Maple-Mustard-Ginger Glazed Chicken

Another night at home? With no events to attend? Cooking for myself? With fresh veggies and fruits and a bottle of wine? This must be what heaven is like.

I had expected to have some friends over tonight, but the rain saw fit to give us a literal raincheck. Only wanting to cook something for one, as well as use up some stuff I’d bought a few days earlier at random, I threw together a pantry meal that made me as happy as any meal in a restaurant.

I had one chicken breast left over from Friday night, so I butterflied it and made a glaze of one part maple syrup, one part ginger and two parts Gulden’s brown mustard, with a pinch of salt, then set about pan-searing it. (With all apologies to Plinio, for whom the phrase “pan-seared” is offensively redundant.) In another pan, I cooked down some fingerling potatoes and multi-colored French baby carrots. I left the carrots a little crunchy, which is how I prefer them and — if I’m being honest — why I sometimes prefer cooking for one. We can indulge in all of our strange dining peccadillos without imposing them on others.

If I weren’t feeling so tired tonight (and if I hadn’t been so hungry), I would have breaded the chicken and stuck it into the oven with that glaze. Perhaps next time. As it was, it was quite delicious. And dessert — the rest of the strawberries and raspberries from this weekend’s FAILberry pie — with a little almond milk and sugar — wasn’t too shabby, either.

I could get used to this.

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Sweet Potato Curry

I’ve been so busy lately that to get a rare night at home — on a weekend, no less — is pure bliss. I had intended to spend my Friday night cooking and baking — two things I haven’t been able to do at all recently — but the baking portion of the evening ended up as a big old pile of fail, and should never be discussed again. Luckily, my best friend invited herself over to “watch me cook,” which I found highly amusing but welcome, and the night turned into a cooking party for two.

It’s always nice to have another person in the kitchen, especially when they’re good at chopping vegetables. I’m so accustomed to cooking alone — which, like I imagine gardening or sewing are for other people, is extremely calming and meditative for me — that I’d forgotten how much fun it can be to create a meal with another person.

I made my mother’s lovely sweet potato curry, which is more of a winter dish but with liberal amounts of lime juice and cilantro can be easily perked up into a summer dish as well. Her recipe is below (p.s. Thanks for writing all your recipes down for me, mom and Meemo! Best. Gift. Ever.). It’s quick and easy to throw together and will feed at least four people, especially with a potful of Basmati rice to go along with it.

Sweet Potato Curry

  • 2 1/2 t. canola oil
  • 1 1/4 lbs. chicken or pork, cubed
  • 1 1/4 lbs. sweet potatoes, cubed
  • 1 T. oil
  • 1 medium shallot, minced
  • 1 1/4 T. fresh ginger
  • 2 T. curry powder (I prefer Maharajah curry from Penzey’s)
  • 1/8 t. cayenne pepper
  • 2 pinches salt
  • 1 1/2 cans coconut milk
  • 1 c. frozen green peas
  • 1/2 c. frozen edamame
  • zest from one lime
  • 1/4 c. chopped cilantro

Saute chicken or pork in canola oil until browned. Remove from the pan and set aside.

In a deep pan or pot, saute shallot in oil. Add ginger, curry powder and cayenne pepper. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 3 minutes. Add chicken, sweet potatoes, coconut milk and two pinches of salt. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until sweet potatoes are tender.

Remove from heat and stir in frozen peas, edamame and lime zest. Serve over Basmati rice and top with chopped cilantro. I also like to add the juice of the lime I zested for even more pep.

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This recipe makes fantastic leftovers if you’re only cooking for one (as I usually am). But with Hala around on Friday night, I only had enough leftovers for one meal. Here’s to good friends and good appetites.

Cheers!

Giving Thanks

There’s a lot to be said for the traditional trappings at Thanksgiving: the goopy sweet potato casserole with tiny, burnt marshmallows on top; the sodium-soaked green bean casserole topped with tinny-tasting fried onions; gelatinous slices of canned cranberry “sauce”; boxed-broth flavored stuffing with the consistency of packing peanuts.

Wait, no… There isn’t.

Happy Turkey Day
Image courtesy of Flickr user jeffbalke.

Sure, everyone looks forward to the traditions at Thanksgiving each year — gathering with your close family or friends, stuffing your face, coming down off your food high in front of the Cowboys game or the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, making turkey and cranberry sandwiches for breakfast the next morning, and eventually deciding that you don’t want to see another turkey until, well, next Thanksgiving — but no one said the food had to be traditional, i.e., boring and flavorless.

Why not start a new tradition for Thanksgiving? Why not prepare some easy yet amazing, simple yet delicious dishes that inspired by the season, not by the collective subconsious? Below are some of my favorite recipes; hopefully they’ll inspire you as much as they’ve inspired me.

Instead of bland, flavorless cornbread stuffing, give one of these phenomenal stuffings from Bon Appetit a try: Wild Mushroom & Spinach Stuffing or Bacon, Apple and Fennel Stuffing. The latter is particularly fitting for the season, with succulent little fennel bulbs and crisp apples. And the former can easily be adapted for vegetarian or vegan friends and family.

Instead of dumping out a can of cranberry sauce and listening to it slide sickeningly out of the tin with little belches before landing on the plate with a sound that can best be described as “giving up,” why not just make some cranberry sauce from scratch? It’s easier than it sounds, trust me. Try this: Cranberry, Pear and Ginger Chutney. Apple cider vinegar, ginger and onions give this sauce a tangy bite that gives way to the sweetness of the pear, cinnamon and orange zest. An extremely well-balanced recipe if I’ve ever seen one.

Instead of that godawful sweet potato casserole that only the folks sitting at the kids’ table enjoy, try this recipe from one of my favorite food bloggers: Molasses Glazed Acorn Squash. My love for acorn squash is exceeded by very few other foods, and for good reason. It’s gorgeous to present, naturally sweet (even better when roasted), and extremely good for you. No tiny marshmallows needed here.

Instead of serving your family and friends a week’s worth of salt in one fell swoop with that soupy green bean casserole, give this amazing Brussels sprouts recipe a shot: Pan-Fried Brussels Sprouts with Red Onion, Chili and Cumin Seeds. Unlike most Brussels sprouts recipes which call for heavy cream, bacon, butter or pork fat, this recipe calls only for olive oil and allows the sprouts to shine while allowing you to have a healthy yet hearty dish.

Of course, there are some Thanksgiving food traditions that aren’t to be meddled with: sweet potato pie, pumpkin pie and pecan pie, the triumverate of Thanksgiving desserts that should grace every sideboard or kitchen counter. But that’s just me.

What about you, sweet potatoes? What are your Thanksgiving traditions? Would Thanksgiving be meaningless and empty without a certain dish or two?

Happy Halloween!

Hope you’re all enjoying a happy Halloween so far!

We’re gearing up for a serious potluck lunch here at the office — tamales and empanadas are out in full force — so this afternoon should be filled with the sounds of overly-full moans and heavy sighs from people who’ve overindulged in the feast and are no longer as comfortable in their skintight flapper or pimp outfits as they were this morning.  Thankfully, yours truly came prepared in a roomy Dynamo jersey and jeans.  I plan ahead like that.

To celebrate the day, here’s a great article from one of my favorite websites, Serious Eats:

Halloween Recipes Roundup

The great thing about these recipes is that they’re perfect not only for Halloween, but for the rest of the year, too.  Hellooooo, spiced pumpkin bisque!  So enjoy those autumnal ingredients, crisp spices and yummy root vegetables while the cool weather lasts!

And as one last treat, can you guess the best and worst Halloween candy?  Don’t worry if you can’t; MSN is there to be a spoilsport and try to convince you that everyone loves Tootsie Rolls and sticks of gum for Halloween!  Don’t fall for it.  You’ll be hated almost as much that woman at the end of the cul-de-sac who gives out toothbrushes and can’t figure out why her house always gets egged.  Stick with Snickers tonight and you’ll be golden.

Happy Halloween!

Southern Fry-Up

A few weeks ago, I shared my incredibly complicated recipe for Fried Green Tomatoes with y’all (slice, dunk, fry), but I didn’t have any pictures of this highly-technical procedure to share, thanks to a broken camera.

Well, I decided to bust out said broken camera and see if it would take pictures even if it doesn’t act like it’s taking pictures or display said pictures on its little LCD screen.  And…it works!  I mean, the focus is out of whack and I have no idea what the pictures will look like until I upload them to my laptop, but…it works!

So without further ado, I present: Fried green tomatoes for breakfast. Try to ignore the poor quality of the photos themselves and focus on the TOMATOES!

Assembly Line
The assembly line, ready for tomatoes.

Dredging
Putting the tomatoes through the paces. And that is not my stomach, thank you very much, that is my boob. Also, that long, bedraggled hair no longer exists, as I cut off 10 inches of hair on Saturday for Locks of Love.

Tomatoes in Skillet
Going to town in the skillet. Look at ’em sizzle!

Tomatoes and Toast
Finished product. Richard prefers his fried eggs on toast; it’s an English thing.

Ready to Eat
And my delicious-looking plate, ready for devouring.

Hope you enjoyed this afternoon’s serving of fried green tomatoes. The summer’s not over yet, so go and grab some for yourself from your local farmers market while you still can!

Fried Green Tomatoes (and other such nonsense)

Richard spent the evening at the driving range yesterday, so I took the opportunity to cook a little dinner for one and had a few of my favorite things:

Cream peas (also called crowder peas or cowpeas) with salt pork,

…a hot, fresh pan of cornbread (I love Anson Mills, but this recipe is a complete joke; I’m putting a link to it here SOLELY as a CAUTIONARY TALE),

Cornbread

…and my beloved fried green tomatoes (oy vey, I know: the movie! enough already with the movie!).

Okay, that’s obviously not my photo.  But I recently broke my camera, so you’ll just have to bear with me until it’s fixed.  Besides, that’s a pretty good representation of how they came out.  Just…not with quite such an elegant presentation, jar of Tabasco and what-have-you.

Richard doesn’t care for the tart green tomatoes or their cornmeal and buttermilk batter, but that’s okay — more for me!  The recipe is simple enough and is oh-so-satisfying after a long day.

Fried Green Tomatoes
Serves: 2 (or 1, if you’re a piglet like me)

1 green tomato
1 c. cornmeal
1 c. buttermilk
salt, black pepper and red pepper flakes
vegetable oil

Slice your tomato into at least four thick slices.  If you can get more slices out of it, more power to you.  Just make sure they’re about 1/4 of an inch thick.

In a bowl, mix together your buttermilk with salt, black pepper and red pepper flakes to taste.  I use about three good pinches of kosher salt, a few grinds of black pepper and about 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes.  But I like my tomatoes spicy and peppery.  If you don’t, just omit the red pepper flakes.  If you like them really spicy, make sure to mash on those flakes (put them in your palm and rub them with your thumb) before you throw them in, to release even more flavor.

In a pie pan (it’s just easier this way, okay?), spread an even layer of cornmeal.  Begin battering your tomato slices with buttermilk first, then cornbread.  Make sure they’re well coated on both sides and on the rind.

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and add about a half-inch of vegetable oil when the pan has gotten hot.  Gently put your tomato slices into the hot oil and let cook for four to five minutes per side.  Remove from pan and drain on paper towels before serving.  Add a little pinch of salt and a lot of freshly-ground black pepper to the fried tomatoes and dig in!

Your tomatoes will be crunchy and crispy on the outside, warm and melty and succulent on the inside.  It’s the perfect pairing of textures, and the tartness of the tomato is absolutely wonderful on a hot day.  Especially when it’s served with a soft, buttery slice of cornbread!

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See?  This is what happens to me when summer rolls around each year and I can get all the quality foods of my youthful summer months spent in East Texas:  I turn into freaking Paula Deen.  Oh, well.  At least I’m enjoying the hell out of the summer produce while I experience my mid-year transformation into half-crazy, middle-aged, drawling, David-Yurman’d-within-an-inch-of-her-life, owns-stock-in-Aqua-Net, Southern lady.  The regular me should return sometime around September…

Fried green tomatoes picture courtesy of www.liketocook.com.

Breakfast Strata and Buttermilk Apple Cake

I suppose it’s a good sign when the food you make for your coworkers is eaten far too quickly for you to even take one picture.  In the words of our (far younger) temp: “Yo, K, they tore that shit up!

So you see how sticking my face in there even for one picture would have been dangerously similar to sticking your arm in a piranha tank.  I should have just taken a few before I left the house this morning…

Since the food was such a smash, I figured I could at least post the recipes here, if not the pictures.

The breakfast strata is a straightforward recipe that we’ve all seen a million times, but I tweaked this one based on the ingredients I had on hand and my coworkers’ predictable tastes.  It ended up a million times better than any other strata I’ve made before, and will now be my go-to breakfast casserole.  Hope you enjoy!

Sausage and Cheese Breakfast Strata
Serves: 8 to 10

1lb. ground sausage
8 slices white bread, cubed
2 c. potatoes, diced
1 small onion, diced
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 c. shredded cheese
8 eggs
3 c. whole milk (none of this skim milk crap!)
2 Tbsp Worcester sauce
2 tsp Potlatch seasoning (if you don’t have this, just use seasoned salt)
4 to 5 big pinches of koshering salt
several good grinds of black pepper

Don’t preheat your oven!  This strata — like all others — needs to be refrigerated overnight to set.  You’ll bake it tomorrow…

Cook your ground sausage in a pan over medium heat.  I prefer hot Jimmy Dean sausage, but my weenie coworkers don’t.  While it’s cooking, dice that onion.  After the sausage is cooked, remove it from the pan to drain on some paper towels but leave the drippings in the pan.  Saute the onion in the sausage drippings until translucent.  When done, combine the onion and sausage in a bowl and set aside.

Add the vegetable oil to the sausage/onion pan (see? all cooked in one pan!) and heat over medium.  Once the oil is hot, add the diced potatoes and cook until slightly browned, turning often.  When finished, remove the potatoes from the pan and drain on paper towels.

Cut the bread into cubes.  Take half of the cubed bread and toss into a greased 13x9x2 casserole dish.  Toss in half the cooked potatoes and half the shredded cheddar cheese on top of the bread.  Spread the sausage and onion mixture evenly across the top of the bread/potato/cheese mixture.  Then take the rest of the bread, potatoes and cheese and toss on top.  Basically, you’re making three layers here (I’m seriously terrible at writing recipes…).

In a separate bowl, beat the eight eggs together well.  Add the three cups of milk, Worcester sauce and Potlatch seasoning.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Pour egg and milk mixture evenly over the three layers in the casserole dish.  Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning, remove the casserole dish from the fridge and let stand for 30 minutes.  During this time, preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.  After 30 minutes has passed, put casserole dish into oven and bake for one hour (60 minutes) or until set and cooked in the center.  Enjoy!

Buttermilk Apple Cake
Serves: 6 to 8 

This recipe would normally be used to make muffins.  However, upon remembering last night that I loaned out my muffin tins, I made this into a coffee cake-style recipe at the last minute.  Although still delicious as muffins, I rather liked the cake instead.  It was a unique twist on what everyone initially thought was coffee cake until they got to the sweet little nuggets of apple inside…

1 large Granny Smith apple, diced
1 c. brown sugar, divided into 1/4 c. and 3/4 c.
3/4 c. walnuts
1 tsp. cinnamon, divided into 1/2 tsps. (please use real cinnamon here, not cassia!)
1/2 c. buttermilk
1/3 c. vegetable oil
1 egg, beaten
2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/3 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 325 and grease a square baking dish.  Combine 1/4 c. brown sugar, walnuts and 1/2 tsp. cinnamon in a small bowl and set aside.

Combine flour, baking soda, salt and remaining cinnamon (I added just a smidge more cinnamon here than 1/2 tsp.).  In a separate bowl, combine remaining brown sugar, buttermilk, vegetable oil, beaten egg and vanilla.  Add dry mixture to wet mixture a little bit at a time until just barely blended.  Add the diced apple and mix well.

Pour batter into baking dish and top evenly with brown sugar/walnut/cinnamon mixture.  Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.  If desired, sprinkle top with confectioner’s sugar after it has cooled off.  Enjoy!

Image courtesy of Flickr user StarbuckGuy, who does awesome nature photography.