Thursday, January 31, 2008

Soy Braised Chicken (See Yow Kai)

I am all over this like me on a brownie. It's easy, cheap and damn good, but there are some wierd ingredients you need to have on hand. I used bacon fat because I had it around but any cooking oil will work. Cool thing about this is you can keep the seasoning ratios and add another cup of water or stock to accomodate more chicken. In the end you are just going to reduce and thicken it anyway so you will cook the extra water out.

Soy Braised Chicken

2 lbs chicken thighs, drumsticks or wings skin-on
2 tbsp duck or bacon fat, or cooking oil
1/2 inch slice ginger, bruised (hint-keep a big piece in your freezer)
8 oz baby portabella mushrooms sliced in half (or button, whatever)
1 large sweet onion sliced into thick half circles
2 cups water
1/3 cup dark soy sauce
3 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp chili paste or 2 fresh thai bird chiles (I used the garlic kind)
1/2 tsp chinese 5 spice powder
sea salt to taste
sesame oil if desired

In a large deep covered dutch oven or something similar saute the onion and mushrooms in 1 tbsp of the fat/oil and a small hit of salt until soft and nicely browned. *Note, this is optional, you could skip this step and just brown the chicken.
Set aside and add the other tbsp of fat and brown the chicken, skin side down first.
Set chicken aside and drain off excess fat, leaving about 1 tbsp.
Throw in the ginger piece and fry for a couple seconds, then add the mix of soy sauce, sugar, chile, 5 spice powder and water and deglaze the pan, scrape all the good stuff off the bottom!
Add the chicken, shrooms and onions back to the pot, the water should come up about half the sides of the meat pieces.
Bring to a boil then turn to low heat and simmer for 30 minutes turning halfway through. Meat should be very tender and cooked through.
When meat is done, remove to a platter and turn the heat up on the liquid. (*Note: if you want you can use half the pan liquid for sauce and freeze the other half to use as a starter braise liquid for next time, just add more water!)
Reduce liquid by half and add in a tsp cornstarch dissolved in a little water if you like a thick sauce. Drizzle in some sesame oil if desired and pour over chicken. Serve with white rice and something green with some of the sauce on the side.

Vegetation suggestion: saute on very high heat 1 bag frozen beans or sugar snap peas in a little fat with a tablespoon or two of chile garlic paste and a small hit of salt until crisp and warmed through. Delicious and simple!

Best Ever Banana Bread Part Deux

I wanted to make the original last night to use up some bananas, but I wanted a little more umph and a little less guilt. So I turned to my healthy oat banana muffin recipe, but then remembered how dry and 'healthy' tasting they come out. So what to do when you want both moist and healthy? It's stuffing and combining time...

Best Ever Banana Bread II...Stuffed

2 cups quick or instant oats plus a 1/4 cup more
2 cups chopped walnuts
1.5 cups whole wheat flour
1.5 cups all purpose flour
1 tbsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

4 large bananas smashed (2 cups)
1/4 cup soft butter
1/4 cup vegetable oil (or your favorite kind)
8 oz reduced or non-fat sour cream
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp milk

Preheat oven to 350F for muffins (or 300F for loaves) and grease and flour pans.
Mix the oats, flours, nuts, baking soda and powder, and salt in a bowl.
In another large bowl beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Beat in the honey, sour cream, eggs, vanilla and cinnamon until smooth then beat in bananas.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet in 5 steps, stirring minimally each time to just combine.
Should be a thick batter, but use the tablespoons of milk to loosen if too stiff, probably won't have this issue if using oil.

Pour batter into muffin pans to 3/4 full to get a nice top. Pour to 1/2 full in loaf pans. If you want to be cute sprinkle the 1/4 cup extra oats on top.
Bake muffins at 350F for 15-20 minutes, tester should come out with moist crumbs and tops should spring back slightly when touched.
Bake loafs at 300F for 1 hour until tester comes out with moist crumbs.
Either way let the bread cool in the pans for 10 minutes in the freezer and then turn out onto cooling racks.

Makes 24 muffins or 2 medium loaves.
Note: I might make this again with some unsweetened applesauce subbed in for the butter. You want it moist AND healthy remember?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Black and White Brownies

This is the same basic recipe as the "Special Brownies" from the previous post. However, I was craving marble brownies like mom used to make, so in went the cream cheese! Also, I used half Hershey's special dark and half Hershey's regular unsweetened cocoa and I think they taste much better than the original batch, or that could just be the cream cheese talking...

Black and White Brownies

Black part:
8 oz (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups cocoa (half dark half regular)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1 cup dark chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts

White part:
8oz cream cheese (very soft)
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Lightly grease a 13×9 inch pan.

For the black part:
In a medium sauce pan melt the butter on medium-low. When butter is melted, stir in the sugar and heat until mixture is very hot but not bubbling (1 minute). Stir well to help dissolve some of the sugar – mixture should appear shiny.
Transfer sugar and butter mix to a mixing bowl and beat in the salt and vanilla.
Add the eggs 1 at a time, beating till smooth.
Stir in the flour, cocoa, baking powder, chips, and nuts, (previously sifted) stirring until combined.

For white part:
Combine all ingredients in small mixing bowl and beat until very smooth.

Spoon about 3/4 black mix into the pan and spread evenly.
Pour white part on top and spread evenly.
Add remaining black mix and spread gently, then run knife across surface several times to create a marble effect.

Bake for 35-40 minutes until toothpick has very moist crumbs sticking to it, outer edges of white part should be very lightly golden in spots. Let cool in pan at least 15 minutes, run knife around edge and invert onto cutting board. Makes 12 large or 24 small brownies.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Special Brownies

...ehem, not THOSE special brownies, but still pretty special. I found this recipe and made them for a birthday party, about half actually made it to said party.
They are very good, moist but not super chewy, with a heavy chocolate flavor. The edges were pleasantly crisp but not super hard and dried out (a brownie killer in my book).
I didn't use the espresso powder (didn't have, couldn't buy) so I substituted cinnamon and a little cayenne hoping for a little extra punch. Maybe I should have used more because I couldn't taste it, or maybe I just didn't notice because I didn't make non-spiced brownies for comparison. So if you are a timid spicer, don't worry about this amount, it's pretty tame.
Also of note: I only had 5 eggs for the double batch I made, so I substituted meringue powder and water (as directed on container) for the remaining three and they still turned out great!

Spiced Brownies
Adapted from: King Arthur Flour Recipes
Makes 24 2" brownies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups Dutch-process cocoa (I used mix of Hershey's Special Dark and Droste)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon espresso powder (optional)
1 tsp cinnamon (or 2 if you like)
dash cayenne powder
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional but in my book totally necessary)

Preheat oven to 350F and grease a 9x13" pan.
In a small saucepan melt the butter over low heat. Stir in the sugar off the hat to melt as much as possible. Return to low heat and stir often until shiny but NOT bubbling.
Transfer to large mixing bowl and mix in vanilla, espresso powder, spices, cocoa, salt and baking powder with electric mixer. Beat in eggs one at a time until well combined, then stir in flour and nuts until just combined.
Pour batter into pan, spread into corners and smooth out top, put pan in oven, lick spoon/spatula/bowl clean. Seriously the best brownie batter I've ever put in my mouth...did I just say that out loud?
Bake 28-30 min until toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs. Let pan cool before cutting.

Tips for cutting pretty brownies: just wipe your knife clean with a damp paper towel after every cut, and cut in a downward motion instead of just dragging the knife through. Another way to do it would involve flipping the pan onto a cutting board, hoping the brownies fall out in one piece, then use a pizza cutter. I'll try that next time.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Stuff In Your Ziti

Back in the day when I could eat anything I wanted and not look like I'd developed basketball sized tumors in my ass, I looooved to get baked ziti from Two Cousin's Pizza in Camp Hill, PA. It was so damn good, they had a layer of ricotta in there and covered it all with melted mozzarella. However, I haven't been to Two Cousin's in years, and it is a friggin challenge to find baked ziti of comparable quality. So last night when the craving struck, I convinced myself that trying yet another local Italian dive's ziti would only yield the same dissapointing results. And further convinced myself that dammit, if I could rock the stuffed shells I could definitely turn out a good baked ziti. Stuffed shells, manicotti, lasagna, and my vision of baked ziti are all pretty much the same thing and revolved around my love for all things ricotta.

Stuffs Baked Ziti
Serves: 6-8

1 lb dry ziti or penne
4 cups tomato sauce (homemade is best-recipe follows!) (Keep 1/2 cup seperate) 1 15oz container whole milk ricotta
2 cups shredded mozzarella
1 egg
1 cup good parmesan
10 sweet basil leaves chopped small
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350F.
Cook the pasta just short of al dente, 2 minutes less than directions call for. Drain well and mix with 3 1/2 cups of the tomato sauce.
Mix the ricotta with the egg, parmesan, basil, pinch of salt and 1/2 tsp pepper.

Coat bottom of 9x13 roasting pan with remaining 1/2 cup of sauce to prevent sticking. Lay down half of the sauced noodles, cover as evenly as possible with the ricotta mixture, then lay down the rest of the noodles.
Cover top layer with the mozzarella and bake 30 minutes or until hot in the center and bubbly at edges.
Serve with Stuffs Garlic Bread (recipe follows).

How freakin easy is that?? I totally got my ricotta fix without the time consuming process required for stuffed shells or lasagna. If I had made the sauce ahead of time the whole thing would have taken less than 1 hour to make.

Basic Tomato Sauce:
Makes 4 cups

2 28oz cans peeled whole or crushed tomatos (try to get brand with no added ingredients)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium sweet onion chopped small
4-5 cloves garlic crushed
2 tbs tomato paste
1 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tsp sugar (optional)
chopped basil (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
**Optional: 1 lb lean ground beef

Heat olive oil over medium in large dutch oven or pot, add onion, red pepper flake and garlic and cook 5 minutes until soft and fragrant.
Add tomato paste and cook in center of pot 2 minutes.
Add tomatos (if using whole run them in a food processor or blender for a second to break down) and scrape any caramelized bits off the bottom of pot. Season with kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste, (**if you want meat sauce now is the time to add approximately 1 lb cooked lean ground beef)simmer over medium low 30 minutes. Add sugar and basil at end of cooking if desired. Use immediately or freeze for future endeavors!

Stuffs Garlic Bread

1 loaf good Italian or Portuguese Saloio bread, sliced 1 inch thick
1 stick salted butter, very soft
3 cloves garlic, pressed or chopped very small
fresh cracked pepper
2 tsp olive oil

Turn oven to broil.
Mix the soft butter, oil, garlic and pepper in bowl until thoroughly combined and spreadable. Spread onto bread slices and arrange on cookie sheet.
Broil on top rack approximately 7-10 minutes until lightly browned on top, take care not to burn the garlic!