Thursday, July 24, 2014

Fifty Shades of Chicken: Roasted Chicken Thighs with Sweet-and-Sour Onions

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Things got awfully steamy in the summer of 2011 when the Fifty Shades of Grey books were first released, and they are about to get steamier in February of 2015 with the release of the movie, starring one of my favorite actors, Irish-born ex-Calvin Klein model Jamie Dornan. In the meantime, my kitchen is getting awfully steamy on its own with my recent acquisition of the Fifty Shades of Chicken cookbook.


I know this is a food blog, and this may not sound like a serious cookbook, but trust me, it is. First things first, however. The book is hilarious! I read the whole thing from cover to cover and absolutely LOVED how it parodied the original books. Fifty Shades turned into Shifty Blades and Mrs. Robinson is now Mrs. Child... Julia Child.


The funny introductions to each chapter and recipe are worth the price of the book for any Fifty Shades-loving cook, and the recipes definitely hold their own. Featuring 50 chicken recipes (and a few extras, such as Taters, Baby!), this cookbook will find a very happy place on my bookshelf along with other tried and true cookbooks.


Even though I'm a pretty serious cook (I have signed cookbooks by Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, Eric Ripert, Anthony Bourdain, and more), I have a soft spot for anything with a sense of humor, and these naughty-sounding chicken recipes are exactly that! Not only are they creative, each with a tie in to the original books (but with chicken), the recipes themselves are tantalizing, yet straightforward to prepare.


Plain Vanilla Chicken is actually a recipe for Roast Chicken with Brandy-Vanilla Butter, while Pound Me Tender actually refers to Crispy Chicken Tenders with Cashews and Coconut Curry. I'm not gonna lie, the cookbook is not for the faint of heart, but really what do you expect from a parody on a book about a kinky billionaire with a penchant for things I can't openly discuss on this blog :)


Oh, and there are pictures of a shirtless guy with washboard abs trussing a chicken.


So far, I've tried a couple different recipes from the book. First was the Stir-Fried Chicken with Spinach and Peanuts which was tasty but a bit on the wet side from all the water released from the spinach. I'm not sure I would necessarily make that again (I actually prefer more authentic Asian dishes than this one proved to be), but never fret, there are lots of other appetizing dishes on my to do list.


The next recipe I tried (and my favorite so far) is the Roasted Chicken Thighs with Sweet-and-Sour Onions. Not only is it really easy to make, but the result is pretty darn tasty. I actually cooked the onions ahead of time in order to speed up this weeknight meal the following day after work. This worked out really well and still yielded a mouthwatering chicken dish with a sweet and tangy onion-laden sauce.


It's supposed to serve 2 to 4, but I'd say it's more like 2 to 3. In any case, it's a great chicken dish even if you aren't a fan of Fifty. It's super easy to make and the results are sublime. I can't think of a better time to share this Fifty Shades of Chicken recipe than on the day that the Fifty Shades of Grey movie trailer premieres! Things are about to get even steamier...


Roasted Chicken Thighs with Sweet-and-Sour Onions
Serves 2 to 4
(From Fifty Shades of Chicken)

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, patted dry with paper towels
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon plus a pinch of coarse kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 sweet onion, thinly sliced
1 cup white wine
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. In a large bowl, toss together the chicken, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, and the pepper.

In a small saucepan, simmer together the onion, wine, bay leaf, cinnamon stick, and a pinch of salt until most of the liquid has evaporated, 15 to 20 minutes. Mix in the honey and butter.

Spoon the mixture over the chicken and toss well. Spread the thighs, onion mixture, and any juices onto a rimmed baking sheet or baking dish. Bake until the chicken is no longer pink and the onions are meltingly tender, and caramelized, about 25 minutes.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Chinese Chive Dumplings

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I'm a dumpling fiend. If I had to pick a single food that I'm most obsessed with, it would have to be dumplings. I could eat them day and night, in any form, from any region in the world, from Asia to Europe and beyond. I've shared quite a few varieties of dumpling recipes here in the past, including the likes of pierogi, manti, and har gow. I've also shared lots of unusual dumpling creations such as Buffalo chicken dumplings, General Tso's chicken dumplings, and sweet potato and pork dumplings.


One of my favorite dumplings to get when I go to dim sum is pan-fried Chinese chive dumplings. They are made with the traditional translucent white dough used in the majority of steamed dumplings at dim sum establishments, but it is actually pan-fried, which really sets it apart from the others.

Chinese chives aka garlic chives

The filling is a combination of Chinese chives (aka garlic chives) and fresh shrimp, and in the case of the version I made from Asian Dumplings by Andrea Nguyen, there's also the option of adding some finely chopped dried shrimp, which adds a deeper shrimp flavor.

Dried shrimp

Since I have some dried shrimp in my freezer, I included this optional element and really enjoyed the intensity of the shrimp flavor, but a friend who also enjoyed the dumplings thought it was a bit too strong for her. Use your judgement, and since it's a specialty ingredient you would need to stake out in an Asian market, don't feel so bad if you skip it, but I personally love its inclusion!


This particular dough, made predominantly with wheat starch is incredibly easy to work with but very finicky when it comes to cooking. It's much easier to flatten and shape than traditional flour-based dumpling wrappers but dumplings made with wheat starch dough must be cooked before refrigerating or freezing, so plan on steaming all the dumplings you make even if you aren't going to enjoy them right away.


I consulted a couple different dumpling/dim sum cookbooks and a lot of websites to see if any share ways to freeze Chinese chive dumplings. Typical wheat starch encased dumplings can be steamed and then frozen to be re-steamed later, but for some reason all the recipes for Chinese chive dumplings stated that they don't freeze well. I was skeptical and decided to try it anyway.


Some Chinese chive dumplings recipes have you pan-fry the dumplings exactly as you would with traditional pan-fried dumplings or potstickers, where you place the raw dumplings in a hot pan coated with oil, fry until crisp, then add a bit of water and cover to steam through, and then in this case flip the dumplings over to slightly crisp on the other side. Nguyen's recipe has you steam the dumplings in a steamer and then pan-fry them on each side. I figured if you are fully steaming the dumplings and then pan-frying in a separate step, why not freeze some of the dumplings after the steaming step to see what happens?


I made some of the dumplings exactly the way the recipe stated (pan-frying after steaming) and then froze the remaining dumplings after steaming. Then a few days later, I gently thawed some of the frozen Chinese chive dumplings at room temperature for about 30 minutes (make sure they are covered if thawing in the fridge since it will take longer and they can start to dry out) then re-steamed them in my bamboo steamer basket to refresh them to their earlier state. Once they were glossy and translucent like their predecessors, I pan-fried them, yielding identical copies of the first batch I didn't freeze.


They were identical in looks, but did anything get lost in the flavor or texture? Nope. The previously frozen dumplings had the same chewy and crispy wrapper with the intensely shrimp-and-chive laced filling as its non-frozen cousins. And since these dumplings are some of my favorites (and really easy to make once you get the hang of shaping them), I can see myself making double batches and freezing them for future cravings.


This recipe only makes 18 dumplings, which yields less dumplings than many other recipes utilizing the same amount of dough, but in this case it really is because of the shape. A lot of excess dough is used to pleat these "closed satchels," as Nguyen calls them. I only briefly describe in the recipe how to shape them (Nguyen does a more in depth job in her book) so please check out her video on how to create this shape. In the video she is making Momo dumplings, which use a flour-dough but still feature the same technique as the Chinese chive dumplings.


Chinese Chive Dumplings
Makes 18 dumplings
(Adapted from Asian Dumplings)

Filling:
1/2 teaspoon light (regular) soy sauce
1 teaspoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
3 teaspoons cornstarch
1/3 pound medium shrimp, peeled, deveined, and cut into pea-size pieces (4 1/2 ounces net weight)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 pinches of white pepper (I used black pepper)
2 teaspoons oyster sauce
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped dried shrimp (optional)
6 ounces Chinese chives (aka garlic chives), trimmed of thicker bottom portion and cut into 1/2-inch lengths (about 1 3/4 cups) (I only had about 4 ounces after trimming them, but still yielded plenty of filling for my dumplings)
Salt (optional)

Wheat Starch Dough:
4 1/2 ounces (1 cup) wheat starch
2 1/4 ounces (1/2 cup) tapioca starch
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
About 1 cup just-boiled water
4 teaspoons canola oil

To Finish:
About 3 tablespoons canola oil, for pan-frying
Light (regular) soy sauce, for dipping
Chile garlic sauce, homemade or store-bought (optional)

To make the filling: In a bowl, combine the soy sauce, rice wine, and 1 teaspoon of the cornstarch, stirring to dissolve the cornstarch. Add the raw shrimp and stir to coat well. Set aside. In another bowl, create a seasoning sauce by stirring together the remaining 2 teaspoons cornstarch, sugar, pepper, oyster sauce, sesame oil, and water. Set aside.

Heat the canola oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the dried shrimp and cook stirring constantly, for about 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Add the Chinese chives and keep stirring and cooking for 1 minute, or until the chives have wilted slightly. Add the raw shrimp and cook for 1 minute, or until they have just turned orange. Make a well in the center, give the seasoning sauce a stir, and add to the skillet. Cook for about 45 seconds, or until the mixture thickens and coheres. Taste and, if needed, add salt for savory depth. Transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool completely. You should have about 1 1/4 cups.

To make the dough: In a bowl combine the wheat starch, tapioca starch, and salt. Make a well in the center and pour in about 14 tablespoons of the water. Use a wooden spoon to stir the ingredients together (mine actually snapped in half, oops; next time I may use a large metal spoon instead). The dough will look translucent at first and then become mottled, whitish, and lumpy.

Once the water has been incorporated, add the oil. Stir to work in the oil. If the dough looks dry, add a little more water. Aim for a medium firm texture, not a soft and mushy one; work in additional wheat starch by the tablespoon if you add too much water. Press the ingredients together into a rough ball that feels a bit bouncy.

Transfer the warm tough to an unfloured work surface and knead for 1 to 2 minutes, until snowy white, smooth and resembling Play-Doh in texture. When you squeeze on it, it should not crack. If it cracks, very lightly oil one hand and knead it into the dough to increase the dough's suppleness. Cut the dough into 3 equal pieces and put them into a zip-top plastic bag and seal well. Set aside for 5 minutes to rest before using. This dough can be made up to 6 hours in advance and left at room temperature in the zip-top bag.

Before assembling the dumplings, line steamer trays and baking sheets with parchment paper (perforated preferred for steamer trays), then oil the paper.

Have ready 2 (6 to 7 inch) plastic squares cut from a zip top bag (I leave mine connected on one end to make it almost like a book); smear a little oil on one side of each plastic square to avoid sticking (the inner surfaces if you've left yours connected on one end like mine). Working with 1 piece of dough at a time, roll it on an unfloured work surface into a chubby 6-inch log. Cut the log into 6 equal pieces. To prevent drying and sticking, dab your finger in some canola oil and rub a tiny bit on each of the ends of the dough pieces, pressing each one into a 1/4-inch-thick disk as you work.

Place a disk between the squares. Apply moderate pressure with a tortilla press, the flat side of a cleaver, or the bottom of a large measure cup, skillet, or plate. You maybe have to press more than once to arrive at the desired size (about 4 inches in diameter). Unpeel the plastic and set the slightly shiny wrapper aside. Repeat with the remaining dough pieces. There should be no need to re-oil the plastic between pressings. To prevent the dough from drying, assemble a batch of dumplings before forming more wrappers from another portion of dough.

To assemble a dumpling, hold a wrapper in a slightly cupped hand. Use a spoon to center about 1 tablespoon of filling atop the wrapper, flattening the filling a bit and keeping about 1/2 to 3/4 inch of wrapper clear on all sides. Then fold, pleat, and press to enclose the filling and create a closed satchel. Try to make large pleats so that the dumpling is not too thick on one side. After pinching the opening closed, twist off any excess dough and discard. If the skin breaks, dab a tiny bit of oil on the area and try smoothing out and patching up the wrapper.

Set the finished dumpling closed side down in a prepared steamer tray. Assemble more dumplings from the remaining wrappers before working on the next batch of dough. Space them about 1/2 inch apart (if using a metal steamer tray, keep the dumplings 1 inch away from the edge where condensation will collect). Place overflow dumplings on the baking sheet with a good 1/2 inch between each and cover with plastic wrap. Once assembled the dumplings should be cooked as soon as possible, because they cannot be refrigerated uncooked.

Steam the dumplings over boiling water for about 7 minutes, or until they have puffed slightly and are glossy and translucent (they will become more translucent as they begin to cool as well). Remove each tray and place it atop a serving plate if serving as steamed dumplings.

To pan-fry, remove the trays and let the dumplings cool to room temperature. They can sit for up to 2 hours. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon oil for a medium skillet or 1 1/2 tablespoons for a large skillet.

When the oil is just about to smoke, add the dumplings, smooth side down, in batches if necessary; it is okay if they touch. Fry for about 3 minutes, or until crisp and tinged golden brown. Flip each over to crisp the sealed (pleated) side for about 2 minutes; reduce the heat if the oil smokes. There is no need to brown the bottom as it will not show. Transfer to a platter.

Serve hot or warm with soy sauce and chile garlic sauce for guests to concoct their own dipping sauce.

After steaming, dumplings can be refrigerated and then re-steamed for about 3 minutes, and then finally pan-fried before serving. Steamed dumplings can also be frozen for up to 1 month, completely thawed in the refrigerator, and steamed for 3 to 5 minutes and finally pan-fried as directed above. These dumplings MUST be cooked before being refrigerated or frozen.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Ruby Violet's Ice Cream Dreams: Tiramisu Ice Cream with Mocha Ripple

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Summer is a time for the beach, barbecues, and of course ice cream! Although I do enjoy ice cream year round, I can't think of a better time to enjoy it than when you need to seriously cool down... right around now.

Churning Tiramisu Ice Cream

Luckily, I recently received a review copy of Ruby Violet's Ice Cream Dreams written by Julie Fischer and published by Hardie Grant Books. It's based on a popular British ice cream shop (or should I say shoppe) that creates luscious ice creams featuring organic milk, free-range eggs, and fresh seasonal ingredients (no additives here).


The book begins with basic sweetened and unsweetened ice cream mix recipes and follows with basic sorbet mixes (including homemade glucose syrup made from glucose powder). I was surprised to see this glucose syrup used so frequently in many of the book's sorbet recipes, but Fischer states that it will improve the scoopability of the sorbet, as it is not as sweet as sugar.


I wasn't sure I wanted to go out and purchase a specialty ingredient just to make the sorbets in the book, but after my experience making some of the ice creams, I am highly intrigued! If the sorbets are as good as the ice creams, I'm sold!


A variety of unique Ice Creams such as Beetroot Ice Cream and Rice Pudding Ice Cream, and Sorbets such as Peach and Rosewater Sorbet and Bloody Mary Sorbet are followed by chapters for Special Desserts such as Baked Alaska and Ice Cream Cakes, Delicate Decoratives such as Meringues and Ice Bowls, and finally Toppings such as Lemon Sauce and Fleur de Sel Caramel Sauce round out the book. In all honestly, the Ice Creams, Sorbets, and Toppings chapters are probably the only ones I plan on using, but there are some fun ideas in the other two chapters.


I started my exploration of this book by attempting the Tiramisu Ice Cream with Mocha Ripple. My first thought was, "how is this tiramisu without any mascarpone?" But then after making the ice cream base spiked with Kahlua and rum and then swirling it with the decadent mocha ripple (essentially a glossy and thick mocha sauce) I thought, "what mascarpone?"


The result yields the best ice cream I've ever made. Ever. Bar none. Drunken ice cream with a smooth and silky cocoa-and-coffee infused sauce is decidedly for adults only, but totally worth the calories. It is easily THE BEST ICE CREAM I'VE EVER MADE.


I'm assuming the term ripple is the British version of swirl when it comes to ice cream, and I did my best to layer the ice cream with drizzle of this sauce and then even used a butter knife to try and swirl it around a bit without really mixing it into the ice cream, just to make sure it's evenly distributed. I actually halved the recipe for the Mocha Ripple and only used half of that (so a quarter of the entire recipe for those keeping track) for one batch of this ice cream. I'm saving the other half for another batch to be made sooner rather than later!


The second ice cream I made from the book is the Rum and Raisin Ice Cream. It uses the same ice cream base, but adds a bit of agave syrup. A mixture of raisins (I used sultanas and dried currants) simmer and then soak overnight in dark rum and orange peel, and then are strained, orange peel discarded and the rum syrup is mixed into the ice cream base along with half the soaked raisins and some orange zest. Finally after freezing, the remaining raisins and orange zest are sprinkled throughout the ice cream.


Although the ice cream itself was fantastic, I found after a couple bites the raisins seemed to have a slight bit of bitterness to them. I'm not sure if it was rum-related or perhaps a bit of the pith that ended up on the orange rind (I used a vegetable peeler to remove thin strips) that added a bitter note, but it's more of an aftertaste. It's fairly mild but noticeable enough to me to make me wonder exactly why that happened. I'm not sure if it was user error (mine) or something to do with the recipe, but I would still say the ice cream was good but a bit too assertive in terms of the bordering-on-bitter rum-soaked raisins.


Between the two ice cream recipes I tried, I would definitely recreate the tiramisu ice cream again (and very soon). If I made the rum and raisin, I would cut down on the raisins (it was just too much overall, I think) and maybe hold back a bit on the orange rind since it does sit in the raisin mixture overnight and could release some bitterness from any remnants of pith... the jury is still out on whether or not that was the cause.


I'm very intrigued by other recipes in the book, and since the ice cream base results in such creamy and delicious ice cream, I can see myself using it to create my own flavors as well. Since the writer is British and the measurements are based on the metric system, the US equivalents are not standard measures. For example for the heavy cream it calls for 17 ounces, but heavy cream is commonly sold in pints, which measure 16 ounces. I simply used 16 ounces heavy cream and made up for it by adding another ounce of milk. It's pretty simple to tweak the recipe as needed between the two dairy components. I also used low-fat milk instead of whole milk, which is probably a big no-no to ice cream experts, but I don't really care. It was still delicious!


There are lots of ice cream books out in the universe, and it's really difficult to say if one is better than the others without actually trying all the rest, but I can safely say that the recipes in Ruby Violet's Ice Cream Dreams are all natural, creative and unique, with lots of interesting ideas for frozen desserts, not just ice creams and sorbets. The ice cream base is perfection and I plan on making other recipes from the book as well as my own creations using this starting point. I'm also looking forward to trying some of the sorbets once I purchase some glucose powder. If you're a frozen dessert lover, this is a great book to check out.


Tiramisu Ice Cream with Mocha Ripple
Makes about 1 quart
(Adapted from Ruby Violet's Ice Cream Dreams)

Tiramisu Ice Cream:
500 ml (17 fl oz) heavy cream (I used 16 oz heavy cream and 10 oz milk to make it more US friendly since heavy cream is sold in pints here)
250 ml (9 fl oz) whole milk
75 g (3 oz) granulated sugar
45 ml (1 1/2 fl oz) egg yolk (approximately 3 large egg yolks)
Pinch of salt
40 ml (1 1/2 fl oz) Kahlua or similar coffee-flavored liqueur
30 ml (1 fl oz) dark rum

Mocha Ripple:
80 g (3 oz) granulated sugar
40 ml (1 1/2 fl oz) agave syrup
125 ml (4 fl oz) espresso or strong instant coffee
50 g (2 oz) cocoa powder

Make the base mix by pouring the cream, milk, and sugar into a saucepan. Bring slowly to the boil then remove from the heat and allow to cool a little for about 5 minutes.

In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and salt until combined well.

Slowly pour the slightly cooled milk and cream on to the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Do not use boiling milk as this can scramble your eggs.

Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and slowly heat, stirring with a wooden spoon or whisk all the time, until it has reached 85 degrees C (185 degrees F) but doesn't boil. Stir at this temperature for 4 minutes or so.

Remove from the heat and leave to cool down to 4 degrees C (39 degrees F) within 90 minutes. Once cooled, keep in the fridge until ready to use.

Meanwhile, make the mocha ripple. Whisk all the ingredients together in a pan over medium heat until it starts to bubble, then simmer for 3 to 4 minutes. Allow the mixture to cool. When it is cold it will be thick and viscous, perfect for rippling through or on top of ice cream. Keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to two weeks. This will yield about 200 ml or 6 3/4 fl oz ripple, more than you will need for this recipe, but it can be cut down if desired.

Whisk the Kahlua and rum into the ice cream base mix. Place in an ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer's directions. Remove the ice cream from the machine and layer it into a container, gently rippling it through with 2 to 3 tablespoons of the mocha ripple. Reserve the remaining ripple for another use (or another batch of ice cream)

Keep it in the freezer until ready to serve.

*Disclaimer* I received no compensation to write this review other than a free copy of the book. My opinions are always my own.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Buffalo Chicken Tacos

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This month's challenge for the Creative Cooking Crew is to make an unusual taco, one that hasn't been done before. Well, I can't say that Buffalo chicken tacos have never been done before, but they are definitely not your typical tacos and since I'm a Buffalo chicken aficionado I decided to go that route for my taco challenge dish.


I like tacos of all kinds, from the typical Tex Mex version to those with fish or shrimp filling, steak, and even breakfast tacos (in fact those are some of my favorites!). If I had to pick a favorite wrapper, I would pick homemade corn tortillas because they blow away the competition, but warm flour tortillas have their place as well, as do crunchy shells. It really depends on my mood.


My family seems to prefer taco shells, and especially with the Buffalo chicken filling I figured making the tacos in these shells would remind me of Buffalo chicken nachos. These tacos are super easy to make (you could even use store-bought shredded rotisserie chicken meat) and can be served with either crumbled blue cheese or blue cheese dressing. The sliced celery and scallions add both color and crunch.


In my particular case, I heated the chicken a bit too long in the sauce, and the sauce broke and got a bit watery, but the flavor of the chicken was still great. Definitely beware to heat the chicken just long enough in the sauce to heat it through but not longer in order to keep in the integrity of the sauce. Regardless, these tacos are spicy (without blowing your top off), delicious, and an awesome crowd-pleaser for any fans of Buffalo chicken.


Check out the roundup of fun taco recipes on Lazaro Cooks on July 29th!


Buffalo Chicken Tacos
Makes 12

3/4 cup hot sauce (preferably Frank's Red Hot)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 cups cooked, shredded chicken (from 2 large breasts)
12 crunchy taco shells or small corn or flour tortillas, warmed up
Thinly sliced celery, for serving
Sliced scallions, for serving
Crumbled blue cheese or blue cheese dressing, for serving

In a large saucepan over medium heat, stir together the hot sauce and butter until the butter melts and emulsifies into the hot sauce. Add the shredded chicken and stir to coat. Heat it in the sauce for a few minutes, stirring constantly, until the chicken is heated through. If you heat it for too long, the sauce will break and get watery, but the chicken will still taste perfect. Just make sure to drain off most of the broken sauce when you serve or it will all drip out of your tacos (before it breaks, it is thicker and less messy).

Serve the shredded Buffalo chicken filling with taco shells or tortillas, sliced celery, scallions, and either crumbled blue cheese or blue cheese dressing to assemble tacos as desired.

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