March 12, 2018

Chocolate Fudge Pecan Pie

Underrated food holidays are the best. Yes, I love cooking for Thanksgiving, Valentine's Day, Independence Day, and pretty much every other holiday (except Passover. Screw you Passover). But sometimes I just want something like a chocolate chip cookie or some mashed potatoes and just don't have an excuse to cook them. Enter random food holidays, which completely and totally justify my decision to bake brownies at approximately 10pm on December 8. For the record, that's National Brownie Day. Luckily, some of these food holidays are catching on, specifically Pi(e) Day, March 14, a.k.a. 3.14, which is the number pi for all you non-STEM people out there.

For me, the Pi(e) Day craze started back in high school because some teacher had the brilliant idea to fuel bored yet somehow incredibly hyper students with tables and tables of pie. There was apple pie. There was oreo pie. There was peanut butter pie. One of the least popular varieties? A few sad slices of pecan pie left behind among empty scattered cans of whipped cream. 'Twas a sad sight to see. This recipe for chocolate fudge pecan pie is here to save your pecan pie woes. Whether your family has grown tired of the same saccharine pecan pie served once a year just at Thanksgiving or the only way to get you to try new foods is to douse them in chocolate, this pecan pie is for you.

I almost always make my own crust, aside from that one time my friends and roommates convinced me to make Thanksgiving dinner for 10 in our tiny apartment kitchen. There's no shame in using premade dough, but I'll just throw it out there that nothing beats my buttery, flaky crust recipe. It's nothing out of the ordinary, just cold butter cut into flour, sugar, and a pinch of salt with an egg yolk and some liquid to bind it together. Keep it cold, work it as little as possible, and make the edges pretty and you'll have the perfect crust. I've found that commercial doughs are simply inherently overworked and you won't get the same flakiness. This crust is also sturdy enough to stand up to all the filling without breaking.

The filling is essentially a cross between a chocolate chess pie and a pecan pie. You get chopped pecans scattered through the filling and a gorgeous arrangement of whole pecans on top, which is enough for my taste but certainly not on the level of a regular pecan pie which is basically all pecans with just enough sugar syrup to hold it all together. However, this isn't a regular pecan pie or even a regular chocolate pecan pie; it's a chocolate fudge pecan pie, which means I want an exceptionally rich, velvety, dense filling and I want there to be lots of it. The trick to such a filling is plenty of good quality chocolate (pardon my Ina Garten moment, but if it's the key player it needs to taste good), a few eggs, lots of butter, and the right ratio of corn syrup to brown sugar. Don't fear the corn syrup; it's just another form of sugar and it is completely necessary in some recipes for the right texture. It's definitely not the healthiest recipe, but you have to live every Pi(e) day like it's your last, right?

There are just a few tricks to ensure this simple recipe turns out right every time. As I mentioned before, don't overwork the dough, and be sure to keep the ingredients and the dough cold. Building on that principle, only add the filling to the crust once it's cooled to room temperature or you'll ruin all that effort and end up with a soggy crust. I've found that it's best to save your pretty pecan halves to decorate the top and throw all the ugly and broken pecans in the filling since they're just chopped up anyway. The worst thing that could possibly happen with this pie is getting halfway through the decoration on top and realizing you're out of pretty pecans. Honestly though, that's not even that big of a crisis in the grand scheme of things because that is precisely the reason why whipped cream and ice cream exist.

1 Recipe Sweet Pie Crust Dough (See Below)
8 oz Semisweet/Dark Chocolate
1 Stick Butter, Softened
3/4 Cup Corn Syrup
3/4 Cup Light Brown Sugar
1/2 tsp Salt
4 Eggs
1 tsp Vanilla
4 oz Peans, Chopped & Toasted (1 Cup)
1/2 Cup Pecan Halves

Grease a 9" pie plate. Roll out the pie dough to fit the pan, press gently to adhere, and crimp the edges as desired. Chill until firm.

Heat oven to 325F.

In a glass bowl set over simmering water or in a double boiler, melt the chocolate and butter together, whisking until smooth. Remove from heat and gradually stir in the corn syrup, brown sugar, and salt. Cool slightly, then add the eggs one at a time and the vanilla.

Spread the chopped pecans over the bottom of the pie crust. Pour the chocolate mixture on top and decorate with the pecan halves. Bake the pie for 55-60 minutes or until puffy and just set, covering the edges of the crust as necessary. Cool completely before serving.

For the crust:
Pulse 1 1/4 C flour, 1/4 C sugar, and 1/4 tsp salt in a food processor until combined. Add 1 stick chilled and cubed butter and pulse until small pieces remain. Combine the an yolk with a tablespoon of cold water and add in. Pulse until it begins to form a ball, adding more water as necessary. Chill.

Serves 8
Recipe Adapted from Love and Olive Oil

March 8, 2018

Brussels Sprouts Gratin

I've been posting a lot of recipes lately about quick dinners, fancy dinners, and everything in between. I've noticed, however, that it's typically not enough to write about just the main part of the meal to have, well, a complete meal. The key to elevating even the fastest, simplest dinner recipe is adding the right accompaniments to round it out. Yes, some recipes have the side built right in (I'm looking at you, chicken and mushroom skillet), but more often than not you're left searching for more recipes or just resorting to a simple starch. Although I'm always up for some good roasted potatoes, I recognize that a more flavorful veggie is often welcome. Enter these brussels sprouts.

My sister threatens to run away whenever my mom roasts off any sort of brassicas (that's brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, etc. for you non-horticulturalists out there) because the smell is so strong. However, there's something about bacon, cheese, and toasty breadcrumbs that changes one's perspective on the matter. Smothering the brussels sprouts in cheese is a parental hack that has stood the test of time, and this takes it to another level.

Bacon should always be the first step. Not only does it provide flavor-packed fat that serves as a base for the rest of the dish, but you now have something to snack on while you finish cooking. The garlic and shallots are sauteed in the bacon fat, which is then used to form a roux and ultimately the cheese sauce. The key to a smooth sauce is adding the warm milk slowly and whisking constantly; you'll form a thick paste that gradually thins out with no lumps. From there, you whisk in all the cheese. I went with gruyere for a fancy gratin feel, but this is a cheesy veggie dish at heart so any good melting cheese will do, even reliable old processed American cheese. Be warned, you'll have an entirely different flavor profile and appearance even if the texture turns out well, so I'd still recommend something along the lines of a good gruyere for a nice dinner. A pinch of nutmeg rounds out the flavor (well, maybe not for an American cheese version), and adding the bacon back to the sauce instead of later on ensures an even dispersal.

I've seen similar recipes with whole brussels sprouts, shredded brussels sprouts, and everything in between. Here, I went with quartered ones so that you still have some texture but they cook through without burning the top or the edges. Instead of topping them with regular breadcrumbs, I toss crispy panko with parmesan and butter for an extra punch of salty, cheesy flavor; adding the butter here allows for the panko to absorb the fat and brown more evenly. The gratin gets popped in the oven for about half an hour, depending on the pan size/casserole thickness, until the brussels sprouts are tender, the cheese is hot and bubbly, and the panko is nicely browned. It's sure to elevate your dinner and make sure you get all your veggies for the day in, plus it makes great leftovers.

2 lbs Brussels Sprouts
4-6 Strips Bacon
1 T Butter
2 T Butter, Melted
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 Shallot, Minced
3 T Flour
1 Cup Half and Half
1/2 Cup Milk
Pinch Nutmeg
3 oz (1 Cup) Shredded Gruyere
2/3 Cup Panko
1/3 Cup Parmesan

Trim and quarter the Brussels sprouts.

Heat oven to 375F and grease a 9x13" (2 quart) baking dish.

Cook the bacon in a large skillet until crispy. Remove and chop, leaving 2-3T fat in the pan.

Add 1 T butter to the bacon fat. Add the garlic and shallot and cook for 2 minutes or until fragrant. Add the flour and whisk for 1 minute or until thickened. Slowly whisk in the half and half and the milk. Season with salt, pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and whisk in the gruyere and bacon.

Toss the Brussels sprouts in the sauce and spread into the prepared pan. Combine the panko, parmesan, and melted butter. Sprinkle onto the Brussels sprouts. Bake for 25 minutes or until tender, covering with foil to prevent over browning as necessary.

Serves 8

February 20, 2018

Mustard-Crusted Salmon

I am all about the quick and easy dinners right now. I recognize my college diet of frozen pizza, delivery pizza, and pasta aren't ideal, so I love when I have quick, easy, and healthy recipes on hand. I frequently make salmon, but that's usually just seasoning it and throwing it in a pan. There are so many other simple but delicious ways to make salmon that don't take much more time, and this is one of them. A dollop of roasted garlic dijonnaise (just a fancy word for mustard and mayonnaise) and a sprinkling of crispy panko elevate a regular piece of salmon into a stunning dinner without sacrificing all your calories for the day.

The only time-consuming part of this dish is roasting the garlic. Fortunately, all that entails is breaking a head of garlic into cloves, seasoning them, and popping them in the oven for a while. The sharp garlic flavor mellows into sweeter notes, and the soft roasted cloves blend seamlessly into the dijonnaise. I will eat roasted garlic on anything, so I'll typically make a bunch of it just to have on hand.

The dijonnaise consists of mustard and mayonnaise as well as a splash of Worcestershire and all that lovely roasted garlic. Yes, this recipe does call for a whole head of garlic, but roasting it cooks it down and gets rid of that astringent flavor, so it's not as much as you'd think. If you're still concerned, add a few cloves at a time until you get the right flavor.

Once your dijonnaise is to your liking, just spread some onto the fish and give it a handful of panko. Panko work so much better here than regular breadcrumbs because they're so much more crunchy. I toss them in a bit of oil to make sure they get extra crispy and golden. Depending on the thickness of your salmon, it should cook through in less than 15 minutes and the breadcrumbs won't burn. The dijonnaise infuses the fish with tons of flavor and keeps it moist and juicy while the panko's crunch adds textural contrast. This dish goes with all sorts of side dishes, making it a great addition to your weeknight dinner lineup.

1 Head Garlic
2 T Olive Oil
2 T Oil
1 tsp Worcestershire
3 T Dijon Mustard
1/2 Cup Mayonnaise
1 1/2 lbs Salmon
2/3 Cup Panko

Heat oven to 375F.

Break the garlic into cloves and spread onto a small baking dish. Drizzle with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cover with foil and bake for 30-40 minutes or until caramelized.

Press the roasted garlic out of the cloves. Whisk with the Worcestershire, mustard, mayo, and salt and pepper.

Spread the mustard mixture onto the salmon. Toss the panko with the oil and salt and pepper. Sprinkle onto the salmon and press gently to adhere.

Bake the salmon for 12-14 minutes or until golden.

Serves 6

February 12, 2018

Mini Chocolate Bundt Cakes

I have a week of chocolate planned ahead, guys. Food Science Club has our annual chocolate dipping social on Wednesday, where we get to dip approximately 20 pounds of various snack foods and fruits in chocolate under the guise of student involvement. I also have a competition for passionfruit confections on Thursday, which means making all sorts of caramels and ganaches and covering them in chocolate beforehand. However, I understand that not everyone has access to vats of molten chocolate and absolutely no self control, as fun as that would make all of your Valentine's Days. In that unfortunate case, I propose an alternative: individual chocolate cakes. You can have one like a stable adult human, share two with your Valentine, or eat the entire batch alone while watching Netflix with your cat because, hey, at least you proved to yourself and your ungrateful ex that you can, in fact, bake things without burning down the house. Whatever floats your boat, man.

Honestly, one of the reasons I love this recipe so much is because of the pan. I had a treat yoself moment with my Hannukah money over winter break and decided to buy a good NordicWare cake pan, but instead of buying a big fancy bundt cake pan like a normal person, I bought one for teeny tiny mini cakes. I soon realized the cakes weren't nearly as teeny as I thought they were; one cake is a very generous serving for one, or maybe 2 depending on how hangry you are. If you don't have a mini bundt cake pan, these would make great mini loaves, or a regular cupcake pan would do in a pinch.

Looking at the ingredients list, you might be a little surprised if you're familiar with my other baking recipes. There's no buttermilk. It's either a sin or a misprint, right? Wrong. Here, sour cream maintains the acidity and moistness just as well as buttermilk ever could. Also different from my other chocolate cake recipes? I use actual butter instead of oil, but it's melted so you don't have to go through the whole softening and creaming process that honestly takes way too long in my opinion. I just want some cake; don't make me wait all day for it.

I combine the dry ingredients first: flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. There's plenty of cocoa here, and make sure you use the good stuff because that's the main thing you'll be tasting. I'm not getting paid to say this, but I will admit I do prefer Ghiradelli or Hershey's over Nestle. Once those are combined, I whisk the butter and sugar together. This is a pleasantly dense cake, so there's no need to cream them together and whip a bunch of air in. I also add eggs and a nice splash of vanilla. As with most of my cake recipes, I alternate the wet and dry ingredients to prevent lumps and avoid overbeating the flour. The dry ingredients are the flour mixture from before, and the wet ingredients are sour cream (again, for acidity and moistness) and coffee (for a subtle flavor that really brings out the cocoa).

Once the batter is just combined, I spoon it into my pan. I never make bundt cakes because I'm always terrified the cake will stick and fall apart and implode and make everyone sad. To combat this, I got a really good pan (and treat it properly, i.e. no dishwasher) and greased it well with a baking spray. I normally give it a spritz of original nonstick spray and get on with the baking, but here I use the special baking nonstick spray. It has flour in it that does a fabulous job of making things not stick to the pan, and I haven't had any sticking issues yet. I make sure to fill the pan most of the way up, leaving some space for it to rise. The toothpick test does the job just fine to indicate when it's done; as soon as a toothpick comes out clean, you're ready to go.

As you can see from all these lovely pictures, I garnished the cakes with a dusting of powdered sugar and some fresh berries. If you go the powdered sugar route, make sure you do it just before serving so that it doesn't absorb moisture and become all pasty. A velvety chocolate ganache would also be fantastic, and you can add a splash of your favorite liquor for extra flavor. I had some strawberry sauce leftover from a cheesecake, which paired beautifully as well. As long as it goes with chocolate, it can go on this cake. I might have to bring some to my chocolate dipping social this week because nothing goes better with chocolate than more chocolate.

1 1/2 Cups Flour
3/4 Cup Cocoa Powder
3/4 tsp Baking Powder
1/4 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Salt
1 1/2 Sticks Butter, Melted
1 1/2 Cups Sugar
2 Eggs
1 1/2 tsp Vanilla
3/4 Cup Sour Cream
3/4 Cup Coffee, Cooled

Heat oven to 350F and grease 10 mini bundt cake pans.

Whisk the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together. Combine the sour cream and coffee.

Whisk the butter and sugar together. Add the eggs one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. Add the flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the coffee mixture in 2 additions.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pans (~2/3 cup per pan) and bake for 16 minutes or until cooked through.

Serves 10

February 5, 2018

Mushroom & Prosciutto Stuffed Chicken

Despite having absolutely no free time this month, I do love making fancy dinners. There's something to be said for coming home from a long day in the lab and having something homemade and classy to dig into instead of yet another frozen pizza. This is especially important for those of you who would like to make your significant other something special instead of resorting to takeout or whipping up a fancy bowl of cereal for dinner on Valentine's Day. Chicken is one of the easiest, most versatile proteins to cook, but if you dress it up with a bit of cheese, mushrooms, and prosciutto you'll have quite an impressive meal.

Butterflying the chicken here is a must. That sounds intimidating if you've never done it, but it's really quite easy. To stuff a chicken breast, you need to have a large, thin piece of chicken so you can roll it into itself. Yes, they sell thin chicken cutlets pretty widely now, but those pieces are too small for this. You want to buy big chicken breasts here and cut a slit most of the way through the middle hamburger-style (not hot dog style) so that when you open the flaps it looks like a butterfly (or a heart, since it's almost Valentine's Day and all). From there, it's probably still too thick, so take a meat mallet/tenderizer or rolling pin and hit it a few times until it's about 1/4" thick and even. Just don't overdo it to the point where it starts to fall apart; you still need this thing to hold together when you stuff it.

The stuffing is really easy since the only thing you have to cook is some mushrooms. I dice some baby portobello mushrooms and throw them in a pan with some garlic and herbs. You can use other fancy mushrooms here, but they would probably go further in the sauce. I cook mine until the liquid evaporates since you want them to be tender and dry enough to roll up without falling/oozing everywhere but not so much that they turn to complete mush in the oven.

The first layer of the filling is the prosciutto so it can infuse both the chicken and the rest of the stuffing with porky goodness. This recipe doesn't require much of it, especially if you cut it in half for just two people, so I usually go to the deli counter instead of buying a big package of it. The cheese comes next; I like a good mild, melty mozzarella or provolone but if you like stronger cheeses then feel free to swap one in. As long as it melts well, you can use it. A layer of the mushrooms goes next. Just remember that as you roll the chicken, it tends to move out towards the edges, so leave a border, especially on the end that will become the seam.

To finish the chicken, I start at the ugliest, most uneven long side and start rolling it into itself. I secure it with either toothpicks (soaked in water so they don't burn) or butcher's twine then sear it off in a hot pan to get a nice golden crust. Since the thin piece of chicken has now rolled into something much bigger, it will take more time to cook, so I finish it in the oven. All the worst Valentine's Day stories involve food poisoning of some sort, so make sure you cook it properly.

While the chicken cooks, it's time to whip up the sauce. At this point, I've committed to mushrooms, so I decided to make a nice gravy. I take the chicken drippings--minus any cheesy bits--and saute more mushrooms, a shallot, and some herbs until tender and fragrant. This is where you want to use nice mushrooms, if you have them. If not, I used more baby portobellos and it still turned out fantastic. I then build a roux by adding flour; this thickens the gravy so it's perfectly velvety. Chicken broth is gradually stirred in until it forms a sauce, which I then simmer with another pat of butter until the chicken is ready.

Valentine's Day is still over a week away, so there's time to build a menu around this (or another dish, if you're not feeling the mushrooms. Some of my favorite appetizers include some corn & tomato salsa, a decadent French onion tart, and a zucchini ricotta crostada. Some equally fancy main course ideas are chicken Florentine, scallops with purple cauliflower, and spinach and prosciutto stuffed shells. Those would be great alongside some mushroom soup, zucchini fritters, or focaccia. As for dessert, I'll be publishing a recipe later in the week, but you can get started with a buttermilk pie, maple apple spice cake, or a blueberry almond tart. For more recipe ideas, see my recipe index. Happy cooking and happy Valentine's Day!

8 oz Mushrooms, Diced
12 oz Mushrooms, Sliced
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
6 Sprigs Thyme
4 Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts (2 lbs)
8 Slices Prosciutto
8 Slices Mozzarella
4 T Butter
1 Small Shallot, Diced
1/4 Cup Flour
2 Cups Chicken Broth

Heat some oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the diced mushrooms, garlic, and 3 sprigs thyme. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for 6 minutes or until tender and most of the liquid has evaporated. Set aside.

Butterfly the chicken breasts. Pound to ~1/4" thick and season with salt and pepper on both sides. Top with two overlapping slices of prosciutto each, 2 slices mozzarella, and some of the mushrooms, leaving a 1/2" border on one of the long ends. Roll lengthwise so the border acts as a seam and secure with kitchen twine or toothpicks. Repeat with the remaining chicken.

Heat oven to 425F.

Heat some oil in a new large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and sear on both sides until brown, about 8 minutes total. Transfer to an oven-safe baking dish and roast for 15 minutes or until cooked through. Let rest for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, remove any melted cheese from the chicken skillet. Add 2 T butter and melt over medium-high heat and add the sliced mushrooms, shallot, and remaining 3 sprigs thyme. Season with salt and pepper and cook for 4-6 minutes or until tender. Add the flour and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly. Slowly whisk in the chicken broth. Simmer until thick and reduced, about 10 minutes. Stir in the remaining 2 T butter and season with salt and pepper. Serve over the chicken.

Serves 4
Recipe Adapted from Bon Appetit

January 28, 2018

Beer Brat Biscuit Sliders

It's hard to believe the Superbowl is next weekend. Wait, no. My roommates have been sending me recipe ideas for the last month to make sure we have a good spread for literally just the four of us. I'm currently signed up to make some sort of cheesy buffalo pull-apart bread, a giant cheeseburger concoction, and someone's mom's cheese dip. You can tell we're in Wisconsin because our fridge is like 90% cheese right now, and the rest is beer. While I'm not sure much will compare to last year's cheesy buffalo pretzel ring, I tried to think beyond the cheese for this recipe for more of a balanced diet. It combines a Wisconsin favorite--beer brats--with some Southern flair--biscuits and gravy. These bite-sized biscuit sliders are stuffed with savory beer-braised bratwurst and dunked in boozy beer gravy and are sure to be the star of your Superbowl party.

It all starts with my favorite biscuit recipe. Yes, biscuits come in a can. Yes, I have spent countless hours in class learning about them thanks to one of my professors who used to work at Pillsbury. No, they're not as good as homemade. I guarantee my homemade biscuits taste better, have more layers, and can be made into cute little bite-sized rounds for perfect little sliders. The secrets? Make sure everything is cold, handle the dough as little as possible, and always use buttermilk. You can read more about it in the original blog post, but follow those guidelines and you'll have great biscuits every time.

The next component is the bratwurst. I won't get all fancy on you with a recipe for bratwurst from scratch. I'm just a candy scientist, people. I just take a package of (good quality) bratwurst from the grocery store and cook it in beer like any good Wisconsinite. Simmering the sausage in the beer infuses the sausage with the beer flavor and the beer with the sausage flavor. It's win-win. Of course, I do sear the bratwurst afterwards since nothing compares to those tasty browning reactions. Once the sausage rests for a few minutes so the juices don't spill out everywhere, I cut them into coins, which should be about the size of your lil' baby biscuits from earlier.

The last step is the gravy. The trick here is to use the drippings from searing the sausage to make the roux and the beer from the sausage to turn it into gravy. It may take some experimenting with different beers; I found that some of mine became very bitter, particularly the hoppier beers I tried. Use your fancy craft beers as a drink, not wasted as a gravy. Pick a cheap, pale, mild beer and you should be ok. Worst case scenario, you make a regular roux with just butter and flour and add fresh beer if it doesn't turn out right the first time.

I would recommend serving these with the biscuits and sausage assembled and a big bowl of gravy for dipping on the side. If you have a small crockpot, this is a great time to break it out to keep the gravy nice and warm. If it gets too thick while the game drags on, throw in another splash of beer. I'd be willing to bet you'll have plenty on hand next weekend, and this is a perfectly good excuse to crack open a new one. I typically only watch the Super Bowl for the commercials and the Puppy Bowl, but recipes like this make it all worthwhile.

3 1/2 Cups Flour
1 T + 1 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Salt
1 Stick Butter, Chilled & Cubed
1/2 Stick Butter, Melted
2 T Butter
1 1/2 Cups Buttermilk
12oz Light Beer
2 Bratwurst
1/2 Cup Chicken Broth
1/4 tsp Garlic Powder
1/4 tsp Onion Powder

Heat oven to 425F. Line a baking tray with parchment.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine 3 1/4 cups flour, baking powder, and salt. Pulse in the butter until only small lumps remain. Add the buttermilk and pulse until just combined. Alternatively, combine the dry ingredients in a bowl. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter or with your fingers, then stir in the buttermilk.

Pat the dough out onto a floured surface until 1" thick. Fold into thirds like a letter for an envelope, pat into a 1" thick rectangle, and repeat, rolling to a final thickness of 3/4". Cut into 1-1.5" rounds and transfer to the prepared tray. Bake for 10 minutes or until golden, brushing with the melted butter halfway through.

Meanwhile, heat the beer in a medium pot over medium-low heat until simmering. Add the bratwurst and cook for 8-10 minutes. Remove and pat dry, saving the beer.

Heat some oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the bratwurst and cook on all sides until browned about 6 minutes. Remove from the pan, cool, and slice into coins.

Drain all but 2 T fat from the pan. Add the 2 T butter and melt over medium heat. Add the remaining 1/4 cup flour and cook for 2 minutes until thickened, stirring constantly. Slowly whisk in the warm beer from the bratwurst. Slowly whisk in the chicken broth. Bring to a simmer, season with the garlic powder, onion powder, and salt and pepper, and cook for 4 minutes or until thickened, stirring frequently.

Slice the biscuits in half, add the bratwurst slices to form sliders, and serve with the gravy.

Makes 40

January 17, 2018

Louisiana Chicken Stew

I'm currently in New Orleans, for those of you who don't follow my Instagram or Twitter. It's been kind of a vacation from hell, full of delayed flights, "snowstorms," and absolutely nothing being open. Luckily, I've salvaged the trip with plenty of great food, particularly beignets from all over town. One of the reasons I love to travel is so I can bring the flavors back home with me and use the trip as inspiration for future dishes. Well, this dish will let me remember the more positive moments from my visit to New Orleans and make all the craziness worth it. This stew will keep you nice and warm (despite the unusually chilly weather down here) and fill you up with spicy Creole goodness.

I just call this Louisiana stew because the combination of Andouille sausage, modified mirepoix, and generous spice is unmistakeable. It's technically Creole, not Cajun, because of the tomatoes, but it's too good to get into specifics here. You can add more chicken broth to thin it out into a thick and chunky soup, but I like this thick enough to serve over rice or grits. It just seems heartier and more filling, and the recipe already makes plenty.

I start with the sausage first; if you follow my other recipes, you know the fat from the flavorful meats is invaluable. I cook it pretty much all the way through in some chicken broth, which I use later in the stew, and then crisp it in a skillet before slicing. The chicken gets cooked in the sausage fat, and then I use the chicken/sausage fat to cook the mirepoix. This dish is fairly healthy in the grand scheme of things, so I like to use the unhealthy bits to their full potential.

The mirepoix is the last part that gets cooked before adding to the slow cooker. A traditional mirepoix uses onions, celery, and carrots, but in Cajun and Creole cooking, they use onions, celery, and bell peppers. I cook those veggies in the chicken/sausage fat to soak up the last remnants of flavor, then I throw in the garlic, jalapeno, and spices in the last minute or two of cooking. Those get tossed in the slow cooker along with the other veggies, specifically black beans and canned tomatoes, plus the chicken, sausage, and chicken broth. That all simmers together all day so the meat gets tender and the spices and flavors permeate every bite. I prefer the chicken shredded, but you can also dice it towards the end of the cooking process. This makes it more stew-like and easier to eat.

If you're avoiding carbs as the new year continues, this is great all on its own. However, in the spirit of southern food, I recommend rice or grits. They soak up some of the liquid and round out the dish; grits in particular add a welcome creaminess to the dish that cuts the heat. Here in New Orleans, you could also expect a bowl of dirty rice or maybe some fried eggplant sticks on the side, so go with your heart and your stomach and serve this with whatever you desire.

2 Cups Chicken Broth
1 lb Andouille Sausage
2 lbs Chicken Breast
1 Large Yellow Onion, Diced
3 Stalks Celery, Diced
1 Bell Pepper, Diced
4 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 Jalapeno, Minced
1 14.5oz Can Black Beans, Drained
1 14.5oz Can Petite Diced Tomatoes
2 tsp Chili Powder
2 tsp Paprika
1 tsp Cayenne
2 tsp Garlic Powder
2 tsp Onion Powder
Rice or Grits

Heat the chicken broth to a simmer over medium-low heat in a medium pot. Add the sausage and cook for 8 minutes. Remove and pat dry, reserving the broth. Heat some oil in a large skillet and brown the sausage until crisp, about 6 minutes. Remove, cool, and slice.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Brown in the drippings until golden, then remove. Cook the onions, celery, and bell peppers for 4 minutes or until tender. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the  garlic and jalapeƱo and cook for 2 minutes. Add the spices.

Transfer the onions, peppers, black beans, diced tomatoes, chicken, sausage, and chicken broth to a crockpot. Cook for 6 hours on low. Remove the chicken, shred, and cook for another 30 minutes. Serve over rice.

Serves 6-8
Recipe Adapted from Pinch of Yum

January 6, 2018

Chicken Tortilla Soup

I clearly like chicken soups and chilis. Just check out my recipes for Italian chicken chilichicken mushroom wild rice soupJamaican jerk chili, and Southwest chicken chili. This recipe is a new favorite since it's full of veggies, lean protein, and spices plus a crunchy tortilla chip topping for extra texture. I like to think of it as the flavors of a chicken taco in a healthy, hearty bowl.

Although this can be a set it and forget it crock pot recipe, I like to brown the chicken and some of the veggies first, like in most of my other recipes. This just gives an extra layer of flavor that you otherwise wouldn't have, since beyond that you'd just be poaching the chicken in the soup, which isn't my favorite. I cook the onions, bell peppers, garlic, and jalapeno in the chicken drippings so none of those tasty flavors and browned bits go to waste.

The chicken and veggies get combined with chicken broth, petite diced tomatoes, black beans, corn, and more spices. The beauty of this recipe is that pretty much all the vegetables are canned, so you can make it year-round. Don't be scared off by not using fresh veggies; canned ones are just as healthy and often taste better since they're picked and processed when they're most fresh. You can go for fresh corn and tomatoes, but I can guarantee if you want a bowl of this now to warm up in the January cold and stick to your resolutions, the tomatoes and corn will taste much better from a can than from your grocery store.

I simmer everything for about 4 hours before shredding the chicken, but you can cut the heat to low and leave it on all day while you're at work or school to come back to a nice, hot, ready-to-eat meal. All you have to do is shred the chicken, add a splash of lime juice, and serve with some crispy tortilla strips. Yes, you can use crushed up tortilla chips from the grocery store, but it takes all of 5 minutes to season and toast your own without all the frying oil. My family couldn't stop snacking on these things while I was cooking and photographing, so it might be a good idea to make more than you need for just the soup. The soup itself is pretty healthy and makes great leftovers, so keep some on hand to warm you up from the cold without abandoning your healthy eating plan for 2018.

1 lb Chicken Breasts
1 Large Yellow Onion, Diced
1 Bell Pepper, Diced
4 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 Jalapeno, Minced
3 T Tomato Paste
4 Cups Chicken Broth
1 14.5oz Can Petite Diced Tomatoes
1 15oz Can Black Beans, Drained & Rinsed
1 15oz Can Corn Kernels, Drained
Juice of 1 Lime
8 Corn Tortillas
4 T Oil
1 T Garlic Powder
1 T Onion Powder
1 T Cumin
2 T + 1 tsp Chili Powder
1 T Paprika
2 tsp Cayenne
1 1/2 tsp Salt
1 1/2 tsp Pepper

Whisk the garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, 2T chili powder, paprika, cayenne, salt, and pepper together.

Heat 2 T oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Season the chicken with 2 tsp of the spice blend and sear until browned, about 4 minutes per side. Remove and set aside, leaving the fat in the pan.

Cook the onion and the bell pepper in the skillet over medium heat for 3 minutes over medium heat or until softened. Add the garlic, jalapeno, tomato paste, and 1 tsp seasoning. Cook for 2 minutes or until fragrant.

Combine the chicken broth, tomatoes, black beans, and corn in a crockpot. Add the sauteed vegetables and chicken. Season generously with a few spoonfuls of the spice mixture, to taste. Cover and cook for 4 hours on high or 6-8 hours on low. Shred the chicken and add the lime juice; cover and cook for 30 minutes on high.

Meanwhile, cut the tortillas in half and cut into thin strips. Whisk the remaining 2 T oil and 1 tsp chili powder together. Toss the tortilla strips in the oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread onto a baking sheet and toast for 4-6 minutes at 450F.

Pour the soup into bowls and garnish with the tortilla strips.

Serves 6-8