Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sicilian(ish) Chicken Stew

As we continue to be iced in, I had to come up with something tasty made with what I had around the house. Granted, my freezer/fridge/pantry staples are such that we'd never go hungry, but I was out of the golden raisins and sun-dried tomatoes that I'd normally add to this. So I improvised and it turned out just fine.

4 Tbsps olive oil
2 boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-size pieces
1/4 cup frozen pearl onions
1 medium carrot, peeled and roll cut into medium dice (about 3/4 inch pieces)
1 large shallot, finely chopped
5-6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, cut into 3/4 inch dice
2 medium zucchinis, cut into 3/4 inch dice
1/4 cup mixed pitted olives, coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp. capers
2 tsps. Italian seasoning (mine contains oregano, basil, fennel, thyme, rosemary, but use whatever you have)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 can diced tomatoes, drained
1 Tbsp. apricot preserves
3 Tbsp. finely chopped parsley
Red pepper flakes
Lemon wedges

Heat oil over medium high heat in deep, heavy pan. Add chicken pieces and cook 'til browned on all sides. Remove from pan and set aside.

Put frozen pearl onions into hot oil and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring often. Add carrot and cook another minute. Add shallot, garlic, bell pepper, and zucchini. Stir and cook another 2-3 minutes. Add chicken, olives,  capers, and wine and cook 2 minutes, scraping any bits from the bottom of the pan. Add drained tomatoes and 1 Tbsp apricot preserves. Stir. Reduce heat to medium, cover and cook for 15 minutes.

Just before serving, stir chopped parsley into pan and stir for 30 seconds. Spoon stew into shallow bowls and  add red pepper flakes and lemon juice to taste. Enjoy.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Chocolate Crepes with Cream Cheese and Stewed Apricots

This is just something I threw together this morning with staple fridge and pantry items.  If you don't have carb issues, you can use sugar or honey instead of the Splenda, or may use apricots in heavy syrup. With my 10 inch crepe pan, this makes about 8-10 crepes, but different size pans will produce different numbers.

Timing is everything when making crepes. The batter should be made at least 5 minutes, or up to 2 hours before you start cooking the crepes to let flour particles absorb liquids. This is the time to make your filling. Once you start cooking the crepes, each one will take less than a minute, so you won't have time to do more than give your filling a stir.

I use a blender and a good French copper crepe pan, but you could improvise if you don't have these. However, whatever pan you use to cook the crepes should have sloping sides to make turning and removing the crepes easier.

Crepe Batter
3 large eggs
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 large pinch ground nutmeg
1 pinch salt
2 Tbsp melted butter
1 Tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

Combine all ingredients in blender and blend for 15-20 seconds. Scrape sides if necessary and blend to combine thoroughly. Set aside for 5-10 minutes while you make your filling.

Stewed Apricot Filling
1 can unsweetened apricot halves in juice, reserving one TBSP juice
3 Tablespoons Splenda

Open can of apricots and cut each apricot half into slices, approximately 5-6 per half. Put apricots, juice, and Splenda into small saucepan over medium-low heat. Your goal here is to heat, not cook, although it won't hurt if this comes to a boil. Just be sure not to burn it!

Cream Cheese
I like plain bricks of old-fashioned cream cheese, because I find the texture more predictable than the whipped or spreadable varieties, but suit yourself here.

In a small bowl, beat 4 oz cream cheese and the Tbsp reserved apricot juice together to blend. Set aside.

Cooking the Crepes

Note: Cooking each crepe takes less than a minute, so the following steps happen fast. Have all your tools at hand and don't turn your back, or your crepes will be tough.
Another Note:  It's really easier to turn the crepes with your fingers. They're less likely to be torn this way, but you'll need to move fast.

Heat crepe pan over medium high heat until a few drops of water sprinkled on the cooking surface skitter across the pan an evaporate almost immediately. Put a tiny pat of butter in the pan and use a paper towel to wipe out excess. Save the paper towel to wipe out the pan if crepes start to stick or if crumbs are left behind when you turn or remove a crepe. It is very important that the pan be crumb-free before pouring batter for another crepe.

Pulse the blender for 3-5 seconds to re-stir batter. Pour enough batter to coat pan bottom (about 2 Tbsps for my pan), swirling quickly to distribute thinly over entire bottom. If a bit of batter goes up the pan sides, it's fine. Cook until the batter is no longer wet, about 20-30 seconds. During this time, loosen the edges all around with a silicon spatula. Turn and cook other side for 5-10 seconds. Remove from pan. Stack crepes as they are completed. I usually pulse the blender every two crepes to make sure the batter stays stirred, but your own experience will guide you here.

Personally, I prefer to fold crepes and eat them with a knife and fork. This is especially true when, as in this case, the filling is very juicy and there is a syrup to drizzle on top. Here's how:

Think of each crepe as a clock face. Between 12:00 and 3:00, place a slightly rounded teaspoon of cream cheese. Between 3:00 and 6:00 place 3-4 slices of apricot. Now, fold the half of the crepe from 6:00-12:00 over the 12:00-6:00 side. Fold again into quarters, so that the 12:00-3:00 cream cheese quarter is on top. Place onto a plate. Drizzle a bit of the juice from the apricot over the crepe. Enjoy.

A final note: The variety of fillings for crepes is limited only by your imagination. This recipe is a one I just came up with this morning because I was hungry, and last night's ice storm made heading out to the store unappealing, if not impossible. Use whatever you have on hand and let me know what you come up with!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

French Onion Soup

After deciding to try going without using our freezer for at least part of the year, I had to find something to do with all the bags of frozen pearl onions I bought when they were on sale around Thanksgiving. French Onion Soup sounded good and tasty for the colder weather we're expecting this week. These amount make about a gallon of soup. Reduce amounts to suit your preferences. This is very low carb, despite the addition of a little flour and sugar, but it is definitely not low fat. Yum!

3-4 lbs. beef marrow bones, sawed into  2-4 inch lengths.
3-4 medium sweet onions (Vidalia, Walla Walla, etc.)
5 10 oz. bags frozen pearl onions
1/2 stick unsalted butter
3-4 large cloves garlic, chopped coarsely
1/4 cup white sugar
1 bottle dry white wine (I used Chardonnay)
1/2 cup all purpose flour
Salt to taste (I used 3 Tbsps in the whole batch, but you'll likely want more.)

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Put marrow bones in baking dish and roast for 1 hour.
After roasting, put the bones in a large stock pot with 3 quarts water. Bring to rolling boil, then reduce heat slightly and cover. Cook, at a slow boil for 30 minutes. Remove bones from pot and use knife to loosen marrow, if needed. Return bones and any loose marrow to the pot and cook for another 30 minutes.

While bones are roasting, peel and slice sweet onions. After the hour of roasting is complete, put beef fat in electric skillet. Add half stick butter and heat to melt butter. Set heat to 300 degrees. Add sliced onions and bags of pearl onion to skillet. Stir to coat onion with the butter and beef fat. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 40 minutes.(This will have gotten you past the marrow loosening; the bones will have another 15 minutes to boil.) The goal is to caramelize the onions, cooking them until they are mahogany-colored. If they start to burn, reduce the heat a bit, but don't worry about a few very dark patches.
Add garlic and cook another 5 minutes.

In a medium size bowl, make a slurry with the 1/2 cup flour and a half cup of the wine. Add to onions and garlic and stir thoroughly to distribute the slurry. Cook about 3-5 minutes to remove any raw flour taste. Add  the sugar. Stir.
Pour in remaining wine, stirring to completely incorporate wine. Scrape the bottom of the skillet to remove any bits of onion clinging to the pan. Cook until the liquid is nearly absorbed and very syrupy.

Remove beef bones from stock pot. Add onions to the stock pot and stir. Add salt. Cook until mixture boils, 2-5 minutes. Use immersion blender to completely chop and incorporate onions into the stock. The texture will be that of a thick, slightly chunky, sauce. Taste, and add salt as needed.

To serve traditionally,  ladle soup into earthenware bowls. On each bowl, place a thick slice of toasted baguette. Sprinkle with a generous handful of gouda, swiss, or mozzarella cheese. Place bowls under broiler for 1-3 minutes, until cheese melts and begins to bubble.
To serve without adding the carbs of the bread, put a skillet over medium heat until a drop of water sizzles when dropped onto the cooking surface. Drop 2 oz preferred cheese into small heaps in skillets. Cook until cheese spreads and begins to bubble slightly. This will only take a minute or two, be careful not to burn the cheese. Place each cheese "crisp" on top of soup. Let sit one minute to soften bottom crust of the cheese.


Best Creamy Salad Dressing

This is the base I use to make creamy salad dressings. You may add herbs or substitute other cheeses, or go without cheese altogether.  For this batch I used feta, but often use parmesan instead. This is almost completely carb-free and has decent protein and calcium. Obviously, amounts dictate calories.

1 cup Greek yogurt
1/2 cup full-fat mayonnaise
a few Tbsps half-n-half or milk
1 large clove garlic
1 tsp coarse salt
1/2 cup crumbled feta

Peel and finely chop garlic clove. On cutting board (or using mortar and pestle) combine garlic and salt and mash together to form a smooth paste. Stir in crumbled cheese (or finely shredded if using non-crumbly cheese).

If you prefer a somewhat thinner (more pourable) dressing, add half-n-half or milk by tablespoons, whisking after each addition. Go very slowly here as it can get too thin more quickly than you might imagine.

Put this dressing in a jar or squeeze bottle and refrigerate for at least two hours before serving. This will allow the flavors to meld. In the refrigerator, this will keep for at least a month. (To be honest, I've never had it around long enough to go bad, I eat it at least every other day.) This also makes a great dip for veggies or chips.

Combine yogurt, mayo, and garlic-salt paste in bowl. Whisk thoroughly to combine.