Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Apple & Cheese Stuffed Chicken Breasts


I have a confession to make. It has to do with "stuffing". I'm specifically talking the kind of stuffing that we cram inside our Thanksgiving turkey.  I've been told that I make delicious stuffing, but I wouldn't know.  You see, I'm one of those Un-Americans who doesn't like stuffing.

There. I said it.  I don't get what's so good about goopy, soggy bread, a bunch of onions and vegetables-- maybe oysters, or nuts... slathered with gravy.  Every year, I take a bite and I'm still not impressed.  But, I'm in the minority-- I know.  My men devour stuffing with great relish. More for them!

Pass me the mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce, and I'm happy. I'm sorry. I just can't get excited about stuffing!


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Saturday, May 26, 2012

Campfire Beans

A few weeks ago, we had a sneak peek into summer on our Coastal corner of California. We seized the moment, to fire up our Weber grill, and to invite friends for a backyard barbecue.

For the menu, I decided to make Beef Brisket, Homemade Barbecue Sauce, and Cole Slaw. To round out the meal, beans seemed like the perfect choice.   I do love beans, that's for sure. My family likes the California Barbecue Beans I've posted before.  I'm always on the lookout for Ranch Style beans.  I recently saw a Pioneer Woman episode, on Food Network, for these campfire beans.  Since they're made with pinto beans, one of my favorites, this seemed like a good time to make them.

When I make pinto beans, I usually soak them overnight.  PW didn't soak hers, so I went along for the ride.   Just plan on four hours to allow the beans to cook low and slow.

Rinse and clean 4 cups of pinto beans.  Smoked Ham hocks (or shanks) give a smoky flavor to beans, so I tossed in a couple of them, covered the beans with water and cooked them for a couple of hours; check every so often that the water doesn't evaporate, which mine never did.


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Monday, May 21, 2012

Smothered Pork Chops

There's a first time for everything, and this Southern dish is very new to a California Native. It's not often that I make gravies-- except for one of my husband's favorite recipes, "Chicken Fried Steak", or  Rib-Eye Steak with Onion Blue Cheese Sauce.  Most times, I make quick pan sauces, with some kind of booze and either chicken or beef stock. Good times.

Every so often, I get a "hankering" for a pork chop, bone-in.  $6.00 a chop might seem pricey to most people, and I understand that (and I'm thankful that Craig and I both have jobs to indulge a bit).  We enjoy eating meats once or twice a week, but I've made a decision that I'm going to buy the best quality that I can.  I don't want hormone-laden meat, that's been subjected to all kinds of shots and cheap feed.  If it means that I shop for meat less often-- so be it!  I am thankful to have a Whole Foods in my own backyard, so I stop here once a week, and buy whatever seafood, fish, poultry or red meat looks good.

Nice chops!   I bought them, without any idea what I would make with them. (The reason I prefer bone-in, (just like I do with poultry) is that the meat cooks up moister.  I read, somewhere, that the bone helps to distribute the heat more evenly. Sounds logical to me.) Somewhere, in that recipe data base in my head, I remembered seeing a recipe for Smothered Pork Chops from Food Network Magazine.  I had all the ingredients I needed on hand, so on a week night, I got busy in the kitchen:

I've been making my own spice mixes for a while, now.  I save empty spice jars, mix up a batch of Italian, Mexican and Cajun seasoning and it saves money.

I patted the chops dry, then seasoned them with salt and Cajun seasoning, then dredged them in flour and tapped off the excess.  I reserved the rest of the flour for making gravy.

My most preferred way to prepare meat and poultry is to sear it on one side, for a few minutes, then pop the entire skillet into a 425F oven.  I then roasted the chops for about 15 minutes, or until an instant read thermometer read 145F.  I removed the chops to a plate, loosely covered them with foil and got busy with making the gravy.

While the chops were pan roasting, I cut some garden fresh thyme (in full bloom) and sliced one large onion, a large clove of garlic.

To the skillet, I melted one tablespoon of unsalted butter, the onion, some salt and the thyme and cooked them until almost golden brown...

...then I added the garlic (I watch the garlic closely, so I don't burn it).  Once the onions were cooked to golden brown (about 8-10 minutes), I added a couple tablespoons of the reserved flour and cooked it for about one minute.

About 1-1/2 cups chicken broth is added, and about a generous tablespoon of Dijon Mustard (for extra flavor)

Now, for the buttermilk-- about 2/3 cup.  Bubble, bubble...bring to a boil and reduce by about one-third.

This is,  for sure, a man-pleasing meal.  It's a wife-pleasing meal, in that it was pretty effortless to make.

Mashed potatoes would be a perfect side dish...

This time, I baked a couple of Yams, with a pat of butter and a drizzle of pure maple syrup.

TASTING NOTES:   How can anyone fault an onion gravy? Creamy, with a nice tang from the buttermilk.  I'm glad that I added a little Dijon to the recipe, for a little extra depth of flavor.  The thyme was perfect.  The pork was juicy, and we had leftover gravy since I only cooked two chops, instead of four.  Yes, I'd make this again-- and it's easy enough to make after a long day at the office.

A printable recipe card is at the end of this post.  If you'd like to make your own cajun spice mix, it's included on the recipe card. If you can't view the recipe card, click here to see it.

 






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Saturday, May 19, 2012

Chicken Mole Torta (Mexican Chicken Sloppy Joes)

 Ever since I got hooked on food blogs, in 2008, I rarely watch Food Network.  One weekend morning, as I was folding laundry, I decided to click on Food Network.I've never watched "The Sandwich King" show (Next Food Network Star Winner "Jeff Mauro", Season 7).  Jeff was making a Chicken Mole Torta, and I found that episode reeled me into watching him make a dish I have never tried before.

Mole (Mo-Lay) sauce is something very unique, and there are countless versions of how it's made. It's a recipe that Latin American families take pride in, and many are family heirloom recipes.  I did a little research, and found a commonality in the traditional recipe ingredients-- chiles, sesame seed and/or almond, fruit, raisins and chocolate.  I also needed diced tomatoes, tomato paste,  chicken stock, garlic, onion, ground cinnamon and cloves. 

Chocolate and chili sauce?  Sounds a little weird, doesn't it?  That's exactly why I couldn't wrap my head around ordering a Mole sauce dish at a Mexican restaurant. Until now.  Ever since I became a "Food Blogger", I've opened up my palate to not shy away from trying new recipes.

I had just purchased Bone-In Chicken at Whole Foods.  It was Cinco de Mayo weekend, so the decision was made. I was going to make this recipe.  I already had most of  the ingredients, and was pretty confident it would be good-- especially after reading all the five star ratings.

 

All I needed to buy were the Ancho Chilis.  The Chilis were baked for a few minutes, then finely chopped and set aside.

I buy canned Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce, and I rarely use them all at once. Chipotle peppers are smoked jalapenos, and I will warn you-- they do pack a heat punch!   I love spicy food, but I have to tone down the heat.   So that I don't waste the chipotle peppers, I freeze portions into small containers; they are easier to chop, frozen, and I just toss them into my Mexican-themed recipes. 

 For this recipe, Jeff uses almond butter instead of finely ground almonds. 

The prep work took close to 30 minutes, as I carefully measured and chopped my ingredients (a printable recipe card is at the end of this post).  Once that work is done, the rest is pretty straight-forward, but it does require another 30 minutes of cooking and stirring.
Let's make Chicken Mole!

First, we toast the sesame seeds, and set them aside. Heat either peanut or vegetable oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add  onions, a couple pinches of salt and saute until soft, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. The reserved ancho chiles and minced chipotle are added, then cooked until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Now, for the the chocolate, cinnamon, cloves and garlic-- cook until the garlic is fragrant and the chocolate is melted, about 2 minutes.

Add the chicken stock, tomatoes, almond butter, raisins and sesame seeds. Gently simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently. 

Place the mole into a blender and puree until smooth, about 1 minute. TIP: I much prefer to use an immersion blender, because it's one less kitchen gadget to clean. Adjust the seasoning if necessary. If using a blender, add the mole back to the Dutch oven. . 

Sprinkle the chicken on all sides with salt and pepper. Lay the chicken in the sauce in one layer, making sure each breast is entirely coated, and gently simmer, flipping once during cooking, until the breasts register 160 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer, 20 to 25 minutes. Set aside off the heat and let rest

Using your hands, remove the skin and meat from the bones and discard.

Shred the chicken into smaller chunks and place back into the mole to keep warm. Season if necessary.

At this point, you can serve this dish over brown rice, with a garnish of sour cream and fresh cilantro-- and an optional squeeze of lime juice.  Delicious!  This is how we enjoyed the leftovers on the following day.  However, I chose to serve this as a "Torta" or Mexican Sandwich.  In my previous posts, I shared how I made my own Mexican Bolillo Bread.  

Any kind of sandwich rolls, would make a good substitute.  Or, if you have a local Mexican bakery, buy a few and you won't regret it.  

To build this torta/sandwich you'll want shredded lettuce, sour cream, cilantro, lime slices (optional), tomatillo sauce and refried beans.  

On a previous post, I shared how I made the tomatillo (green salsa) sauce-- which was really easy to make and adds a perfect tangy and ever-so-subtle spice to the sandwich.  I debated on adding the refried beans-- for one thing, I do not like canned refried beans.  To me, there is something unappetizing about how they look, and I haven't found one brand that is palatable to my Mexican DNA.  However, I don't have a problem with keeping canned beans on hand-- they work great when I don't have the time to soak my own beans.  I decided to make black beans instead of pinto beans. Here's my quick way of making my own fast refried beans:

In a skillet, I simply add a can of black (or pinto) beans with the liquid.  Cook on medium high meat, so that the liquid will slowly evaporate. Mash and you're done in about five minutes!  You can add additional seasonings, to your liking-- such as cumin or chili powder. This time, I left them plain.
 
Slather some refried beans on the sandwich roll, then add a mound of chicken mole, and some extra mole sauce...

Add sour cream, add some queso fresco (which I didn't, because I forgot to buy some), and top with pickled jalapenos (which I didn't do, but I'm sure would have been great for heat-loving folks), then add some fresh cilantro (my favorite).

...drizzle with tomatillo sauce

Serve with a pile of napkins, a cold Corona beer (optional, but recommend for those of you who are over 21) and dig in!

TASTING NOTES:  Let's zero in on the mole sauce.  This is an alchemy of so many different ingredients, that you cannot distinguish  the independent flavors.  Not one single ingredient  over-powered the other.  It's a beautiful reddish-brown sauce, with a slightly nutty flavor and you cannot tell that there's chocolate as a surprised ingredient.  Sweet, spicy, nutty, slightly tomatoey-- just plain delicious!  Where have I been that I missed out on the wonderful flavor of mole?!  

As for the sandwich-- it's a messy affair, and one that my husband and I both enjoyed a lot. The next time I make this, I'm going to add a lot more heat to it by using an entire chipotle, and by making my own pickled jalapenos.  I had fun learning how to make my own Bolillos, but I really liked this recipe just as a stew, served over brown rice. 

You will find printable recipes for this mole at the end of this post.  If you are ambitious enough, I recommend making the bread and the tomatillo sauce.  Jeff Mauro-- I can see why Bobby Flay loved your recipes and why you were chosen as the winner.  You do have a knack for great flavor.  Well done!
 







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Monday, May 14, 2012

Pork Tenderloin with Roasted Grape Sauce


Today is "reveal day" for The Secret Recipe Club (Group B).  

 Once a month, we are assigned a food blog. Our mission is to visit that blog, choose a recipe, cook it (or bake it) and then blog about it.  The "secret" part is that we post our recipe on a specific day, and that is when we find out who got our blog.  It's quite fun to find out which one of my recipes was chosen, and to see their version of it.

My assigned blog was "Eat Laugh Love" and I found a plethora of recipes to choose from.  We share a few things in common-- for one, we are both married to "Craig's" and we are fortunate that our husbands are willing to clean up the kitchen, in exchange for our cooking.  That's very fair!  I had to toss a coin between making the Enchiladas Suizas (I've been on a Mexican food kick as of late) or the Pork Tenderloin with Roasted Grape Sauce.

I was fortunate to find seedless red grapes, so which recipe to choose was finally settled.  I've always meant to roast grapes, and this was my chance to scratch that off my recipe bucket list.

Pork tenderloin is a common protein staple in my kitchen.  I love that it's a lean cut of meat, and my favorite way to prepare it is to sear and roast it.   It's such a fast dinner to make, and it's fun for me to invesnt a pan sauce-- sometimes, from what I can scrounge up from my refrigerator.  With this recipe, except for the grapes, I had everything on hand. Big plus!

  I have plenty of fresh thyme in our herb garden, and I always have shallots on hand.

I tossed the grapes with a little olive oil, salt & pepper, and preheated the oven to 425F

Rather than roasting the grapes, separately, I just tossed them in with the seared tenderloin, then roasted everything for about 20 minutes-- or until about 145F.

Remove the pork, and loosely cover with foil. Set the grapes aside and make a pan sauce...

I liked that the grapes released some of their juices, so I tossed in the shallots and cooked until tender-- 2-3 minutes. Then, I added some Ruby Red Port and reduced that for a few minutes. 

Last, I added chicken broth, the fresh thyme and some Dijon mustard and let that reduce for a few minutes, then adjust with a little bit more salt. Rather than adding a slurry of cornstarch and water, I added a pat of unsalted butter and whisked it.  Done!

Start to finish-- 45 minutes.  I served this with polenta and zucchini.  

TASTING NOTES:  Fruit and pork pair beautifully together.  Roasted grapes are a little bit sweet, and give a lovely texture to this dish.   The perfect combo was one bite of pork, with a nice chunk of grapes-- savory, sweet with just a slight hint of tart.  This is fancy enough to serve at a dinner party, but quick and easy enough for a work night meal.  Overall, it's a healthy meal-- and one small pat of unsalted butter is no biggie.  I'll definitely make roasted grapes again.

You'll find a printable recipe card by scrolling to the bottom of this post.  

My next post will be the Chicken Mole recipe and a Mexican-themed dessert that I made for Cinco de Mayo.   I'm running a little behind, but I'll be catchup up soon!





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