Sunday, November 29, 2009

Spicy Chicken Lettuce Wraps

After not one, not two, but THREE tasty turkeys were served for Thanksgiving this year, I've officially met my annual turkey consumption allowance. The big winner of the three was a deep fried beauty injected with Italian dressing, although there was not a bad one in the bunch... it is turkey after all. I've always been partial to dark meat, based on prior experience with dry, stringy white meat. After sampling the deep fried injected bird, I might just be a white meat convert.

Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, its time to throw it back to our old friend chicken. These are tweaked from this recipe, simplified and kicked up a bit.

Spicy Chicken Lettuce Wraps
(serves 5-6)

2 Tbsp canola oil
2 lbs chicken thighs, skin removed
2/3 cup mushrooms
3/4 cup chopped onions
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 cup shredded carrots
1 cup shredded daikon
1 head of Bibb lettuce
1/3 cup chopped unsalted peanuts
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 Tbsp ketchup
1 tsp fresh lime juice
1/4 tsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp hot mustard
1 tsp Sriracha
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp corn starch

Stir Fry Sauce:
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp rice wine vinegar

To make sauce, dissolve sugar in water in a small bowl. Add all remaining sauce ingredients to a small saucepan except for corn starch. Stir well over medium heat until all ingredients are mixed. Add cornstarch slurry (cornstarch plus 1 tsp water mixed) to saucepan and stir until thickened. Remove from heat and refrigerate when sauce is cooled.

In a large wok or frying pan, bring oil to medium heat. Saute chicken for 4-5 minutes per side or until cooked through. Remove chicken from pan and chop into small penny sized chunks when cooled.

Combine soy sauce, brown sugar and rice wine vinegar (stir fry sauce) in a small bowl. Add to frying pan used previously for the chicken. Add chopped onions, mushrooms and garlic. Saute for a few minutes and add the chopped chicken. Mix thoroughly for 1-2 minutes and remove from heat.

Wash Bibb lettuce thoroughly and carefully remove leaves. Spoon chicken mixture into each lettuce leaf, topping with sauce, carrots and daikon. Garnish with chopped peanuts and cilantro and serve.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Stuff(ing) Dreams Are Made Of

I've been thinking of how to make this happen since Halloween. It was then I tasted something so good, so flavorful and so gosh darn simple that I had to have it again.

Was it some fantastic chocolate covered wonderment snatched from our nephew's candy bag?


A perfect candy apple layered with caramel and walnuts and other goodness?

Uh-uh... guess again.

It was, wait for it...

A mushroom.

I know, you're thinking what exactly were you doing eating mushrooms on Halloween? Were you shirking your American duty of filling your belly with Hershey bars and Smarties and the obligatory Bit' o Honey, even though you already know you don't like them? Heck no, I wouldn't be that guy.

This year we partook in some fun pre-Halloweening festivities, including the traditional pumpkin carving and dinner with family and San Diego. Mr. SoCal's aunt whipped up some of her notoriously delicious sherry mushrooms, and that was it for me. These things are to die for, there is no other way to aptly describe it. They cook down in sherry cooking wine for hours and hours on end until they are mere shells of their former selves, and then they are so packed with flavor its unbelievable. So that folks, is why I've had a hankering for mushrooms since Halloween. Just in time for Thanksgiving, a few of my favorite things come together for this enticing fusion of flavors.

Savory Sourdough Mushroom Stuffing

1 12 oz loaf of sourdough bread
24 oz white button mushrooms (1 1/2 package)
18 oz Sherry cooking wine (bottle size may vary)
8 oz chestnuts, roasted and shelled**
1 large sweet onion (vidalia preferably)
6 cloves garlic, minced
4 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp salted butter
1 cup chicken stock
1 1/2 tsp fresh sage
1 tsp fresh thyme
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh cracked black pepper

**Chestnuts may be tough to find, and are a little time consuming to prep, roast and shell. They are sold ready to go at Williams-Sonoma and much less expensively at Really, I couldn't make that up.

Wash mushrooms well and remove all stems. Set stems aside. Place mushroom caps and sherry cooking wine in a medium lidded saucepan. Add 2 Tbsp butter and leave to simmer on low heat for 3 hours.

If you are roasting chestnuts, preheat oven to 425 degrees. With a small paring knife, carefully carve an X in one side of the chestnut. Mind your digits, and keep a tight grip on the end of paring knife blade. Make sure to cut through to the inner shell and chestnut meat, which will be much easier than the initial X.

Place chestnuts on a baking sheet and roast for 25-30 minutes. Remove shell from chestnuts as soon as they are cool enough to handle. Chop chestnuts into quarters, and set aside. Check out a helpful video tutorial here.

Turn oven down to 275 degrees. Slice sourdough into 1 inch square cubes and place on a baking sheet. Place in oven for 3-4 minutes, until the bread feel slightly dry. If you were wise enough to tear and leave your bread out the day before, skip to the next step.

In a medium saute pan, add to 2 Tbsp olive oil and 1/2 of vidalia onion, cut into lengthwise slices. Let onions sweat and soften over medium low heat for 6-8 minutes. Add 2 more Tbsp olive oil, along with garlic, mushroom stems and chestnuts. Add salt, pepper, sage and thyme and mix well. Let cook for 10-12 minutes, until onions are slightly browned and garlic is fragrant.

Place bread cubes in a casserole dish in a single layer. Add chestnut mixture from saute pan, then add mushrooms. By now they should be 1/2 to 1/3 their original size and a lovely dark brown color. Mix all thoroughly. If stuffing appears dry, slowly add chicken stock 1/4 cup at a time. Mix well and then test if you need additional liquid.

Place in 350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes and enjoy.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Eggplant Caprese Stacks

The time is upon us that we will soon face a monumental challenge. In an annual expression of celebration, festivity and just a touch of gluttony, the holiday eating season is fast approaching. The stretch between Thanksgiving and New Years Day brings an unwelcome gift- an increase in caloric intake, accepted and expected overeating, and possibly an extra few pounds. In an effort to defray the caloric costs of the impending foodpalooza, I'm focusing on healthy recipes that may provide tasty alternatives to the traditional calorie laden holiday favorites. In the spirit of full disclosure, there might be just a tad of selfish motivation behind this. A baking bonanza of holiday belly bombs and non traditional goodies will be on like donkey kong here after turkey day, so for now its all about balancing the good with the oh so very bad.

The impressive amount of good for you stuff in this little stack of happy is worth noting. Olive oil provides a healthy dose of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) and inflammation reducing polyphenols. Tomatoes are rich in antioxidants, and eggplant is an excellent source of dietary fiber, potassium, vitamin B1 and B6. Basil provides vitamin A and magnesium, helping the heart and blood vessels to relax. Pine nuts contain protein, iron, and the only natural source of pinolenic acid, which stimulates hormones and decreases your appetite. And come on now, who really needs a health reason to eat mozzarella? If you insist on one, protein and calcium fit the bill. I've now convinced myself that today, I'm dishing up nothing short of health food. Fight off the impending holiday grub overdose with this healthful treat, a gift from my kitchen to yours.

Eggplant Caprese Stacks
1 large eggplant
1 cup breadcrumbs, seasoned (see below)
1 egg
1 8 oz round of mozzarella
2 large tomatoes
1/3 cup pine nuts
1 cup fresh basil
1/4 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, finely minced
Olive oil

Heat a large skillet over medium heat, adding 1-2 Tbsp olive oil. Peel eggplant and cut into roughly 1/3 inch slices. Whisk one egg in a shallow dish, and place breadcrumbs in another shallow dish. Season breadcrumbs if desired, with salt, pepper, garlic powder and oregano (I recommend this). Dip one slice of eggplant in egg and cover both sides. Let excess egg drip off, and dredge eggplant slice in breadcrumbs. Place in heated skillet and cook until golden brown on both sides. Repeat for the remaining eggplant slices, adding a Tbsp of olive oil to the skillet between each batch.

For the pesto, combine washed basil, pine nuts, Parmesan, garlic and 3 Tbsp olive oil in a food processor. Blend until a smooth paste is formed, adding additional olive oil as needed.

To form stacks, layer eggplant, tomato and mozzarella in desired arrangement. Add a layer of pesto between two layers, or top stacks with the pesto.

These stacks are filling and full of contrasting tastes and textures. The warm, crisp eggplant plays against the cool creaminess of the mozzarella. As you can see my pesto is a little, shall we say rustic. Making a smaller amount of pesto made my food processor none too excited to chop, so I went with a mortar and pestle and it still tasted great. The pesto oil seeps into the browned eggplant and makes for savory forkfuls of goodness. Happy eating to you and go enjoy some healthy food before the holiday glut closes in.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Rosemary Roast Chicken and Potatoes

Simplicity. It seems to be the new buzz word when it comes to food lately. Food Network has a show devoted to the concept, Claire Robinson's 5 Ingredient Fix. Haagen Dazs hopped on the simple train earlier this year, debuting a new line of ice creams containing a mere five flavors, aptly named Five. Just for giggles, I checked out's best sellers in cooking, wine and food section. No less than 9 of the top 100 contain the word "simple" in their titles. If Giada, Ina, and Alice Waters are on board the simple food movement, who am I to protest?

I remember my mom making this when we lived way, way, way up north in upstate New York. It's rich aroma greeted you at the door like a warm hug when you came in from the cold. The ease that you can bring this meal together should really be kept secret, and you can reveal it at your own discretion. The mystery ingredient that brings this dish together is the rich sweetness of molasses. A filling, deeply flavored and soul satisfying dish is the end result.

Rosemary Roast Chicken and Potatoes

2 lbs fresh chicken thighs (roughly 6)
2 lbs sweet potatoes
1 lb red skinned potatoes
1/2 cup molasses
6 Tbsp olive oil
3 large springs fresh rosemary

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place a large pot of water on a burner to boil. While water is heating, rinse and clean potatoes. Cut potatoes into golf ball sized chunks, leaving skins on and removing ends of sweet potatoes. Place potatoes into water and boil until fork tender (12-15 minutes).

While potatoes boil, place chicken thighs skin side up in a large rectangular baking dish. Drizzle 2 Tbsp olive oil on chicken, and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Finely chop rosemary and top chicken with 1 tsp of rosemary. Drizzle 1 Tbsp molasses over chicken.

When potatoes are cooked, drain in colander and return to pot. Add remaining olive oil, rosemary, molasses, salt and pepper and toss gently. When potatoes are thoroughly coated, place between the chicken thighs in baking dish. Cook for 50-55 minutes, until chicken is golden brown.

The cold nights are few and far between here in SoCal, but when the occasion presents itself, this is a simple, satisfying meal to have on hand.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Teriyaki Salmon Sliders

Every now and again, we have to stand up and face a harsh food reality. Not every recipe will be as glorious as its colorful reviews claim, as mouth watering as its loyal followers emphatically state, or look as appealing as in their beautifully staged and thoughtfully designed photos intend. I concocted just such a food bomb the other day, with nothing but good intentions and eager anticipation. Perhaps the smoky sweet potato cornbread that sounded like such a perfect blend will be reborn around here someday, but I'm happy to say some good came out of the whole mess. In the green spirit of recycling, the dense, dry, rip your fillings out monstrosity was repurposed and played a key role in these teriyaki salmon sliders. Redemption is mine!

Teriyaki Salmon Sliders
Teriyaki Salmon Burgers
(makes 16)
2 lb salmon (fillets or canned)
1 1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs*
1/2 cup chopped scallions
6 Tbsp teriyaki sauce
1 1/2 tsp brown sugar
2 tsp Sriracha sauce
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2tsp ground black pepper
1/3 tsp kosher salt

Pulse salmon in food processor until desired size of salmon chunks are obtained. Remove salmon from food processor and place in mixing bowl. Add remaining ingredients and mix with a spoon until fully incorporated. Divide mixture in four equal portions. Score each portion into four equal sized amounts. Roll out 16 small slider patties, approximately 2-3 ounces each. Pan fry in dry skillet over medium heat until golden brown on each side. Top with lettuce, tomato and red onion if desired.

* I used breadcrumbs from the cornbread, but plain fresh bread crumbs are fine.

Slider Buns
(makes 16)

1 1/4 whole milk
6 Tbsp vegetable shortening (non hydrogenated is preferred)*
3 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 packet active dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp)
1 tsp kosher salt

Bring milk to a simmer over medium heat. As soon as milk simmers, remove from heat and stir in shortening until combined. Let cool as you prepare the dry ingredients.

Combine all dry ingredients into mixing bowl. When liquid has cooled (between 105F - 115F) slowly add to dry ingredients, mixing with a dough hook.
Mix on low until dough comes away from the sides of the bowl and forms a ball, about 1 minute. Increase speed to medium low and mix until dough is smooth and springy, about 4 minutes.

Lightly oil a large mixing bowl, add dough, and turn to coat in oil. Cover with a damp towel and let rise in a warm area until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Punch down dough and turn onto a clean surface. Divide dough into 16 pieces. Shape each piece into a smooth, round bun (keep the rest covered with the towel as you work). Slightly flatten bun and place on an ungreased baking sheet. Repeat to make 16 buns.

Place buns in a warm area until slightly risen and puffy (note that they will not double in size), about 30 to 40 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 400°F and arrange the rack in the middle.

When buns have risen, bake in the oven until they are golden brown, crusty, and have an internal temperature of 190°F, about 15 to 17 minutes. Remove from the oven, transfer to a rack, and let cool at least 10 minutes before serving

* I used hydrogenated vegetable shortening (Crisco) based purely on cost. The non hydrogenated shortening was close to 8 bucks and we all know Crisco is a bit more affordable.

So the results.. were fantastic. The burgers were moist, decidedly not dry compared to prior attempts at salmon burgers. These could absolutely be cooked on the grill as well. A slice of red onion with the burger was a perfect sweet tang that balanced the subtle heat of the sriracha. The buns, however, were not my finest work. My bread baking is primarily limited to banana bread, a couple of loaves of honey wheat and one stellar attempt at Irish soda bread, so the delicate sublteties of bread making are not my forte. At least for now. They were a little bit doughy and heavy, but the sweet light flavor did not disappoint. Definitely heed the part in the recipe to keep the dough under a towel as you work to make the buns. I conveniently skipped that, and a slight tough skin formed around the exposed dough, affecting their willingness to take their destined bun shapes. I topped these with a sriracha mayonnaise and was very pleased with the taste combination. Give these a spin at your next Sunday football party, they're sure to be a hit.