Spicy Tamarind-Ginger Chicken

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When I have a Saturday off work, we like to go to the Hot Box food truck that parks in front of the brewery on Dale’s street. Last week I got a Jarritos tamarind soda to go with my risotto fritters, and he commented that he couldn’t detect a flavor he could call tamarind, because all he tasted was sweet. So, since I spent enough time in the tropics to learn to love the tart flavor of tamarind, I decided to do something about that.

Tamarind is the seed pod of a tree originating in Africa and now found in tropical climates throughout the world. I used the straight fruit pulp, found in the frozen section of large supermarkets and Latin-American markets (Goya Fruta was the brand I used). It has a very tart flavor, which is why I balanced it with the big flavors of garlic and ginger, the heat of sriracha, and the sweetness of honey. I like it still pretty tart; you may prefer to add more of the other ingredients to tone it down.

Spicy Tamarind Ginger Chicken

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 lbs)
3/4 c. tamarind pulp (thaw before measuring–it will be pouring consistency)
1/4 c. soy sauce (can substitute tamari if you have gluten issues, or rice vinegar plus a little extra salt if you are allergic to soy)
2 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 Tbsp. sriracha (Huy Fong Foods, the manufacturer of the original, says it’s gluten free, but there are dedicated gluten free versions out there)
1-inch slice of fresh ginger, finely grated
1-2 Tbsp. honey, to taste
1/2 tsp. kosher salt

Cornstarch for dredging
Vegetable oil for frying

Green onions, sliced, for garnish

Cut the chicken breasts into chunks, a little smaller than an inch, and coat with cornstarch. Pour about 1/4-1/2 inch of oil in the bottom of a large skillet and fry the chicken pieces until light golden brown–I had to do mine in 2 batches to keep from crowding the pan. Remove cooked chicken from the pan onto a plate lined with a paper towel, to drain the excess oil.

Once you’ve got all your chicken fried and drained, combine the remaining ingredients in a bowl and give a quick stir to make your sauce. Clean the pan (or get out a new one, if you’re slack) and return the chicken to it, pouring the sauce over the top and stirring to coat. Heat it through; your sauce will thicken a bit as it heats up. Serve over rice, garnished with green onions.

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Orange-Rosemary Roast Chicken, and Spinach Salad with Orange-Chipotle Vinaigrette

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I have another Sunday off, and you know what that means: Sunday dinner! Today was a rosemary-orange roast chicken, plus a spinach salad with orange-chipotle vinaigrette, and angel biscuits. The trick to a really good roast chicken is to use an air-chilled chicken, rather than a typical water-cooled one. This means the chicken has been flash-frozen using a blast of cold air, rather than being dipped in a water solution and then frozen. It also means that the chicken cooks faster, leaving it moister. I know it sounds silly that adding moisture would result in a drier bird, but trust me–a shorter cook time yields more moisture.

Orange-Rosemary Roast Chicken

1 air-chilled whole chicken (roughly 4 lbs or so)
2 sprigs rosemary
1/2 large orange
1/2 small onion
1 clove garlic
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Black pepper

Preheat your oven to 400F. Give the chicken a quick rinse. Cut the orange half and the onion half into quarters, and put into the cavity of the chicken along with a cracked garlic clove and the rosemary. Rub the outside of the chicken down with the olive oil and season well with salt and pepper.

If you have a roasting pan with a rack, that would be ideal. I didn’t, so instead, I put a couple of balls of aluminum foil into the bottom of a 13×9 inch baking pan and set the chicken up onto that. Roast the chicken for 15 minutes at 400F, then turn it down to 350F and roast for an additional 20 minutes per pound or so. Take it out of the oven, tent some aluminum foil over it, and let it rest for 10-15 minutes–I timed it alongside the baking angel biscuits. Should serve 4-6; we made it dinner, plus chicken salad to eat over the next couple of days.

Spinach Salad with Orange-Chipotle Vinaigrette

1/2 bag baby spinach (maybe 2 cups or so)
1/2 small red onion, chopped
1 plum tomato
Zest and juice of 1 large orange
2 chipotles in adobo
1 medium clove garlic
3/4 c. olive oil

Combine the orange zest and juice, the chipotles, the garlic, and half the chopped onion in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until blended. Add the olive oil, a little at a time, pulsing well before each addition.

Combine the spinach, the rest of the onion, and the tomato. Add the vinaigrette to taste and toss to coat. Serves 2 with lots of dressing left over. You can add croutons, bacon, cheese, whatever, but this is the basic version. Feel free to get fancy with it if you want.

Egg and Chorizo Breakfast Tacos

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Like a lot of people, when I have a day off, I’m torn between the desire to make a big, filling breakfast and the desire to plant my butt in bed and not come out until I have to. These breakfast tacos are protein-heavy, filling, flavorful, and really fast and easy, making them perfect for those lazy mornings. (Especially if I’ve had a bit to drink the night before.) It’s very important to use Mexican-style chorizo, a crumbly sausage that comes in a plastic casing that you cut open, rather than the Spanish-style smoked chorizo. I get the packs that are 6 small links for a total of 1 pound, and it’s enough for several meals for us.

Huevos con chorizo is a very common Mexican dish, but that typically includes onion and extra peppers, and is served with rice and beans. It’s something I like a lot, but for breakfast at home, I go with this simplified version.

Egg and Chorizo Breakfast Tacos (serves 2)

2 links (just over 5 ounces) Mexican-style chorizo, removed from casings
4 eggs
Generous pinch of sazón (a Latin American seasoning mix that I put in just about everything–I prefer Goya brand Culantro y Achiote flavor)
6 flour tortillas (can also substitute 12 corn tortillas and double them to make the tacos)
Crumbled queso fresco (if you like crumbly, white cheeses–feta also works) or shredded cheddar cheese
Your favorite salsa, bottled or homemade
Cilantro, crema mexicana or sour cream, and lime wedges, optional

Brown up the chorizo in a large skillet, breaking it up as you go. It’s darker and fattier than most sausages, so you’ll definitely have a good bit of grease coming off, and it’s going to look really dark in color when it’s done. Beat the eggs in a bowl with the sazón, then pour over the chorizo and cook as for scrambled eggs.

Fill the tortillas with the eggs and meat, and top with your preferred cheese. I like the dry, crumbly queso fresco, but today I had sharp cheddar on hand, and that works. I usually like to top it with some homemade salsa, crema mexicana (kind of like sour cream, but thinner) and some chopped cilantro, but today all I had on hand was bottled salsa, and it was fine. I also like to squeeze a lime wedge over the top.

I have this with a cup of coffee and/or some orange juice, and I’m ready to deal with whatever my day throws at me. It only takes a few minutes, and it’s absolutely delicious.

 

Fantastic Butter Croissants, and bonus Chipotle Aioli recipe

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People talk about classical French pastry like it’s so difficult to make. Now, I’m not going to argue that it’s not fiddly or time-consuming, but the actual difficulty level of it is pretty minor. If you can mix stuff up in a bowl and you can roll and fold a few times, you can make your own croissants. And the great part of that is, once you’ve got that dough, that’s the same dough that you’d use for a pain au chocolat. Danishes are done using the same technique, though some people add egg to their danish dough. I don’t–I do all three the same way, as do many commercial bakeries. The big difference is how you fold them up, and whether you fill them.

What I did tonight was to slice the croissants in half and make them into sandwiches with deli sliced roast beef, Muenster cheese, and my own chipotle aioli. Now, an aioli is another thing that seems a lot harder and more complex than it is. It’s basically a homemade mayonnaise with a good bit of garlic. I added chipotle peppers to mine because, well, I add chipotle peppers to just about everything. They’re enough of a pantry staple that Dale and I were looking online today for a source of canned chipotles by the case. The aioli recipe below is basic enough that if you subtract out the chipotles in adobo and the garlic, you’ve got a mayonnaise that’s suitable for just about any sandwich, and once you’ve made your own, you’ll never put the globby jarred stuff on your bread again. Being who we are, though, Dale and I both prefer it with the garlic and peppers.

Croissants

1 1/2 c. warm milk (not hot)
2 pkg. active dry yeast (not instant)
2 Tbsp. packed light brown sugar
2 Tbsp. white sugar
3 3/4 c. flour, plus more for dusting
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
1 1/2 c. (3 sticks or 3/4 lb.) cold butter

1 egg
1 Tbsp. water

Combine your milk, yeast, and sugars in a mixing bowl, and let them stand until the mixture foams. It should start making tiny bubbles almost immediately and be foamy within 5 minutes. If it doesn’t, your yeast is dead, and you need to start this step over with fresher yeast.

Then add your flour and salt, and mix it (I use a hand mixer on low, but if you’ve got a stand mixer with a dough hook, go for it) until it comes together into a soft dough. Roll that out to about an inch and a half thick, wrap it in plastic, and chill it for about an hour.

Unwrap the butter and put the three sticks up against each other like a block, and sandwich it between two pieces of plastic wrap or parchment. Now, a lot of recipes are going to tell you to roll this straight out into a rectangle, but if your butter’s cold enough to work with properly, it’s not going to roll. So you’re going to need to break the surface tension on it a bit to make it workable. That means you’re going to take that rolling pin and smack the living crap out of the butter, repeatedly, until it’s soft enough to roll out. Then roll it out into a rectangle, about 5×8 inches, as even as you can make it. At that point it goes back in the fridge to chill some more.

Now for the time-consuming bit. Once your butter and your dough have chilled properly, flour your work surface well and roll the dough out to about 16×10 inches, and center the butter across the dough so that the long direction of the butter rectangle is the short side of the dough. If any butter comes through the surface of the dough, sprinkle it with flour to keep it from sticking. Fold the dough in thirds around the butter and roll it lengthwise to about 1/2 inch thick. Then fold it in thirds again from the other direction, so that what was the long side when you folded it in before is now the short side–that’s your first turn done.  Put it in the fridge to chill for an hour or so, so that the gluten will relax.

When you take it out, you’re going to do another turn. Roll it out in the same direction as the folds, fold it in from the other direction, roll it out in the direction of the new folds, and fold again. Back in the fridge. You’re going to repeat this a total of 4 times, chilling in between, roughly an hour (but if it’s closer to 45 minutes, you’ll be fine).

After the final turn, chill your dough again (most recipes call for overnight, but I never wait that long), then roll it out to roughly 1/2 inch thick all the way across. You’re going to cut rectangles in the dough, then cut those rectangles in half, corner to corner. Start at the short end of the resulting triangle and roll up the dough, tucking the point under when you’re done.

Combine the egg and the water in a bowl, stirring well, and brush the mixture over the top of your croissants with a pastry brush. Let the croissants rise for an hour or so. I like to go back over the croissants with the egg wash before I put them into the oven. Bake them at 400F until golden brown–start checking them at 7 minutes, but depending on how big a croissant you’ve made, it may take more than that.

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Chipotle Aioli

2 eggs
4-5 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (just under 1/2 can)
4 medium cloves garlic
1 1/2 tsp. ground mustard
1 c. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1 1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice

Combine eggs, chipotles, garlic, and mustard in a blender or food processor and pulse until blended. With the blades running, slowly add the oils in a thin stream, blending until it thickens and starts to bind together–should be a couple of minutes or so. Stop the motor and add the lemon juice, plus some salt to taste. Pulse it until smooth. Let it stand for a few minutes before you serve it, so that it will thicken up a little more.

Because of the raw eggs in it, you’re going to want to be careful that the container you store the leftovers in is airtight, and it won’t have much of a shelf life. Hurry up and use it over the next couple of days if you used regular eggs; you’ve got a few more if you used pasteurized. It’s great on a sandwich, like I did here, but it’s also a wonderful dipping sauce for fries, if you’re so inclined–I’ve seen this done in several restaurants I’ve been to. I’d be willing to bet this would be fantastic with some tuna, too.

Sunday Double Feature: Chicken Marsala for two, my way, and Chesscake Brownies

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To an old-school Southern girl, Sunday dinner is a thing. Whether it’s bringing family over after church to cook a big mid-afternoon meal, or cooking all day to have the kind of supper that leaves the whole crew in a food coma, it’s a tradition that was a part of my upbringing. We didn’t do it anywhere near every week, but when we did, we did it up right. So tonight I made my own twist on chicken marsala, with a dessert that was one of the first recipes I learned to make as a teenager, my grandma’s chesscake brownies. I’m also listing substitutions that would make the chicken marsala safe for gluten and dairy allergies, but there’s really no way to allergy-proof the brownies.

Chicken Marsala, Stephy style

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 c. flour (cornstarch if gluten free)
1/2 c. vegetable oil
Salt
Pepper
Onion powder
Garlic powder

3 strips thick-cut bacon, diced
8 ounces sliced cremini (baby bella) or porcini muchrooms
1/2 c. sweet marsala
1/2 c. chicken broth
1-1 1/2 Tbsp. butter, ghee, or extra virgin olive oil (eyeball the oil–a good drizzle)

Take a mallet and pound out the chicken breasts to about 1/2 inch thick, maybe a little more–I measure it as about the thickness of my index finger. Put the flour or cornstarch out into a plate or pie dish and season well with salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder. Pour the oil into a large skillet over medium heat. Once it’s good and hot, saute the chicken breasts until they’re golden brown on both sides, turning as needed. You’ll probably have to do them one at a time, because once you’ve got them pounded out that thin, sauteing both at once is going to crowd the pan, and that makes the chicken soggy and the breading not stick. Remove them from the pan and set them aside on a plate.

Don’t wash the pan after you do this. Instead, add the diced bacon and cook it down until the fat renders out. Then add the mushrooms and reduce the heat a bit, roughly medium-low. The thing about mushrooms is that as they cook, they’re going to release their liquids, but they’re not done until that liquid absorbs back into them. Once that happens, deglaze the pan with the marsala, scraping up all the lovely chicken and mushroom stuff off the bottom, and then add the chicken broth. Simmer that for a couple of minutes to cook it down, then finish it off with the butter or olive oil. Return the chicken to the pan (it’s ok if it’s crowded at this stage), spoon sauce over the top, and heat it through. Serve it warm over rice or pasta.

Chesscake Brownies

This isn’t a typo. They’re called chesscake because the topping has a texture similar to chess pie. They’re kind of like the classic gooey butter cake, but without the extra butter in the top layer.

Bottom layer:

1 box yellow cake mix
1 stick butter, melted
1 egg

Mix together and press into the bottom of a 13×9 inch pan.

Top layer:

2 eggs
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
1 lb. powdered sugar
3 Tbsp. cocoa

Mix together until the mixture is smooth and pour over the bottom layer. Bake at 350F for 35-40 minutes. This isn’t going to pass a toothpick test, but it’s going to puff up as it bakes, and when that puff goes back down and it pulls away from the sides a bit, it’s done. I usually prefer to cut fairly small pieces of this at a time, because it’s so rich and heavy. Let it cool a little before serving, because otherwise it’s going to fall apart on you. It’s fantastic when paired with a simple vanilla ice cream.