chicken.  OMG.  YES.

I'm going to be honest with you...  It didn't have quite the familiar Doritos-flavored punch I expected it to have.  It turns out that the frying process mutes the seasoning quite a bit.  However, it turns out that crushed tortilla chips make a fantastic, super-crispy coating, so it was a big win anyway.  I think if I were to do this again, I'd probably just use plain tortilla chips (preferably low-salt) or I would use the Doritos and try to bake them instead of frying them.

Doritos-Crusted Chicken Cutlets

1/2 of a large bag of Doritos Chips
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon of water
1 pound of boneless skinless chicken breast or tenders

  1. Place chips in a large zip-top bag.  Close the bag, removing as much air as possible.  Using the smooth side of a meat mallot, the bottom of a heavy pan, or a rolling pin, pulverize the chips into uniform crumbs.  Alternatively, you may wish to use a food processor.
  2. Pound the chicken pieces flat so they are uniformly about 1/2 inch thick.
  3. Bread the chicken pieces by placing them first in the egg wash, then into the crushed chips.  Place each piece on a rack to prevent it from getting soggy.
  4. Shallow-fry in oil or bake in a 375 degree oven until golden brown and chicken is cooked-through.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Pork "Beef" Stew

A couple weeks ago, I had a hankering for beef stew.  It had been cold and snowy and beef stew was one of my Mom's specialties when I was growing-up.  Unfortunately, my wife doesn't like beef.  In fact, she doesn't eat much in the way of red meat at all.  One of the few red meats she will eat is pork and only when prepared in certain ways.  She happens to really like the Halloween Stew that I make, so I thought maybe I could just try to make a beef stew and substitute some pork butt (boneless shoulder) meat instead of the beef.  And that's how this recipe was born.

It turns out that pork is an excellent and economical stand-in for beef in a beef stew recipe.  It also turns out that my wife doesn't much like this stew.  Oh well, more for me...

Pork "Beef" Stew

2 pounds boneless pork butt (aka "Boston Butt" or Boneless Shoulder Roast)
1 large onion, cubed
3-4 carrots, sliced into thick coins or half-inch cubes
2-3 stalks of celery, sliced into half-inch pieces
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 quarts beef broth or prepared beef bouillon
1 pound red bliss potatoes, washed and cubed
1/2 cup red wine, un-oaked like a Merlot (optional)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
olive oil
salt & pepper

  1. Cut the pork into 1-inch cubes and season generously with salt and pepper.
  2. In a large pot or dutch oven, working in batches, brown the pork and remove it to a plate.
  3. Adding fresh oil to the potk, saute the onions, carrots, and celery until they begin to soften.  Add the garlic and saute briefly.
  4. Add the wine (if using) and scrape-up any bits on the bottom of the pot.  Allow the wine to simmer a few moments until the strong alcohol flavor dissipates.
  5. Add the potatoes, broth, meat, and any meat juices collected on the plate.  Scrape-up any remaining bits on the bottom of the pan.
  6. Bring the mixture to a boil and reduce to a simmer.  Simmer gently until the pork and vegetables are tender, 30-45 minutes.
  7. Prepare a slurry of 1/2 cup of flour and approximately 1 cup of water.  Stir it well or shake it in an airtight container.  It should be smooth and the consistency of a pourable cinnamon bun icing.
  8. Drizzle half of the flour slurry into the hot soup, stirring constantly so that no lumps form.  Bring the stew back up to a slow boil and check the thickness of the broth.  If you prefer it thicker, add more slurry.
  9. Serve with crusty bread and butter.
Pressure Cooker Variation
Prepare as directed in the base of your stove-top pressure cooker up through step 5.  In step 6, close the pressure cooker and bring it up to full pressure.  Cook for 25 minutes.  Quick release the steam and return the pot to the stove.  Finish the rest of the recipe steps to thicken the broth.

Slow Cooker Variation
Prepare pork and vegetables as described.  Instead of browning the meat and sauteing the aromatic vegetables, place the vegetables in a microwave safe bowl.  Coat with olive oil and a pinch of salt.  Microwave on high 3-5 minutes until they have started to soften and the onions lose their pungent odor.  Place the vegetables, meat, and broth into the slow cooker, omitting the red wine.  Cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours.  Remove 2 cups of the broth to a saucepan and thicken it into a stiff gravy using the instructions in steps 7 and 8.  Stir the gravy into the slow cooker.  Alternatively, it can be left as liquid and tastes delicious.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Sourdough...I Finally Bit the Bullet

I consider myself a comfortable bread baker.  I can churn-out a decent basic sandwich loaf, a pretty delicious no-knead country round, and pretty awesome english toasting bread.  I've done different types of rolls for thanksgiving, pita bread, naan, english muffins, and pizza.  But there's one thing I've never gotten around to mastering.  Sourdough.

For the uninitiated, sourdough is similar to making any other kind of yeast bread except you grow your own yeasts...from scratch.  You do this by creating a "sourdough starter," essentially a slurry of flour and water that encourages the natural yeasts already present in the flour to start growing and crowd-out and kill any bad bacteria.  Once they get going, these natural yeasts ferment, contributing not only the carbon dioxide that you need to bake bread, but a beer-like yeasty flavor, a little alcohol, and lactic acid, which makes the starter taste sour.  It's the very same process used to brew beer and make yogurt.

The main reason I haven't gotten into sourdough before now is time.  It takes a week or more to get a starter going and it can be temperamental to try to do it during the warmer months.  Also, once you have a starter going, you can let it snooze and slow-down in the fridge, but it still must be "fed" with fresh flour and water at least once a week so the yeast doesn't die.  It's a bit of a commitment...kind of like owning a pet that only needs to be fed once a week.

Last week, I happened to be listening to one of my favorite podcasts, The Splendid Table, and they happened to air a segment about sourdough featuring Bridget Lancaster from America's Test Kitchen.  She described it as so easy and casual and I was in the right frame of mind, so that night, I looked-up her method (see link above), gathered the ingredients, and stirred-together the beginnings of a sourdough starter.

I was pleasantly surprised that after just about a week of feeding, I had a starter that smelled divine and seemed to be doubling itself about every 8-12 hours.  So on a whim, I fed my starter one morning before work and used the throw-away portion to put together a sponge for a no-knead sourdough loaf.  I figured if it didn't puff-up like it should, I'd at least have pizza dough for that night's dinner.  However, it turned out to be a smashing success!  My first sourdough loaf:

It was pleasantly tangy, not too sour, and the crust and chew were perfect.  I brought half of the loaf in for my co-workers to try and they enjoyed it every bit as much with a slather of my homemade blueberry jam.

If you happen to be a bread baker who's ready to take the next step, I encourage you to try Bridget's sourdough starter method and the no-knead sourdough bread recipe.  It's an incredibly satisfying achievement to take that first bite of something you truly made from scratch, with nothing but a little flour and water and a whole lot of time and patience.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Creamy Asparagus Soup

Last month, I posted about a silky, creamy tomato bisque that I made for my birthday.  Truth be told, I've never really been a fan of thin almost drinkable soups.  For me, soups had to have some substance or chunks to make it a hearty meal.  But my views changed after that bisque and I started to envision other beautiful puree'd soups.

Fast-forward to this weekend when Asparagus was a good price at Whole Foods.  I picked-up about 2 pounds, thinking maybe I'll roast half and turn the other half into a creamy, velvety soup.  When I placed the milk delivery order this week (we have old-fashioned glass bottle milk delivery service), I tacked-on a pint of half & half and planned to make the soup tonight for dinner.  It was delicious!  And we finished the whole pot between my wife and I.

I hope you enjoy the recipe as much as we did.

Creamy Asparagus Soup
Makes 4-6 Meal-Sized Servings

Note: The step of putting it through a fine-mesh strainer is frankly a bit of a pain and totally optional.  However, it does make the difference between a velvety soup and one that's a little gritty--especially with asparagus.  And don't skip the butter.  It gives it a little something extra in texture and flavor that you don't directly notice but it's obvious something is missing when it's gone.

2 pounds thin asparagus
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 cup white wine
water or chicken stock, heated to a simmer
3/4 cup of half & half or heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt & pepper

  1. Wash the asparagus and trim off the woody ends.  If all you can find is thick asparagus, consider peeling the bottom third of each stalk with a vegetable peeler to make straining the soup easier.  Slice into thin rounds.
  2. In a large pot, saute the asparagus and onion in olive oil with a heavy pinch of salt until it begins to soften.  Add the garlic and cook a moment until the garlic softens.
  3. Add the white wine and simmer a minute or two until the harsh alcohol smell goes away.
  4. Add enough water or stock to cover the vegetables completely.  Bring to a low boil and cook until all the vegetables are completely soft.
  5. Remove the pan from the heat.  Using an immersion blender or a jar blender, puree the soup until it's as smooth as you can get it.
  6. Working in batches, pour the soup into a fine-mesh sieve.  Using the back of a ladle or large spoon, press the soup through the sieve until only a little bit of fibrous material remains.  Scrape the bottom of the sieve to make sure all the pulp that passed through ends-up in the bowl.
  7. Return the soup to the pot and bring to a simmer.  Stir-in cream and butter until it is well incorporated.  Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking.  If the soup is too too thin and watery, simmer a bit until it thickens.
We like to serve this soup in a shallow bowl with cheesy toast, croutons, or soup crackers, and a dollop of sour cream in the center.  A sprinkle of Parmesan cheese never hurt, either.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Tomato Bisque

As promised, below is the recipe for the Tomato Bisque I made for my birthday dinner.  Bisque is really just a fancy name for an exceptionally creamy, silky soup.  I hope you enjoy this one as much as I did.

Creamy Tomato Bisque

Note: This general technique works equally well with just about any vegetable that will puree smoothly once cooked.  You can even add fruits like apples or pears.  Just a week after I made the tomato version, I used-up some leftover carrots, purple sweet potatoes, celery, and onion to make a mixed vegetable bisque with a gentle purple hue and delicious creamy flavor.

2 28-oz cans Whole or Crushed Tomatoes
2 sprigs fresh basil
4 cups chicken broth
1 small onion, minced
1/2 cup heavy cream or half & half
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil

1) In a large soup pot, heat olive oil and saute onions and a pinch of salt gently until they begin to soften.

2) If using whole tomatoes, crush them with your hands.  Add all tomatoes and the entire sprigs of basil and stock to the pot.

3) Simmer mixture, stirring occasionally, until well cooked and the tomatoes are soft (about 30 minutes).  Remove from heat and fish-out the basil leaves and stems.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

4) Using a handheld blender or working in small batches using a jar blender, blend the mixture into as smooth a puree as you can.  Move the puree to a bowl or another pan and clean-out the original pan.

5) Working 1 or 2 ladlefuls at a time, pass the mixture through a fine mesh sieve back into the original pan.  Use the bottom of the ladle to push as much tomato flesh through the mesh as you can.  Discard any stubborn bits of flesh remaining in the sieve.

6) Stir-in cream and adjust seasoning to taste.  Add more cream if you wish.

7) Re-heat the soup gently so that the cream doesn't curdle and serve hot in a shallow bowl.  Optionally garnish with a dollup of sour cream, crackers, or homemade croutons.