October 14, 2016

Chicken and Mushroom Skillet

The one thing getting me through my first round of midterms last week was that the weather was so nice. Despite being mid-October, it's still a breezy 60 degrees up here in Madison, so at least I had lovely walks to class between my four soul-crushing back-to-back midterms. However, last night on my way to the Badger volleyball game (let's ignore those scores please), it hit me. Wisconsin is freaking cold. To be fair, it was only in the low 40s, but it was a bit of a shock given how I skipped last year's winter to go to Europe. As a result, all I want to do now is curl up with a hot dinner and a big fluffy blanket and pretend like the second round of midterms aren't looming in the distance. At least one of those is possible; nothing says fall comfort food like a big skillet of chicken and carbs with some mushrooms thrown in so I can claim I'm being healthy.

You may have noticed based on previous recipes like my cajun shrimp skilletroasted chicken with cannellini beans and tomatoes, and southwestern turkey skillet that I like all-in-one dishes. It's just so convenient to have your protein and your sides cook all together all at the same time with the same prep work. Whether you're sharing a small (potentially understocked) college apartment kitchen like me or are just running short on time (also like me), this can be hugely helpful. Here, you get your chicken, starch, and veggies all in one easy dish.

Like in many of my other chicken recipes, I chose bone-in-skin-on chicken thighs. They just get so crispy on the outside and stay so juicy on the inside that they're hard to pass up. However, you can use virtually any cut of chicken here as long as you make sure it cooks through later on. The chicken is simply browned in the one pot or skillet you plan on using for the whole dish, so make sure it's oven-safe and big enough for all the other components. In addition to making cleanup easy, using one pot allows all the flavors of the chicken to transfer into the other parts of the dish. Don't worry about cooking the chicken all the way here since it will bake for a while later; just get a good sear and render off some of the fat.

That fat is later used to cook the shallots and the garlic. I chose shallots since they're a bit more mild than onions, but half a yellow onion will suffice in a pinch. The rice is added once the aromatics are, well, aromatic. Tossing the rice in the remaining chicken fat ensures that the flavor permeates the entire dish. However, the rice still  needs liquid to cook in, so I then stir in some chicken stock along with fresh herbs and mushrooms.

I used a blend of baby portobellos and oyster mushrooms since my sister was in charge of the mushroom selection, but use your favorites or whatever is available at the grocery store. My local asian market has an exotic selection, and the Madison farmers' market always has local mushrooms, so don't be afraid to experiment. Once the rice comes to a simmer, give it a stir, add the chicken, and bake it for 30-40 minutes or until the chicken and rice are cooked. Depending on the cut of chicken you chose and how long it takes to cook, you may need to add more chicken stock if the rice dries out. This dish is pretty hardy, so it should come out well regardless, even if your post-midterm nap takes a little longer than anticipated (oops).

4-6 Bone-In, Skin-On Chicken Thighs
2 Shallots, Peeled & Sliced
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
3 Sprigs Thyme
1 lb Mushrooms
1 1/2 Cups Rice
2 1/2 Cups Chicken Stock

Heat oven to 350F.

Heat some oil in a large oven-safe pot. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and brown on all sides, about 10 minutes. Set aside.

Cook the shallots and garlic in the chicken fat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat. Add the thyme, mushrooms, and chicken stock and bring to a simmer.

Nestle the chicken in the rice and bake for 30-40 minutes or until cooked through, adding more chicken stock as necessary.

Serves 4-6
Recipe Adapted from Super Golden Bakes

September 21, 2016

Chicken and Veggies in Brown Sauce

I apologize for the delay in posting, but between classes, networking, social events, football games, and all other aspects of being in college I've barely had enough time to cook let alone write about what I'm eating. Unfortunately, that usually means I rely on various types of takeout for dinner. I've probably had pizza at least twice a week since classes started, but that's mostly due to clubs and meetings with free food. When I'm craving Chinese food, I do have a backup so I'm not forced to order delivery *every* time.

One of my family's favorite Chinese takeout staples is chicken with mixed vegetables in a standard brown sauce. I have no idea what the actual name is for this magical sauce since every place we've ever ordered from just calls it brown sauce. It salty, savory, and a little sweet, so it goes with everything. Here I've used stir-fried chicken and a combination of broccoli and eggplant with some water chestnuts for crunch. However, you can easily sub in your favorite meat and vegetables. Given my love for the Dane County Farmers' Market and all the wonderful finds there, I'll just use whatever looks best this week.

If you do decide to swap veggies, you have to consider the best ways to cook them. The vegetables will be warmed at the end but that's rarely enough to cook them all the way through. For broccoli and similar vegetables like cauliflower, blanching works wonders to keep the crunch and the color. If you use eggplant, squash, or zucchini, I find it's best to brown those in a bit of oil instead. Thin, crunchy options like water chestnuts, bean sprouts, carrots, and jicama are best left raw until added in at the end. I usually pick one or two from each category so there's some textural variety.

The meat is incredibly easy, and it doesn't even get much seasoning since I want it to soak up all the flavor from the sauce. Simply heat a big skillet (or ideally a wok if you happen to have one) with a little bit of oil and sear the chicken or other meat until brown. For the juiciest results use a whole chicken breast and slice after cooking; for the crispiest results cut into slices before cooking.

The last component is the sauce, which is my personal favorite since you can use it to improve any assortment of ingredients. It starts by cooking lots of garlic in the meat drippings. That gets deglazed with chicken broth and soy sauce and then sweetened with brown sugar. The final step is typical of many Chinese-American sauces: thickening with a cornstarch slurry. That sounds intimidating, but it's really just mixing cornstarch with water and adding it to the warm sauce as a thickening agent. The trick is to wait until shortly before serving since you'll get lumps if you don't whisk it frequently. You should end up with a thick, velvety sauce that perfectly coats all the other components of the dish, so it might be worth making an extra extra large batch of the sauce and freezing it for future use, which for me will probably be the next time I get home after a 3-hour library study session.

1 1/2 lbs Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts, Sliced
1 1/2 lbs Eggplant, Diced
12oz Broccoli Florets
1 8oz Can Sliced Water Chestnuts, Drained & Rinsed
8 Cloves Garlic, Minced
3 Cups Chicken Broth
1/3 Cup Soy Sauce
1/4 Cup Brown Sugar
1/4 Cup Cornstarch

Heat some oil in a large skillet. Add enough eggplant cubes to form a single layer and brown on all sides, about 5 minutes total. Repeat with the remaining eggplant and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the broccoli, cook for 1 minute, drain, and place in an ice bath. Drain and pat dry once cool.

Heat some oil in the large pot used for broccoli. Add enough chicken to form a single layer, season with salt and pepper, and brown on all sides, about 6 minutes total. Repeat with the remaining chicken and set aside.

Cook the garlic in the chicken drippings until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in the chicken broth, soy sauce, and brown sugar. Whisk the cornstarch with 1 T water and stir into the sauce. Simmer/boil for 6 minutes or until thickened. Add the chicken, eggplant, broccoli, and water chestnuts and cook for 2 minutes or until coated.

Serves 8
Recipe Adapted from

August 31, 2016

Peach Cobbler

Heads up: I'm writing this from the airport as I wait for my flight back to college. This week has been full of packing, petsitting, and cooking squeezed in between. I have concluded that the most timely recipe to publish right now is for peach cobbler since I get to use the freshest in-season Georgia peaches and smother them in a buttermilk crumble and bake it all in my favorite new mini cast-iron skillet. What makes this dish so good (beyond the best peaches of the year) is that the topping is good for everyone. I know there's a few different camps for cobblers: there's the streusel-y crumble-y people, the biscuit people, and the cake-y people. This topping somehow manages to pull elements from all of them, so you should be pretty excited by now.

To some, the peaches are the most important part. I get it; it's peach cobbler. I toss them in a mixture of sugar, cornstarch, and spices to make a perfectly sweet filling with just a hint of cinnamon and vanilla. It ends up being a bit syrupy but not runny, which is exactly how my family likes it. If you don't add cornstarch, you end up with a peach soup with some carbs on top. To make it a bit fancier, you can add some vanilla bean, but I find that sometimes, especially when it's the height of peach season, it's best to just let the peach flavor shine.

Ok now for the magical topping. My sister prefers a crumble while I love biscuits and cake, though I do like my biscuits as biscuits and not as dessert toppings. To try to satisfy everyone, I started with my basic crumble recipe but added buttermilk to make a sweet biscuit topping. I added just enough buttermilk to make it a bit on the liquid side so I could drop spoonfuls on the peaches. Basically, this dough has the look and flavor of a crumble with the buttermilk tang of a biscuit and the texture of a cake. It really is the best possible combination for all cobbler lovers.

The second part of what makes this cobbler so addictive is the skillet. Like any (kind of) southerner I have a favorite cast-iron skillet. It just so happens that mine is a mini 8" skillet perfect for individual steaks, roasted chicken, and desserts like (surprise!) peach cobbler. It's enough for one very hungry person or 2-3 if you're in the mood for sharing. It's one of those simple desserts that you don't feel too bad about eating since it's mostly fruit, or at least that's what I tell myself.

4 Peaches, Peeled & Sliced
1 T Cornstarch
1/4 Cup Brown Sugar
1 tsp Lemon Juice
1/2 tsp Vanilla
1/4 tsp Cinnamon
1/8 tsp Nutmeg
1/8 tsp Salt
1 T Butter, Cubed

1 1/4 Cups Flour
1/4 Cup Sugar
1/4 Cup Brown Sugar
1/2 tsp Cinnamon
Pinch Salt
4 T Butter, Melted
1/4 Cup Buttermilk

Heat oven to 350F and grease an 8" cast-iron skillet.

For the peaches, whisk the cornstarch, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt together. Toss the peaches with the lemon juice and vanilla, then add the dry mixture.

For the topping, whisk the flour, sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt together. Whisk in the butter, then fold in the buttermilk.

Transfer the peaches to the skillet and top with dollops of the batter. Bake for 30-45 minutes or until the peaches are tender; the time varies based on how thick the peaches are sliced and you may need to cover it with foil to prevent the topping from over browning.