August 17, 2018

Sesame Chicken Thighs

I apologize for the lack of posts lately but I have good news! I officially moved to Chicago, complete with a gas range, a new set of All-Clad cookware, Zwilling knives, gorgeous glass ingredient jars, my trusty Kitchenaid stand mixer, and all my baking pans crammed into a surprisingly small kitchen. Don't worry, I'll post a bunch of pictures on Instagram once I finish unpacking and organizing. For now, I'm just trying to survive my first week at work (so many Skittles!) and eat something besides candy and deep dish pizza. Between being exhausted at the end of the day and only having a few things out and ready to cook with, I'm all for quick and easy dinners, and I know all you back-to-school parents, college students, and fellow 9-to-5ers feel the same. The only thing better than takeout at the end of a long day is a cheaper, healthier copycat, and sesame chicken is one of my favorites.

Sesame chicken is usually battered, fried chicken nuggets tossed in a sweet and salty glaze with maybe a few limp vegetables underneath. I definitely love it, but I also know I can't eat it all the time. Chicken thighs are my favorite cut of chicken since they stay juicy and tender through pretty much anything, plus they can be seared off for crispiness without deep frying. I sear them off in a sesame oil blend until the skin crisps up then set them aside so there's room to cook the carrots. Carrots are probably my favorite vegetable (you know, besides potatoes and corn), and cooking them in sesame-infused chicken fat is the way to go. They'll finish cooking in the oven so they really just need a few minutes, but it's worth taking the time to build those layers of flavor first.

The sauce consists of soy sauce, honey, vinegar, sesame oil, ginger, and Sriracha. I personally like this ratio of sweet, salty, and sour with the pop of ginger and spicy Sriracha, but it can certainly be adjusted to fit your taste. The best time to do so is after you bring the sauce to a boil in the skillet, when everything has a chance to cook down together. Once you have the recipe just right, add a cornstarch slurry to help thicken things up and form a nice glaze. That all gets brushed on the chicken, which goes on top of the carrots, and they all cook together in the oven so the sauce infuses the chicken and it all drips down into the carrots. I like to serve some more on the side for dipping both carrots and chicken since the glaze really is that addicting. If you want rice or noodles or even some sort of salad, go ahead and drown it in the sauce, too. You can get this meal from fridge to table in about 45 minutes, and of course the leftovers go even faster.

6 Chicken Thighs
1/4 Cup Soy Sauce
1/4 Cup Honey
2 T Rice Wine Vinegar
3 T Sesame Oil
1 T Canola Oil
2 tsp Grated Ginger
1 1/2 tsp Cornstarch
1 lb Carrots

Heat oven to 425F.

Peel and trim the carrots. Cut into coins.

Whisk the soy sauce, honey, vinegar, 2T sesame oil, ginger, and Sriracha (to taste) together. Set aside.

Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Heat the remaining sesame oil and canola oil together in a large skillet. Add the chicken thighs skin-side down and cook over medium-high heat until deep golden brown, about 8 minutes. Remove from the pan.

Drain all but 2T fat from the skillet and return to medium-high heat. Add the carrots and cook for 4 minutes or until browned. Stir and cook for another 4 minutes. Transfer to a baking dish.

Pour the sauce into the skillet and bring to a boil over medium heat. Whisk the cornstarch and 1 1/2 tsp cold water together, then stir into the sauce. Bring to a simmer and whisk until thickened.

Place the chicken thighs on top of the carrots. Brush generously with half the sauce and roast for 15-20 minutes or until cooked through and the carrots are tender. Serve with the remaining sauce.

Serves 4-6
Recipe Adapted from Bon Appetit

July 31, 2018

Blueberry Oat Scones

Cooked blueberries are my favorite. Yes, people dump them straight from the carton onto yogurt or cereal, into smoothies, or even just eaten by the handful. I'd much rather have them cooked down into something sweet and jammy, like blueberry pie or cobbler or pancakes or, yes, even scones. Here, you don't get the big mass of molten blueberries like in a pie but you do get pockets of sweet, juicy berries that dot the tender, flaky scone. And this isn't your normal vanilla buttermilk scone. No, it has a subtle nuttiness and heartiness from ground oats, plus a crunchy oat streusel and sweet glaze to bring it over the top. These are an end-of-summer treat that will make breakfast (or snacking or dessert) just a bit more special.

I normally treat scones like biscuits: combine the dry ingredients in a food processor, pulse in cubed cold butter, and add the buttermilk until just combined before rolling, cutting, and baking. I've done it by hand when I'm traveling or just too lazy to break out (aka commit to cleaning) my food processor, but I highly recommend using a food processor here, mainly because of the oats. I use rolled oats--not quick cooking--but grind them up with the flour for a finer texture. This allows them to hydrate better, cook faster, and not get stuck in your teeth. I don't grind them all the way down to a fine powder, just small bits so you still know they're there. It helps to grind it with the flour just to speed things along since you need some bulk for the food processor to work best.

The other ingredients for the scone are pretty simple. I use brown sugar (more than you would in a biscuit), lots of baking powder for rise, a bit of baking soda since I'm using acidic buttermilk, and some salt to enhance all the sweet flavors. The chilled butter goes in next but only until small lumps remain, and the buttermilk and vanilla go in last until just combined. The blueberries go in last so they don't get crushed; I toss them in a spoonful of flour so they don't sink to the bottom then stir them in by hand. If you pulse them in with the food processor, I can guarantee that they'll break and you'll end up with purple scones.

You can shape the scones however you like, whether it's scooping with a spoon or cookie scoop, rolling and cutting into squares or other shapes, or forming into a large circle or two and cutting into wedges. As long as they're not too big or too small, you shouldn't have to adjust the cooking time much. They'll be done when they're golden and a toothpick comes out clean. I do brush on some whole milk or cream or buttermilk to help the browning along, but it's not essential.

The last step is the toppings, specifically a crunchy oat granola and a sweet vanilla glaze. You can do one or both or none depending on your time frame and how sweet you want them. The granola consists of a quick caramel cooked down with some more whole rolled oats; the mixture should cool into a crunchy slab that you can crumble over your scones. The glaze is just powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla to taste and comes together in about 30 seconds. You'll need it for the granola to stick, but if you're not in the mood you can just press the granola into the scone dough before baking and it should stay put. These are pretty hardy scones that survived a car, a plane, and another car and still made a great impression, so take those end-of-summer berries and put them to good use!

For Scones:
2 Cups + 1 T Flour
1 Cup Rolled Oats
1/3 Cup Brown Sugar
2 1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Salt
1 1/2 Sticks Butter, Chilled & Cubed
3/4 Cup Buttermilk
2 tsp Vanilla
1 Cup Blueberries
2 T Milk/Cream/Buttermilk, Optional

For Granola:
3 T Butter
3 T Brown Sugar
1 Cup Rolled Oats
Pinch Salt
Pinch Cinnamon

For Glaze:
1 Cup Powdered Sugar, Sifted
2 tsp Milk
1/4 tsp Vanilla
Pinch Salt

Heat oven to 425F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine 2 cups flour, oats, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until the oats are coarsely ground. Pulse in the butter until small lumps remain. Whisk the buttermilk and vanilla together, then add to the dough and pulse until just combined. Toss the blueberries in 1T flour then stir into the dough by hand.

Roll or scoop the dough into the desired shapes. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet and brush with the milk/cream/buttermilk. Bake for 5 minutes at 425, lower the oven to 375F, and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes or until golden and cooked through. Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Whisk in the brown sugar and heat until bubbling. Stir in the oats, cinnamon, and salt and stir to coat. Cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring often, until toasted and caramelized. Spread onto a sheet of parchment to cool.

Whisk the powdered sugar, milk, vanilla, and salt together. Drizzle onto the cooled scones and top with the crumbled granola.

Makes 12-16

July 20, 2018

Thai Brussels Sprouts Salad

Between my food science conference with endless samples of random foods, a brief bout of food poisoning, and my pizza-filled return to Madison, I will fully admit my diet would make any nutritionist weep. Although I've been trying to eat healthier, between cooking my proteins with less fat and fewer carbs and attempting to eat more fruits and veggies, it's been particularly difficult for the past week. That's why I'm excited to be back in my apartment (for two weeks, at least) with a pantry and freezer to clear out and full access to my favorite farmers' market. I can make plenty of healthy dishes like this Thai brussels sprouts salad, which only uses ingredients you probably already have at home and tons of fresh produce. The dressing itself is particularly versatile and can be used for anything from other salads to drizzled on poultry.

The salad consists of brussels sprouts, red cabbage, carrots, and jicama with a Thai dressing, peanuts, scallions, and sesame seeds. None of the veggies oxidize (turn brown) particularly quickly like apples or potatoes, so you can make it hours in advance--or even the day before--and it will still be fresh and gorgeous. I wanted an easy-to-eat salad with lots of textural variation, which is why I shaved things like the brussels sprouts and cabbage (and sometimes even the carrots) and cut the jicama into matchsticks. The carrots are even prettier as thin coins, which is why I passed them over my mandoline as well. The mandoline makes everything so much faster and perfectly even, but some good knife skills will keep things moving as well.

Technically this can be a raw salad, so it's up to you whether you like your brussels sprouts raw or cooked. I cook mine in a sesame oil blend for a few minutes until crispy and cooked through, and it doesn't take long since they're shaved pretty thin. Cooking them also gives you the option of a warm salad instead of a chilled or room-temperature one. In my opinion, the textures of the other veggies are best when they are raw, but feel free to throw them in with your brussels sprouts as well.

The dressing only takes a few minutes since all you have to do is measure and whisk a handful of ingredients together: peanut butter, soy sauce, coconut milk, lime juice, honey, ginger, garlic, and a squeeze of Sriracha. Although the combinations may seem odd, they harmonize beautifully and the ratios are easy to adjust if you want it a bit more sweet, spicy, savory, etc. It may also seem like you're using a ton of some of the ingredients, but don't worry: that's only because I had to triple the recipe to keep up with my household's demands. If you like a lightly-dressed salad, you can easily cut the recipe back down. But trust me, that won't be necessary; I have witnessed my dad try to eat it like a soup, so you'll definitely want more.

1 lb Brussels Sprouts
1/2 Small Red Cabbage
3 Medium Carrots
1 Small Jicama
4 Scallions
1 T Sesame Oil
1 T Vegetable Oil
1 Cup Peanut Butter
1/3 Cup Soy Sauce
1/3 Cup Coconut Milk
3 T Lime Juice
3 T Honey
1 1/2 tsp Grated Ginger
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1/3 Cup Sriracha (to Taste)
1/2 Cup Chopped Roasted Peanuts
3 T Sesame Seeds

Trim, wash, and shave the Brussels sprouts. Shave the cabbage. Grate or slice the carrots. Cut the jicama into matchsticks. Slice the scallions.

Heat the sesame oil and vegetable oil in a skillet. Add the Brussels sprouts and cook for 5 minutes or until crispy.

Whisk the peanut butter, soy sauce, coconut milk, lime juice, honey, ginger, garlic, and Sriracha together.

Toss the vegetables, scallions, and dressing together. Top with the peanuts and sesame seeds.

Serves 4-6
Recipe Adapted from Evolving Table