October 30, 2016

Pumpkin Spice Blondies

I never really understood the pumpkin spice craze. Yes, cinnamon and nutmeg and all those flavors remind me of fall and are undoubtedly delicious, but people go crazy every year (every LABOR DAY and IT'S NOT EVEN FALL THEN) for foods that don't even have pumpkin in them. I guess the point I'm trying to make is that yes pumpkin spice is tasty but it's always far too early and full of false advertising. So you may be wondering why I decided to post a recipe for pumpkin spice anything after that mini-rant. Well, these blondies actually have pumpkin in them and we are far enough into fall that it seems appropriate. If you like fall and you like my original blondies, you'll love these.

A lot of people don't really know what a blondie is. Normally, I'd say it's a chocolate chip cookie in brownie form, but these are special. They're packed with pumpkin and fall spices, and you can choose to throw in some white chocolate chips and/or dried cranberries for some extra sweetness and a pop of color. They're soft, chewy, and perfect for snacking on while waiting for the next round of trick-or-treaters.

It's a pretty simple recipe; all you have to do is whisk your dry ingredients together (your standard flour, leavening, and salt mixture plus those pumpkin spices; I'm pretty sure you can just buy containers of pumpkin spice instead of buying the spices individually) and stir them into your wet ingredients and sugar (melted butter, brown sugar, eggs, pumpkin, and vanilla). I use brown sugar for extra chewiness and a hint of butterscotchy flavor, and you don't need much butter or many eggs since there's so much pumpkin crammed into these bars. I'll sometimes add a handful of white chocolate chips since I think all blondies need some sort of chocolate and for me white chocolate goes so much better with pumpkin than regular chocolate chips. Cranberries are also good if you want a bit of tartness, and they have such a gorgeous color.

I'm sure I'm not alone in that something about fall makes me want to bake constantly. I'm not sure if it's stress-baking from midterms or so many yummy things in season or just occasions like Halloween or Thanksgiving, but there's almost always some sort of treat sitting in the kitchen to nibble on. These are perfect for filling that void since they're so easy to make and have a ton of pumpkin in them, so they can't be that bad for you. Well, at least that's what I tell myself when I alternate between the blondies and handfuls of Halloween candy.

1 Stick Butter, Melted & Cooled
3/4 Cup Brown Sugar
1 Egg
1 tsp Vanilla
3/4 Cup Pumpkin Puree
1 1/3 Cups Flour
3/4 tsp Cinnamon
1/4 tsp Nutmeg
1/4 tsp Ginger
1/4 tsp Allspice
1/4 tsp Cloves
3/4 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 Cup White Chocolate Chips, Optional
1/2 Cup Dried Cranberries, Optional

Heat oven to 350F and line an 8x8" or 9x9" pan with parchment.

Whisk the butter, brown sugar, egg, and vanilla together. Stir in the pumpkin puree. Whisk the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, cloves, baking powder, and salt together, then add to the pumpkin mixture. Fold in the white chocolate and cranberries.

Spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 20 minutes or until cooked through.

Makes 16
Recipe Adapted from Celebrating Sweets

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