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