January 30, 2017

Cheesy Buffalo Pretzel Ring

I'm not the most popular person in Wisconsin right now. As one of the ~5 people in Madison from Atlanta when the Falcons are in the Superbowl but the Packers aren't, people aren't exactly thrilled when football comes up. Fortunately, I have a way to regain my social standing, and it involves buckets of buffalo sauce. This cheesy buffalo pretzel ring has nuggets of fluffy fresh pretzels surrounding a pool of molten, cheesy chicken dip loaded with hot sauce. If you want even more pretzel goodness, serve it at your Superbowl party along with Pretzel Nuggets with Beer Cheese Dip. If you don't have enough time to make pretzels from scratch, these Buffalo Chicken Meatball Sliders are just as tasty. If you'd rather throw some food on the stove and pay more attention to the game, Beer Chili is always a crowd favorite. For more Superbowl bites, check out my Recipe Index.

The pretzel rolls are the same as those in the Pretzel Nuggets with Beer Cheese Dip. The dough is versatile and forgiving; it's relatively easy to make for a bread dough and is definitely worth trying if you've never baked bread before. I make little bite-sized nuggets for this dish, but you can make bigger dinner rolls or even giant pretzel buns for burgers and sandwiches.

If you aren't a fan of pretzel rolls, you can make regular rolls by skipping the boiling step. To make a pretzel, you have to boil the dough briefly in a hot baking soda solution. This gives it that gorgeous mahogany sheen, chewy texture, and signature pretzel taste. I'm pretty sure mall pretzels--though indisputably addictive--take a shortcut by just brushing on the baking soda solution, but true pretzels are boiled. Skipping it still gives you some pretty tasty bread, but there's something about homemade pretzels that makes any party better.

As for the dip, it's everything decadent and game day-esque mixed into one bubbling monster of a calorie bomb. It has a cream cheese and ranch base (I make my own ranch with buttermilk and mayo but you can sub in premade ranch dressing if you so desire... I won't judge you for not buying a quart of buttermilk if you only need two tablespoons) with hot sauce, shredded chicken, and plenty of cheese. I seared and baked my own chicken, but using a rotisserie chicken is another way to make this appetizer even easier. I shredded it pretty finely since it's going into a dip, but you can leave it as big as you want if you plan on shoveling gobs of the dip into your mouth when people are focused on the Superbowl ads instead. I used shredded pepper jack cheese for an extra kick, but really any good melting cheese could work instead. Bleu cheese would really amp up the buffalo vibes, but it's a pretty polarizing cheese so use at your own discretion.

The only way to make cheese and pretzels better is to combine them and marry them with buffalo chicken. I've taken to eating all the pretzels around the ring and leaving the dip for the rest of my family, so making some extra pretzel rolls may be a good idea. Maybe my fellow badgers will use them to mop up their tears when they don't see the Packers playing on Sunday, or perhaps I'm still gloating (even though I've been overstating how much I care about the Falcons and football in general *just* a little bit; I'm more of a puppy bowl fan).

2 1/4 tsp Yeast
1 T Sugar
4 1/2 - 5 Cups Flour
1 tsp Salt
1/2 Stick Butter, Melted
1/4 Cup Baking Soda
1 Egg, Beaten
1/2 - 1 lb Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts (Or Rotisserie Chicken)
8 oz Cream Cheese, Softened
1/2 Cup Hot Sauce
3 T Mayonnaise
2 T Buttermilk (or 1/4 Cup Ranch Dressing)
2/3 Cup Shredded Cheese (i.e. Pepperjack, Cheddar, Bleu)

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the yeast, sugar, and 1 ½ cups warm water. Let stand for 5 minutes or until foamy. Using the dough hook, stir in the butter, 3 cups of flour, and the salt. Knead for 5 minutes, gradually adding the remaining flour as necessary until it's not too sticky.

Transfer the dough to a greased bowl, cover, and let rise for 1 hour. Line cookie trays with parchment or silpats. Roll the dough into nuggets, place on the prepared trays, cover, and let rise for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring 8 cups of water to a boil. Gradually stir in the baking soda. Boil the nuggets in batches for 1 minute per batch, stirring to flip often. Remove with a slotted spoon and place back on the trays.

Heat oven to 375F.

Heat some oil in a pan. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and sear on both sides until brown, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to the oven and bake for 6-8 minutes or until cooked through. Set aside to cool.

Mix the cream cheese, hot sauce, mayonnaise and buttermilk (or ranch), and shredded cheese. Shred the cooled chicken and mix into the cheese mixture.

Grease a large skillet or cake pan. Arrange the pretzel nuggets around the edges; place any extras back on the cookie trays to bake separately. Pile the buffalo dip in the middle of the skillet. Brush the pretzels with the egg and use food scissors or a sharp knife to cut an x in the center of each one. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt and bake for 20 minutes or until the pretzels are brown and the cheese is bubbly.

January 22, 2017

Spicy Roasted Chickpeas

I haven't even had a full week of classes yet and I'm already struggling to figure out what and when to eat, how to eat it on the go, and how to avoid getting bored with my meals. Unfortunately, I have two twelve-hour days of class per week, which means I need to find a bunch of different snacks to munch on while sprinting between labs. It's going to be a fun semester. These spicy roasted chickpeas can be eaten by the handful, and they won't get smushed at the bottom of my backpack because they're so deliciously crunchy, unlike that delicious M&M cookie I packed as a Friday pick-me-up last week (*cries internally*).

You can read all you want about 2017's hottest new trends, but I think chickpeas are at the top of the list. Not only can you use the canning liquid as an egg substitute, but the beans themselves are incredibly versatile. I've used them in hummus, with chicken, and to bulk up some chili. Here, all you have to do is season and bake them until they're crispy.

Again, you have pretty much unlimited options here both with the seasoning and how you eat them. I added some heat and some garlic, but it's easy to experiment with Italian herbs (oregano, thyme, basil, etc.), Asian flair (ginger, sesame, and/or curry), or your favorite seasoning blend (think Old Bay is just for seafood? think again!). Instead of eating them plain, try them as a healthy, low-carb alternative to croutons on salad (as shown in the most ratchet salad in existence above... I was running low on veggies ok?) or as a way to add some crunch by sprinkling them onto your favorite soup. It's hard to mess these up and there's pretty much endless combinations of how to make and serve them, so I'd recommend buying a few cans of chickpeas to spice up your week.

1 Can Chickpeas, Drained & Rinsed
3 T Olive Oil
1 tsp Chili Powder
1 tsp Cayenne
1 tsp Paprika
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced

Heat oven to 400F.

Whisk the olive oil, chili powder, cayenne, paprika, and garlic together. Toss the chickpeas in the oil mixture, spread on a baking sheet, and roast for 30 minutes or until crispy.

January 13, 2017

Jamaican Jerk Chicken Chili

It's my first full winter in Madison in two years, and I forgot just how cold it can get. I've pretty much decided to stay inside for the forseeable future (as in June), so I'm stocking up on hot, comforting soup and stew recipes. This Jamaican jerk chicken chili really packs in some spice, and it's full of hearty chicken, beans, and veggies. It may look like a laundry list of ingredients, but half of it is the spice mixture used to season the chicken and the chili itself, so don't get too overwhelmed.

The list of spices may look a bit weird. There's ingredients you think of for Italian food, for baking, for grilling burgers, and ones that are just plain spicy. However, when combined, they make this incredibly savory, aromatic seasoning blend with just enough kick to make things interesting. I use it as a paste on the chicken and stir the rest into the chili so the whole bowl has that distinct jerk flair.

Like most of my slow cooker recipes, it is possible to just dump everything in the crockpot in the morning and eat it when you get home. However, you may have noticed by now that I prefer to brown some of the ingredients in a pot first to develop better flavors. Here, I sear off the chicken and cook the onions and peppers in the juices before cooking everything together. This gives you great flavors from Maillard browning instead of just poaching the chicken in the chili.

You can adjust the vegetables you add to the dish if you are so inclined. I use onions, bell peppers, and two kinds of beans (a bit arbitrarily) in a tomato base. You can substitute other kinds of beans, add some green chiles, or even add some fresh vegetables like diced tomatoes, celery, or corn.
Another variation is to add a splash of coconut milk for a creamier chili. To beef it up a bit, try adding browned sausage or serving it with rice. There are plenty of ways to adapt this tasty chili to you and your family's preferences (and keep up your New Year's resolutions!).

2 1/2 lbs Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts
1/4 Cup Oil
1 T Chili Powder
1 tsp Cayenne
2 tsp Paprika
1 tsp Cumin
1 T Allspice
1 T Ginger
1 tsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Nutmeg
1 T Thyme
2 tsp Garlic Powder
2 tsp Onion Powder
2 tsp Salt
2 tsp Pepper
1 Yellow Onion, Diced
2 Bell Peppers, Diced
4 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 Habanero, Minced
1/4 Cup Soy Sauce
2 T Brown Sugar
1 14oz Can Kidney Beans, Drained & Rinsed
1 14oz Can Black Beans, Drained & Rinsed
1 28oz Can Crushed Tomatoes
2 Cups Chicken Broth
2 Limes

Whisk the spices together and add the oil. Rub 1/4 cup of the spice mixture on the chicken.

Heat some additional oil in a large skillet. Add the chicken and sear for 3 minutes per side or until browned. Remove. Add the onion and peppers and cook for 4 minutes or until softened. Stir in the garlic and habanero and cook for 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Transfer the peppers to a crockpot. Add the soy sauce, brown sugar, kidney beans, black beans, tomatoes, chicken broth, and remaining spice mixture. Nestle in the chicken and cook on low for 6 hours.

Remove the chicken and shred. Transfer back to the crockpot, stir in the juice from the limes, season with salt and pepper, and cook for an additional hour on low heat.

Serves 8
Recipe Adapted from Host the Toast

January 2, 2017

Italian Chicken Chili

2017 is off to a great start. My family is celebrating with a Costco-sized tub of cookie dough, I got some great presents for Hannukah, I'm enjoying the slightly chilly weather at home, and Wisconsin just won the Cotton Bowl. I've got a ton of cozy (and usually healthy) recipes to enjoy while I'm home for the next few days, so I figured I'd share one that's perfect for making in the blustery January weather to meet all your resolutions. This hearty chili is packed with beans, vegetables, lean chicken, and a bit of sausage for flavor in a thick broth with a splash of balsamic vinegar.

Like many of my crockpot recipes, it is possible to just dump everything in the bowl and let it cook all day. However, I find that you get so much more flavor when you cook a few ingredients strategically first. Sausage may not be the healthiest ingredient, but you need a bit of fat to cook the chicken in anyway so you might as well make it count. I cook the sausage until brown and cook the chicken in the flavorful fat left over so it soaks up all the goodness. After that, I cook onions and mushrooms in the fat left over from that step so none if it goes to waste. Adding tomato paste, garlic, and spices directly to the pan allows you to rescue all the brown bits that are so important for flavor development.

You could keep adding the ingredients to that pot if you don't have a crockpot, but I feel much better about leaving a crockpot going all day than my stove. You can even prep the above steps at night and leave it cooking all day the next day so it's ready for dinner on day two with no work that morning. Just combine the mushroom and onion mixture with some chicken broth, balsamic vinegar, canned tomatoes, and beans. Add the chicken and sausage and cook for a few hours until it's tender. The last step is shredding the chicken and adding it back in with some kale, sun-dried tomatoes, and roasted peppers. Those ingredients would fall apart if cooked for hours, so I add them in for only one hour until the kale is palatable. You can easily substitute in your favorite greens or beans if you don't like what I've suggested, and you can always add or take out anything that suits your taste. Since it's a crock pot recipe, you end up with plenty of chili. It freezes incredibly well, so portion it out and defrost it on those days when you want to order takeout to avoid cooking but don't want to break your resolutions. I'll be back soon with more healthy recipes to kick off 2017!

1/2 lb Italian Sausage
2 lbs Boneless Chicken
1 Large Yellow Onion, Diced
8oz Button Mushrooms, Sliced
4 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 6oz Can Tomato Paste
1 T Chili Powder
1 T Paprika
1 T Garlic Powder
1 T Onion Powder
4 Cups Chicken Broth
1/3 Cup Balsamic Vinegar
1 15.5oz Can Cannellini Beans, Drained
1 14.5oz Can Petite Diced Tomatoes
3 Cups Shredded Kale
1/2 Cup Diced Sun-Dried Tomatoes
1 Cup Chopped Roasted Peppers

Cook the sausage in a large skillet over medium heat until browned. Remove from the pan and sear the chicken in the sausage fat until brown. Remove from the pan. Cook the onions and mushrooms in the skillet for 4 minutes or until the onions are translucent and the mushrooms have released some water. Add the garlic and tomato paste and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the chili powder, paprika, garlic powder, and onion powder. Season with salt and pepper.

In a crockpot, combine the onion mixture, sausage, chicken broth, balsamic vinegar, cannellini beans, and diced tomatoes. Nestle the chicken in the crockpot and cook for 4 hours on high.

Remove the chicken and shred. Put the shredded chicken back in the crockpot with the kale, sun-dried tomatoes, and roasted peppers. Cook on high for 1 hour.

Serves 8
Recipe Adapted from Half Baked Harvest