Friday, April 27, 2012

Lettuce Wraps

Sometime in my early teen years, after my brother was out of the house at college but before my sister had left, my mom was given a rather large gift certificate to the famous P.F. Chang’s.  Being the great mother that she is, she decided not to hoard it all to herself, but rather to spend it on us.  And my 13 year old self could not have been more excited.  To me, it was a big deal.  I had never eaten there before, but heard so much about it.  In my mind, P.F. Chang’s was a special place, a fancy place.  Expensive Chinese food and cloth napkins and the such.  And the lettuce wraps?  Oh, the lettuce wraps!  They are supposed to be the stuff of dreams.  For a whole week, it was all I dreamed of.

Finally the weekend came and we sat down.  The waiter did some magic voodoo with the sauces, there were black cloth napkins and awesome sleek chopsticks ( my sister and I may or may not have lifted a few pairs, to stick in our super awesome early 2000’s hairdos) and lettuce wraps were ordered.  I don’t even think I ate my entire first one.  Me and those lettuce wraps did not vibe.  Maybe it was all the hype, all the build up.  I’ve had them since, but still my opinion remains the same; I am just not a fan.  There are few in my camp.  As if not liking P.F. Chang’s lettuce wraps is a sin equivalent to not liking Oreos, or freedom.

Ben, of course, is in the other camp.  The few times we have visited P.F. Chang’s, he always manages to talk me into ordering a plate.  I’ll eat the obligatory 1 serving and he usually takes care of the rest.  I still don’t know what it is, but what I think it comes down to is that I would rather save room in my stomach for the other deliciousness.  Cause it’s not like there’s a shortness of it at P.F. Chang’s.

Anyways, long story short, I was surprised as anyone when I was flipping through an old Bon Appetit on my bookshelf, and the recipe for lettuce wraps caught my eye.  Maybe it was a “of course I can do it better myself” or just my cute girlfriend-like ways of aiming to please (ha), but I decided to try them out.  I think won’t caught me was the chicken thighs.  I love chicken thighs.  I always have chicken thighs... and it’s not like lettuce wraps ever tasted badly.  I was sure that, with the option of nothing else to eat, lettuce wraps would do quite nicely.

And they did.  Presentation skills severely lacking as they are, these were good.  Yes, a few adaptations were made (mostly out of necessity) and my one big downfall was that my grocery store apparently doesn’t believe in butter lettuce.  Well, that and my decision that a heart of romaine would be a worthy substitute.  The reviews online said “just as good as P.F. Chang’s”, which is saying a lot because most people believe nirvana is introduced by P. F. Chang’s lettuce wraps.  My review?  Even better.

Lettuce Wraps
Adapted from BA's June 2011 Issue

Online reviews suggested a little more seasoning, up to double the amount, so I adjusted accordingly.  I also forgot the cashews on top, but I think they would have added a much needed crunch.  The romaine helped the crunchiness factor, but that will be lost if you use the proper butter lettuce (and you should!).

These smell delicious while they are cooking.  They come together quickly.  And really, they do taste fantastic, and that’s coming from an “eh, lettuce cups” camper!  Further proof?  They were slapped in the big green cookbook the following day.

One last thing... and then the recipe, I promise.  Boy, I am wordy today.  Recipe says serves 8 as an appetizer.  That might be stretching it (like 1 wrap/person).  Was a perfect light meal for 2 with no leftovers.  Adjust accordingly!

3-4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, minced
2 scallions, minced
3 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 1/2 tsp. cornstarch
2 Tbsp. walnut oil
4 medium oyster mushrooms, stemmed and minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
~1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1/4 c. roasted cashews, chopped

For Serving:
16 large butter lettuce leaves
Asian sweet chili sauce, for dipping

To mince chicken, chop into chunks and place in food processor.  Pulse until minced, be careful not to go too far - you don't want ground chicken meat.

In medium bowl, combine minced chicken, scallions, soy sauce and cornstarch, mix thoroughly.  Let marinade 10-15 minutes, tossing occasionally.  In a large, non-stick skillet, heat oil until very hot.  Add mushrooms and garlic, stir-frying for 30 seconds - 1 minute, until fragrant.  Add chicken mixture, including all extra marinade and continue to stir fry.  Toss often and cook until golden brown, about 4-5 minutes.

On platter, arrange lettuce leaves, a bowl with dipping sauce and cooked chicken mixture.  Sprinkle with chopped cashews.  Serve and enjoy!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Chocolate Stout Brownies

Or the dark, chocolaty truffle dense-ness that has been smothered in a quarter inch of ganache made solely with beer, butter and chocolate.   AKA – the only chocolate you need to consume this whole week, AKA – I lost the stout but came out with HOLY SHIT CHOCOLATE. 

Or, in other words, I should warn you.  These brownies here?  They are chocolaty.  CHOC-O-LAT-TY.  I hope you read that as individual syllables, loud and harsh, because then you’ll get my seriousness of this matter.  Now, don’t mistake this seriousness to imply that these brownies aren’t good.  Because they are delicious.  They are quite honestly dark, chocolaty, truffle dense deliciousness.  But Guinness brownies they are not.

And to me, that was a disappointment.  See, I made these brownies to bring to my really cool friend who lives in Milwaukee.  My really cool friend who lives in Milwaukee and works at MillerCoors (like, you know, the beer company) and will soon be moving out to California to continue working at MillerCoors.  Now, I know as a beer company employee, he’ll still have plenty of beer, but this is a boy who really loves his stout, his IPA’s, his lagers.  Which, consequently, Milwaukee really loves too.  A little bit more so than, let’s say, Southern California.  And I know he’s going to miss it, so I wanted to give him beer.  In a brownie.  That’s not such a weird thing to want, right??

So, fail on that front.  However, on the front of I drank a little more than I should have, these are fantastic the morning after. Chocolate cures hangovers, right?

Chocolate Stout Brownies
Adapted from Bon Appetit's Feb. 2012

These did not earn a hallowed spot in the BGCB. Absolutely delicious, yes. But anything with this much chocolate and butter usually is, right? Plus, as mentioned above, I lost the stout. And if I'm going to put a recipe called chocolate stout brownies in my big green cookbook, I want it to shout stout.

1 c. stout (I used Guinness)
16 oz. bittersweet chocolate, divided
1 c. unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 1/2 c. sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 c. AP flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt, divided

For the brownies: preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9x9 pan with foil, leaving an overhang. You are going to use the overhang to pull the brownies out later. In a medium sauce pan over medium heat, bring stout to a boil. Keep at a gentle boil until reduce by half. Here's a trick. Dip a toothpick in the stout initially and mark how far the liquid comes up to. Use that as your measuring stick to find out when you've reduced by half. You need to end up with a 1/2 cup reduced stout. This will be divided equally between the brownies and the ganache.

Set up a double boiler (I used a glass bowl set over a simmering pot of water. Don't let the water touch the bottom of the bowl!) In bowl, mix 1 cup butter (2 sticks) and 16 oz. of chocolate, coarsely chopped. Stirring occasionally, melt the chocolate butter until smooth. Try your best not to drink it.

In separate bowl, whisk together sugar, eggs and vanilla. Slowly, whisk in chocolate and butter mixture, followed by 1/4 cup of reduced stout and 1 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Next, slowly fold in all purpose flour. Do not over mix. Pour brownies into prepared pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes. Brownies are done when the top begins to crack and the edges pull away from the sides of the pan. A toothpick stuck in the middle will come out with a few moist crumbs clinging. Remove from oven and let cool on wire rack 20-30 minutes will preparing ganache.

Again in double boiler, melt remaining 4 oz. of chocolate coarsely chopped and 2 tablespoons of butter until smooth. Remove from heat. Add remaining 1/4 cup of reduced stout. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon of salt, whisk until blended. Pour ganache over cooled brownies, spreading and tilting pan as necessary to make sure it's even. Let sit until ganache firms, about 45 minutes. Use foil over hang to remove brownies from pan and slice. Enjoy your chocolate amazingness!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Split Pea Soup

Poor Benjamin had his wisdom teeth out today.  So he's been stuck with ice packs to his face all day, while I was stuck with handing out Vicodin and crushing ice cubes in an old Magic Bullet.  And dishing out lukewarm bowls of homemade split pea soup.  Because that's what you serve recent mouth surgery patients, right?  You know, in between making ice packs that aren't too warm, aren't too cold.  Ice packs that are just right...

Anyways, Ben got split pea soup because that's what I made.  Because I had a leftover ham bone from Easter brunch.  And because split pea soup is what you make with leftover hambones.  It's simple logic derived from many childhood years of ham giving way to hambones giving way to a giant pot of split pea soup.  I used the same recipe my mom always did, because as far as I am concerned there is no other way to make split pea soup.  It came from the big, orange Betty Crocker Cookbook that was my mother's go to cooking tome for as long as I can remember (which is apparently vintage now and worth $75, according to ebay.  Who knew?).  It's tried, it's trusted, it's scanned and already in my big green cookbook.
If you've never had split pea soup, don't fear it.  Embrace it.  Because, here is the secret, it is chockfull of ham.  Lots and lots of glorious ham.  Sure, there are some vegetables in there too, but the star here is not the split pea.  It's the ham, the glorious, yummy, ham.  And who doesn't like ham?  Ben just said it's wisdom tooth removal certified.  Quite the accolades, right?  Yeah, I think he's still flying high on Vicodin, but I'll take it...

Split Pea Soup
From Betty Crocker's Cookbook, via my mother

This recipe from start to finish would take a few hours.  If you aren't making this on a lazy Saturday afternoon, you can break up the steps.  There are three main chunks to the recipe and I took a day long break between number 2 and 3.  Also, leftovers freeze wonderfully.  And having leftover pea soup in the freezer is a very happy thing.

8 c. water
1 lb. dried split peas
2 lb. ham hock (or hambone and whatever leftover ham you have)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery stocks, chopped
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper

On clean kitchen towel, spread out split peas.  Pick through and discard small rocks, any strange looking peas, etc.  Combine water and peas in large Dutch oven.  Bring to a rolling boil for 2 minutes.  Immediately cover and remove from heat.  Let sit for 1 hour (don't peak!)

Next, add chopped onion and ham hock.  Bring soup again to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 1 hour, until peas are soft.  If you are breaking the recipe up, stop here and let soup cool down.  Cover and refrigerate. 

Bring soup back up to a boil.  Add carrots, celery, salt and pepper.  Cover and simmer for one hour, or until vegetables are cooked through and peas have broken down.  Soup will thicken more up cooling.     

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Spring Chicken Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette

Hello Spring!  Hello fresh veggies, you lovely green things!  And radishes, I have not forgotten about you, crisp and all full of bite, hello!

I'm sorry, was that a little too chirpy for you?  It's ok, I understand.  You see, spring teased me with sunshine and green grass, but yet it's still only a high of 50 today and I'm a little grouchy that I still have to wear my jacket when leaving work.  But then, you see, I see that picture above and really it just happens again:

Hello Spring!  I am so glad you are back.  Please don't ever leave me again.

This salad (loosely adapted from CL's April issue) is wonderful for spring.  With the purchase of a rotisserie chicken, no ovens get turned on, no stoves are ignited (well, unless you blanch, but then there's also a tub of ice water, so it all evens out, right?).  And those veggies, those wonderfully spring veggies?  Just put whatever you want in there, whatever you have.  If it's pretty and makes you happily burst out in "Hello Springs!", it goes in there.  Chop, dump, whisk, pour, toss, bam.  Dinner.

Spring Chicken Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette
Adapted from April 2012's Cooking Light

If you know a place to get good rotisserie chicken, make sure you take advantage of it!  Dinner's so easy when all you have to do is shred!  I used half a chicken, shredded the rest and put it in the freezer, ready for another quick meal on some other way too busy day.  And seriously, put whatever vegetables you have laying around or that catch your eye.  I had been craving radishes, that's how they ended up in here!

1/2 Rotisserie Chicken, shredded
1 c. cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1-2 c. green beans, trimmed, blanched
4-5 medium radishes, thinly sliced
2-3 spring onions, thinly sliced
1 handful fresh chives, chopped

Mustard Vinaigrette:
Juice of 1 lemon
1 1/2 Tbsp. whole grain Dijon mustard
3 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

Crusty bread, to serve

Assemble salad ingredients in large bowl.  Whisk together vinaigrette.  Pour over salad, toss.  Season with more salt and pepper as needed.  Eat with crusty bread.

Did I mention this was ridiculously easy???

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Bean and Red Lentil Stew

Illinois has been doing that awesome Midwest thing where it teases you with one warm, sunny, blue sky gorgeous 70 degree day and then spends the next 4 laughing at you as you try to insist that it's perfectly ok to still wear shorts and flip flops and no I am not freezing my patootie off. True, it's not 10 degrees and snowing out, but it's still just shy of the beautiful days of tank tops, sunglasses and beer punch.  It's the weird in between time, when the jacket worn the morning isn't needed by lunchtime and stew is a perfectly sensible dinner, warm, filling, and eaten with the patio doors open and a cool breeze coming in.

This stew was a winner on many fronts.  It was light enough for spring, even if it is called stew.  I finally had a reason to buy garam masala, a "hot" Indian spice blend I can now official be a fan of.  It used some of those pesky black sesame seeds that seem to taunt me every time I open my spice cabinet (I really should hide them way in the back).  And it's super healthy, almost unnecessarily so (even if swimsuit season is oh! so! close!), hence the welcome addition of cheese on top.  And it's easy (aka quite "can-heavy"), it's a crock pot dump, mix, turn on and come home to an apartment full of yummy smells.

Of course, I have my changes.  The crumbled queso fresco on top is a winner and should definitely be kept (besides, you'll have extra laying around for this!).  I loved the olives and instead of having half a can of black olives in my fridge that I'm not quite sure what to do with, I will throw in the whole can next time.  And in this context, I would say any canned beans you have taken up room in your pantry would work.  The recipe called for two cans of chickpeas, and I only had one, hence the introduction of kidney beans.  Also, three cans of beans could stretch this even further, but then again, I am a bean lover.  Also, more lentils.  It is a lentil stew after all, isn't it?  So yes, double lentils.  Oh. And absolutely serve it with some crusty bread.  The recipe below is what I will make next time.  As always, if you are interested in the original recipe, check out the link right under the title.

So, BGCB worthy?  Ben says yes and I can't really see why not.  It seems like quite the go-to, easy vegetarian and, oh yeah, in the crock pot!, kind of meal.  If only I had discovered it at the start of lent... my bad.  Guten Appetit!

Bean and Red Lentil Stew
adapted from Whole Foods, of all places

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 serrano chile, stemmed, seeded and chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
4 tsp. garam masala
2 Tbsp. sesame seeds (black ok)
2-3 cans, 15 oz., chickpeas, or other canned bean, drained and rinsed
1 c. dried red lentils
1 can, 28 oz., tomato puree
2 c. vegetable broth
1 can, 15 oz., black olives, drained
Queso Fresco or other crumbly cheese, to top

In medium pan over medium high heat, heat onion.  Sauté until soft 3-4 minutes.  Add chile, garlic, garam masala and sesame seeds, continuing to sauté until chiles are softened and whole mixture is fragrant.  Transfer mixture to slow cooker.

Add chickpeas/beans, lentils, tomato puree, broth and olives to slow cooker.  Stir until everything is well mixed.  Place lid on top and turn to low for 10 hours.  To serve, ladle into individual bowls and top with crumbled cheese.  Serve with crusty bread.

If you are interested, Whole Foods has some nutrtion information at the bottom of their recipe.  You know, if you're into that whole don't put too much cheese into your mouth kind of thing...

Tuesday, April 3, 2012



Now, I know that you have waited, breathe baited, for the last 3 days wondering just what in the world was special enough for my special bloggerversary dinner.  Did I finally make the lovely lobster dinner that I promised Ben for his birthday 3 months ago?  Did I conquer crepes?  Rule over a roast chicken?  Cross another line off my kitchen bucket list?  Or rather, did I slather some red sauce over store bought tortilla chips and tell Ben "It's basically Mexican lasagna"?

I know, I know, it's not.  But the boy was bugging me and making weird faces and just annoying me to wits end and I had to give him something to shut him up.  The quarter of myself that is Mexican cringes when I admit that, but the other 75% doesn't care.  Because it got this to the table faster.

This dish made a wonderful bloggerversary dinner.  One, because it was delicious and two, because it made me happy.  Back when I lived in McAllen, TX and there wasn't too many reasons at all that I was happy to live there, the cafeteria at work would occasionally make this for breakfast.  And while I have relatively few good memories about McAllen, I remember the chilaquiles.  And how they could turn a crappy morning into something exciting, even if just for 15 minutes.  They just made everybody happy.  

But the ultimate icing on the um, chilaquiles, came the night before, when I was making the sauce (which I would suggest, because it makes dinner the next night ridiculously easy).  I poured boiling water over the dried chiles and then just a few moments later, suddenly, it smelled like my grandpa's house.  I just sat in my kitchen inhaling and smiling to myself.  It brought back such a vivid memory of being in my grandpa's kitchen, the whole big family coming over to help make tamales, a yearly Christmas time ritual, and my grandpa elbow deep in a huge vat of chili con carne.  It smelt just like that.  If chilaquiles sound weird, or if you think it'll just be strange soggy tortilla chips, that's fine.  Just know that this sauce, if nothing else, this sauce is killer.

One day in the future, when I have my act together and don't rely on tubs of Greek yogurt for my dinners each week, I want to have cups and cups of this sauce tucked away nicely in the freezer.  Then I could always be minutes away from a breakfast of chilaquiles.  Or enchiladas for dinner, or chili con carne...


I served this with a fried egg over top, the runny yolk just adding amazingness to amazingness.  I am used to chilaquiles with shredded chicken mixed into the sauce, which will be my next approached when I make this next.  Also, Ben found it a little too spicy, I thought it was perfect.  So adjust your chile input accordingly (I used 7).  BA has you make your own tortilla chips.  I was lazy and used store bought.  I don't really regret that decision, just get the nice thick cut ones, because they have to put up with a lot!  

Lastly, and most importantly, when working with hot peppers (and these guys are!) it's never a bad idea to wear plastic gloves.  And NEVER, EVER touch your face or eyes until you have very thoroughly washed your hands.  I tell you, you make that mistake once as a 7 year old and you never forget it the rest of your life.

Red Chile Sauce:
5-7 dried guajillo or New Mexico chiles
1 can (28 oz) whole tomatoes, drained
1 medium white onion, chopped
5 garlic cloves, chopped
1 jalapeno, chopped (with seeds)
1/8 tsp. Hungarian sweet paprika
2 Tablespoons canola oil
2 tsp. honey
Kosher salt, pepper, to taste

Tortilla chipes (~ 6-8 c.)
4 ounces quesco fresco, crumbled (~1 c.)
4 ounces Monterrey Jack cheese, shredded (~1 c.)
4 large eggs (optional)
Shredded chicken (optional)
Cilantro, for topping (optional)

To make the red chile sauce, place dried chiles in large glass bowl.  Cover with 2 cups of boiling water, making sure chiles are submerged.  Let sit at least 15 minutes, until they are softened.  Inhale deeply and enjoy the smell!  Once softened, remove chiles and reserve soaking liquid.  Discard stems and seeds (seeds = heat!) and roughly chop.

While chiles are soaking, combine tomatoes, onion, garlic, jalapeno and paprika in food processor.  Add chiles and 1 cup of reserved soaking liquid, process until sauce it smooth.

In large saucepan over medium-high heat, heat oil.  Add sauce (careful: splatter alert!) and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and let sauce simmer, lid only partly on, stirring occasionally.  Simmer until sauce is reduced and thickened.  Stir in honey and season with salt and pepper.  Taste and adjust seasoning accordingly (a tortilla chip works great for this, just don't eat too much of the sauce!)  Remove from heat.  If preparing the sauce before hand, cover and refrigerate up to three days.  Warm sauce again before assembling chilaquiles.

To make chilaquiles, preheat broiler.  In large bowl, toss tortilla chips with 1 - 1 1/2 cups sauce.  Coat chips, but you don't want everything covered, leave some chip showing.  If using shredded chicken, toss with chips and sauce to coat.  In large broil safe dish, lay out half of chips.  Sprinkle half of each cheese over chips.  Layer remaining chips on top, drizzle 1/2 c. more sauce over top, followed by remaining cheese.  Broil until cheese is melted and golden, 5-6 minutes.  Top with cilantro, fried eggs, etc.