Crispy Chicken Tenders From the Great Beyond

chicken nugget bites

I’ve made fried chicken before a few times, always with a breadcrumb and flour coating, and always gotten rave reviews. Now I love the idea of fried chicken. But what I don’t love is long frying (and then baking) times, wasting huge amounts of oil, unevenly cooked chicken pieces, and bits of fat, bone, and gristle getting in the way of my fried chicken experience. I mean come on people, this is serious stuff we are talking about here. So I wondered what would happen if I made my own full white-meat fried chicken tenders. Crispy spicy batter, juicy white meat chicken tenders… you know, they are called chicken “tenders” for a reason. They wouldn’t call them tenders if they were some chewy nasty tough-ass bits of shoe leather tasting “chicken product” like the stuff you get in the freezer section, am I right? Yeah, you know I am.

So there I was, searching the web for the ultimate fried chicken recipe with which to make my dreamed up nuggets, and I’ll be honest with you now… lean in… there are hundreds, if not thousands, all claiming to be the best. But you see, I had a second critical criteria. There couldn’t be milk in the batter. Turns out that almost every fried chicken recipe under the sun calls for milk or buttermilk, AND milk is the one thing in a batter that will make it burn before the chicken is crispily (yes I made that word up) cooked through to perfection. Fascinating right?

Unfortunately, or so I thought, Googling “fried chicken no milk” brings up far fewer recipes to choose from, so at first I was worried. then my eye fell on this link, from Mark of the excellent blog “2010, my year with Chris Kimball” featuring  “Batter-Fried Chicken“. (Yes, I am now a fan. He includes the relative cost of each meal. Brilliant!) I clicked on it, read through the page, and my heart leaped… I could see that this might really be something special. For those of you who didn’t know, Chris Kimball is one of the chefs behind “Cooks Illustrated Magazine”, and “Americas Test Kitchen”. The fact that Mark was inspired to write his blog after watching the movie “Julie and Julia” just made it that much better. If you haven’t seen it, go watch it. Now.

julie-julia-movieStanley Tucci Went to My College!

After making these yummy guys, (and they were AWESOME, juicy, and delicious) I emailed with Mark about how to make them less salty. He tried them that night, and pointed out that the brining time should be cut (at least) in half for nuggets vs. whole pieces of chicken on the bone, and that they would be better cut to about 2x bigger than the size I made them. This makes sense for a few reasons, and while I love bite sized food that you can just pop into your mouth,  these really would be better if you make them a bit bigger. The batter is intense, but wonderful. He got about 30 pieces to my 50 if I understood him correctly) Also, if you have leftovers, which you wont unless you are cooking for 2 and don’t halve the recipe, they can be reheated without drying out. yes, I always make too much. No, I don’t sweat it because I live with a very hungry man.

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So I am going to give you the recipe Mark provided from Cooks Illustrated Magazine, along with my variations, and his suggestions for the best “fried chicken nuggets” ever. These are a great appetizer/snack for Superbowl Sunday, and will make any day that much better!

Ingredients: (For 3-4 hungry people for dinner, or as snacks for 5-7)

Brine:
1 quart cold water
1/4 cup salt
1/4 cup sugar
4 chicken breast pieces (the tops of 2 whole chickens, or 4 chicken cutlets)

Batter:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cornstarch (cornflour, NOT cornmeal)
5 teaspoons pepper (Yes, that’s right, FIVE)
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (used pepper flakes as I had no cayenne)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1-3/4 cups cold water
1 liter vegetable oil ( I cut it from the original recipe by 2/3 and it made about 4-5 batches no problem)

Method:

1) I started with the full white meat breasts of 2 chickens. (4 pieces total). After cleaning and cutting up the pieces, (I had around 50 nugget sized pieces of chicken. Go for 30 pieces (15 pieces from 2 chicken cutlets) like Mark did unless you want them bite sized and plan to eat them all in one sitting. I brined them for an hour (too long for nuggets!), as the recipe called for.

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2) Mix up brine, then brine for 30 minutes in refrigerator. Set a timer, and drain right away. Pat dry.

3) Mix up batter by combining flour, cornstarch, pepper, paprika, cayenne, baking powder, salt, and water. Whisk until all lumps have gone. Add chicken pieces to batter and mix them around, coating each piece completely.

Fry Batter

4) Heat oil until the end of a toothpick bubbles happily.

5) When oil is hot, using a fork, add pieces one at a time, first allowing excess batter to drip off each piece. Do not overcrowd! I fit about 10 per batch for the smaller ones, I’d say 6-7 per batch of the bigger ones.

6) Set a timer for 6 minutes for each batch of smaller ones, 8 minutes each batch for the bigger ones. After about 3 minutes in the oil, break them up, make sure they aren’t sticking to the bottom or each other.

7) When they are a  deep golden brown, take them out and lay them on paper towels to crisp up and dry off.

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8) Keep warm in preheated oven while you make the next few batches.

Nuggets

9) I served with mayo and ketchup because they has so much flavor on their own they really didn’t need much, but you can serve with whatever dipping sauces you like best, be it BBQ, honey mustard, spicy mayo, the possibilities are endless.

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Insane Veggie Lasagna, For Two. Who Knew?

best lasagnaOK, it’s really for 3-6 servings, but that was too cute a title to pass up. I swear I didn’t plan for this to be in the blog, in fact I didn’t plan for it at all, but then it got me a 10, so I had to. 10 what you may ask? Well, read on, and you will understand. Apologies in advance for no “in process” photos. Last night I didn’t want to do anything remotely food related, but I had been snacking all day on unsatisfying empty calories and I was just fed up. I decided I’d make a pasta or something else equally boring, when at the last minute my sister sent me to a site I’d never heard of before, bakedbree.com to look at Bree’s margarita pie. The back story is that I’ve been bugging her to make me a key lime pie for ages, (“but Martin; She makes Pie!!!”) and I am absolutely gaga for margaritas on the rocks. So after drooling over the pie and discussing what we would change and why, I started looking around a bit. When I saw her recipe for veggie lasagna and that it included peppers, which happened to be the only thing alive in my fridge at the time, I thought it must be fate. Now, my recipe is completely my own, but I just wanted to thank Bree for the inspiration! Sometimes all we need is a kick in the pants, in the right direction 🙂

Before yesterday I was not a fan of no-bake lasagna leaves by any stretch of the imagination, but up here I usually can’t find the nice long ones (with the frilly edges in the blue box that you parboil before layering them into your pasta masterpiece), and that’s what I had in the house, so that was two for two. The clincher was the small container of ricotta cheese in the fridge, which I have been buying religiously when I can find it now that every other recipe I am lusting over happens to feature it in one way or another. (Cannoli, here we come!)

Lasagna is already a production when you can get all this stuff easily at your local grocer, so the fact that the stars aligned just sort of pushed me to the point where I sighed, rolled up my sleeves, and got to work. I had this great new blue casserole dish from Ikea that we bought so that we could make smaller portions, this one could actually feed 4, but in my house, well, you know. Everything is relative.

I don’t buy pre-made sauce, mostly because I can’t get a good one here, so I had to make my own, which turned out spectacular, and I would really suggest doing this if you have time.

I’m just going to tell you how to make this stream of consciousness-like, and I hope it all makes sense. Also, I didn’t have Mozzarella, so I had to use a local melty cheese called gush chalav, but if you can get Mozzarella, use it.

Ingredients: (for 3-6 servings)

No boil lasagna leaves (or the other kind, follow directions for cooking)

Olive oil

1 head fresh garlic

1/2 large onion

1 yellow pepper

Tomato paste

Crushed tomatoes

Splash (1 tablespoon) balsamic vinegar

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

2/3 cup cream

Parsley, fresh or dried

Oregano, fresh or dried

1 cup spinach, fresh or frozen

Ground nutmeg

12 oz ricotta cheese (24 oz if making 2 layers)

2 cups Shredded Mozzarella cheese (fresh or packaged, if you use fresh, add some more salt to compensate), enough for 3 thin layers.

1 cup Shredded Parmesan

salt

pepper

filtered water

DirectionsForMakingLasagna

Method:

Preheat oven to 350F, and make tomato sauce.

For Sauce: Saute 2 tablespoons chopped garlic in 3 tablespoons olive oil. when it’s going clear but long before it goes brown, add 1/2 a chopped white onion and a chopped yellow pepper. Saute for about 10 minutes. Add a few tablespoons water if it looks like it could be drying out or cooking too fast. Once the pepper is getting soft and the onions are going clear, add 200g tomato paste. Use an online converter if you don’t know grams, its about an 8oz can of hunts tomato paste. continue cooking and stirring, while the tomato paste caramelizes. look for bubbles that are dark red, getting darker as the sugars caramelize. After about 5 minutes of this, add a can of crushed tomatoes, you know, the big ones, that weigh 800g and are good for sauce for one family meal.

Now for the vaulted Italian family secrets.

Add 2 tablespoons of shredded Parmesan, a splash of balsamic vinegar (1 tablespoon), 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (TRUST ME), 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 tablespoon dried or fresh parsley, and one tablespoon dried oregano, stir it all together, and add about 1/4 cup filtered water, now cook it down for about 20-30 minutes uncovered on a low heat. This is important, so that the flavors can all meld together. If using fresh herbs, add closer to the end.

Now you make the Spinach Cream Sauce:

In a small saucepan, saute 1 teaspoon chopped garlic in 1 tablespoon olive oil. When the garlic is clear, add  1 cup defrosted frozen spinach (kudos if you have fresh). Mix it all together, and add 2/3 cup 15% cream, 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, and a pinch of ground nutmeg. cook on low heat for 3-4 minutes or until cream starts to bubble, then turn off heat.

In a small bowl, combine 12 oz  ricotta, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and 1 tablespoon chopped or dried parsley, depending on what you have.

In your baking dish, spread a layer of sauce. Now layer on the lasagna leaves. Next spread out all of the ricotta mixture, sprinkle all over with Parmesan, then layer on a thin layer of shredded Mozzarella cheese. Now another layer of sauce, a second layer of lasagna leaves, and now the spinach cream sauce. next do another layer of Mozzarella,  a layer of sauce, a sprinkle of Parmesan, then add the last layer of lasagna leaves. Top it off with the last layer of sauce,  and top that with shredded Mozzarella and a sprinkling of Parmesan.

Bake for 50 minutes covered, then another 15 minutes uncovered. Remove CAREFULLY from oven, and allow to cool for 15 minutes if you can help yourself so that it can set and thicken up, and not burn out every last one of your taste buds when you take the first bite, effectively ruining your entire nights work. I knew better 🙂

Serve with buttered bread if you want, and a glass of red or white wine, we had it with a nice mellow red, and skipped the bread. Alternately, you can double the ricotta mixture, and sub that for the spinach cream sauce layer, and pour the warm spinach garlic nutmeg cream sauce over each piece when you serve it, which was my plan, but G couldn’t find me more ricotta at the store on his way home, so I had to improvise. Still, it was phenomenal, and so worth the time and effort.

2013-01-27 22.23.40Melt in your mouth Veggie Lasagna

Now, I’m a psycho, and am constantly asking G to “rate my food”. It works something like this; on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being edible but only just, and 10 being marriage proposal material… rate this dish. It’s a sickness, I know, but I can’t help it, so don’t judge me. I usually average out around a 7-8 which drives me crazy and keeps me up at night wondering how I can improve on my recipes. It’s worst when I put hours of effort into something and bomb out because I was trying too hard or not paying attention and over corrected or just lost the plot. Think Asian style noodles with chicken and veg but WAY too much soy, garlic, ginger, marin. Ugh. Kitchen horror show. Anyway. I am happy to report that this recipe got me a 10. My second ever. Guess which was the first?… last weeks’ Jalapeno Poppers! I’m sensing a trend here…

🙂 🙂 🙂

Homemade Jalapeno Poppers, The Last Bastion of The “Restaurants Do it Better” Misconception

Best Superbowl Appetizer

I remember the first time I ever had a Jalapeno popper. I was 16, cutting study-hall (read: we don’t know what to do with you kids so sit here and do your homework) so that I could hang out with the seniors down the street at what was one of the best deli’s in West Hampton Beach. I had never heard of such a thing before, and that first bite revealing the creamy melty interior was otherworldly. I could see the layers of orange cheddar, white cream cheese, and green jalapeno, and was just blown away by how well it all worked together. It was hot and cheesy, with just a mild spice and the perfect creamy crunch. I was in love.

Game Day Jalapeno Poppers

I have always craved brilliantly conceived and executed appetizers because they were delicious, (think Fridays’ stuffed potato skins, Friendlys’ Mozzarella sticks, and Outback Steakhouses’ 3 cheese fries with that insane dipping sauce…) but even more so because it just didn’t seem like the kind of thing people could do at home. No one I knew had a deep fryer yet, (this was in the 90’s before the food culture revolution when the only place you could buy such a thing was on the late night TV insomniacs shopping channels) so it just seemed like a non-starter. A moo point.

moo pointThank You Joey Tribbiani.

Later on, these things started becoming available to the mainstream, and I’m going to upset a lot of food supply marketing people when I say this… you don’t even need one. All you do need is a medium sized pot at least 4 inches deep and some frying oil, vegetable works just fine. You can even go out and buy a frying thermometer, which I recommend if you are going to be making doughnuts or other temperature sensitive fried foods, but really, all you need to know is this. Get your oil hot enough so that after you put the food in, it rises to the surface after about 30 seconds. If it sinks and stays down, the oil is too cold. If it never sinks, the oil is too hot. That’s it, that’s all you need to know. You see, easy.

I had been dreaming about these little monsters for ages, and literally couldn’t remember the last time I had a good popper other than that first time, when I started going off about them to my husband. He was unconvinced of their goodness and you just can’t find anyone out here who has even heard of them, so I promptly went online to see if it was possible to do at home. Guess what?!@! IT IS! I found this recipe at blogchef.net and modified it because the crust didn’t seem substantial enough, but you are free to try it his way. I also made a bigger batch since we bought too many Jalapenos and also, we just can’t ever get enough of a good thing.

hot peppers!

Ingredients: (serves 4-8 depending how many everyone wants)

  • A big bag of Jalapenos, we used about 7-10 that were each about 8-10 inches in length. I think it would be cool to use the smaller ones and much prettier, but this was what we had.
  • 16 oz plain cream cheese
  • A nice big block of either good quality shredded sharp yellow or white cheddar (I recommend Cabot), or shredded manchego cheese, which was what I used since I can’t get the former here. Anywhere from 1 cup to 1 and 1/2 cups should be enough.
  • A large container of seasoned bread crumbs, working with about a cup at a time.
  • Plain white flour (at least 1-2 cups, working with about a cup at a time).
  • Whole Milk (2% or 3% is also fine (at least 1-2 cups) working with about a cup at a time.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

Kitchen Tools:

  • A large metal slotted spoon for removing poppers from oil
  • Paper towels
  • 2 pairs of Latex gloves for working with!!! Those oils can BURN your face and eyes… but that story for another time (remind me to tell you sometime about the great chili fiasco of 08′).

safe hands1

Method: (prep time 45 minutes)

  • Wearing latex or rubber gloves, use a knife to carefully slice off the stems, cut the Jalapenos in halves, and cut out the pith (white parts) and all the seeds.
  • Cut Jalapenos to the sizes you want, we experimented with longer ones, and more bite sized ones, as you will see in the photos. Both were great, depends on your personal preference.
  • Once that is all done, carefully discard gloves.
  • In a bowl, mix up cream cheese, salt, pepper, and 1 tablespoon milk if your cream cheese is too firm. Ours comes fresh from the dairy so it’s already very creamy and easy to mix. (Alternately, you can layer the melty cheese on top of the cream cheese stuffed peppers, you will see why this might be a better idea in a minute).

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  • Put on your second pair of gloves, and stuff peppers with cheese mixture. If you are layering on melty cheese, do that now as well.

2013-01-20 20.42.51As you can see, we mixed it all together, which made them explode a little in the oil, so next time I’m going to try it with the layering. I think its also better for the textural experience, I like to see those threads of melty cheese stretching on for days when I bite in to something cheesy.

  • This part is important, dip each popper in milk, then roll in flour, and let it REST for 10 minutes.

2013-01-20 20.52.00Fun Fact: That’s G’s hand doing the dirty work!

  • Now, you are going to set up 3 bowls, one with milk, one with flour, and one with breadcrumbs, and prepare a surface to lay the poppers while you are working.

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  • After they have sat for 10 minutes, dip each one again in milk, then roll in flour, then back in milk, then roll in breadcrumbs. It will get messy, but doing the flour twice gives it a real nice crunchy coating.

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  • Once you have breaded the very last one, it’s time to FRY!!!!!!
  • Pour oil into pot until it comes up about 2-3 inches from the bottom.
  • Heat oil over high flame until a toothpick tip held in the oil bubbles happily.
  • Now you can gently add your first popper to the oil. If it sinks and then comes up to the surface after about 30 seconds, you can add more poppers until there is no room left. I had to do 3 batches. 1 dinner plate full of poppers per batch, or about 10 poppers per batch.

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  • Fry each batch for 3 minutes, or until they are golden brown. Remove one at a time with a metal slotted spoon, and place directly onto paper towels to dry and crisp up.

See how they exploded a bit? I think that’s because the Manchego was mixed in, rather than layered on top of the cream cheese. But boy did they taste AMAZING!!!

  • Remove any stray bits from the oil, repeat temperature test, and fry the second batch. I use my digital oven timer and they come out perfect in 3 minutes and evenly cooked every time.

I promise, if you are faced with the option to do these yourself or buy the processed frozen ones, TRUST me, do it yourself. Homemade  is almost always better. I left a plateful uncooked to freeze so that I can wow my chef sister with them the next time she comes to visit, the great thing about these is you can do all the work one day, then freeze them until you are ready to serve for a dinner party or Superbowl Sunday, and then just fry them right up on the spot! YUM! They were delish, with a mild heat, that you only really noticed when they started to cool down, but by then, well, they were all gone. 🙂

*Update: My cheffy sister came to visit for the weekend and sample some of the recent goings on in our kitchen (saved in the freezer for her imminent arrival). This meant sampling Asian chicken dumplings with their insane garlic scallion sweet and spicy dipping sauce, chocolate cream cheese glazed cinnamon buns, my husbands first amazing attempt at a classic new york cheesecake with a cookie crust and a creamsicle twist, herbed squash on toast with ricotta and onion marmalade, and of course, our beautiful Jalapeno poppers experiment. The poppers went into the oil frozen this time, and by 3 minutes the outsides were a gorgeous brown, but the insides were still a bit cold, so I would recommend frying for a full 5 minutes with the timer set. We just popped them into the toaster oven to finish warming the insides, on the highest heat for about 5 minutes, which did the job splendidly. Make sure that the oil is HOT when they go in, and resist the temptation to remove them until they bob up to the top and have been floating on the surface for about a minute. Salt generously when they come out of the fryer, (5 or 6 shakes over the whole thing) and serve. Watch out. they are hot inside!!! I went to bed with the smell of cheesy jalapeno in the air and dreamed of poppers dancing, dipping and swirling through the ether.

Popperjoy

Best Ever Devils Food Chocolate Cupcakes With Coffee Infused Dulce D’ Leche Frosting

2013-01-22 13.19.27  There are cupcakes and then there are CUPCAKES. Unfortunately, not all cupcakes deserve the name. I understand where heavy cakes and butter-cream have their place at kids parties and inauguration ceremonies (where the point is that they look good rather than taste good), this recipe however is for lighter than air, sinfully grownup gourmet cupcakes loaded with coffee and orgasmic tendencies. In other words, you want to hang out in the adult section? Step right up. Someone very close to me recently tasted these for the first time, and after her eyes rolled into the back of her head and she finished chewing, promptly thanked me for the  foodgasm and asked for another. She now asks me to make them whenever she comes over.

I found this recipe online looking for the best basic chocolate cake recipe, and was surprised to find that the best ones around are in fact vegan and made with vinegar. Shocking, I know. But I have always respected Mollie Katzen, and now I know why. I modified baking time for cupcakes, and then developed the frosting to go along with it for a truly special marriage of flavors and textures.

Ingredients:

For “lighter than air” Moosewood vegan chocolate cake

(The cupcake bit of this recipe actually happens to be vegan, but don’t be fooled, they are sure to satisfy even the most beastly confectionery cravings you may be having, AND they are super light, quick and easy!) Hooray!

  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil (I used grape seed oil for the most recent batch of these, which made them EVEN lighter) I would only do that if you know they are all going to be eaten the same day though, because after a night in the fridge they have a hard time holding their crumb together. No such issues when using vegetable oil. In fact with veg oil they are even better on the second day out of the fridge.
  • 1 cup cold water or coffee (1 heaping tsp instant coffee dissolved in 2 Tbsp hot water, then add cold water to reach 1 cup)
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 Tbsp white vinegar

For the Frosting:

  • 1 approx. 450g container or jar of Dulche d’ Leche spread, Ribat Chalav spread, or coconut milk caramel sauce, homemade like my sister makes, or store bought. You basically want something thick and spreadable that tastes like caramel. coconut milk caramel sauce is good because it can be made non-dairy with coconut milk so that your whole cupcake is vegan, but I prefer it with a dairy caramel spread. To each his (or her) own.
  • 1 tsp instant coffee
  • 1 Tbsp hot water

Method:

  • Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  • Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt and sugar into a bowl.
  • In a small bowl, mix the oil, water or coffee and vanilla extract.
  • Add the wet ingredients except vinegar to the dry ones, stirring as you go. The mixture will quickly turn almost black.
  • When the batter is smooth, add the vinegar and stir quickly. Pale swirls will occur where the vinegar and baking soda react. Stir just until the vinegar is even distributed throughout the batter.
  • Distribute evenly between 12 lined cupcake cups, right up to the top of the liners.
  • Bake for 12-15 minutes in center of oven, using a timer because they are so dark from the cocoa powder that you cant see when they start to brown and you really don’t want to overcook them and dry them out.
  • Make frosting in a bowl now, by dissolving instant coffee in water and then adding the package of caramel sauce to the bowl. Mix gently (or do the whole thing in a stand mixer, which I don’t have so I have to do this bit by hand) for about 5 minutes or until it is all smooth and even. Chill in the fridge until you are ready to frost the little devils.
  • Remove cupcakes from oven when timer goes off, and allow to cool for 20 minutes in the tray.
  • Take cupcakes out of tray carefully, first running a small knife around the sides to release them from the pan.

devils food cupcakes

They should look like this, and have a super thin crust on top after they have cooled. Inside, they should be fully baked but oh so moist and lighter than air. Frost when they are fully cool or when you are ready to eat or serve them, and then, go do something worthy of confessional.

2012-12-12 16.44.47Some people prefer them with the frosting warm, as above, all melty and shameless! If you do, add a few more tablespoons of water to the coffee/frosting mixture. I prefer them chilled out of the refrigerator, with chilled frosting on top, as in the photo with the birds. But you don’t have to choose, after all there are 12…

Asian Chicken Dumplings

DSCN8042

I think that, like me, most people have an unusually deep and abiding love for foods that are bite sized. This could mean a few little bites if you are dainty and delicate like my fashion designer sister, or eaten whole, “Homer Simpson” style  if you are like my husband and just want to get it in there already. kungfupanda2_clipdumplingwarrior_sml

I fall somewhere in between so can luckily maintain some small shred of decorum assuming I’m not eating because I’m unhappy because I eat. Eating should make us happy, and bring us to places we have never been before, and these wonderful little guys really do that for me.

The really cool thing about them is that you can get the whole family in on the action, and trust me you are going to want to because these things take teamwork.  That isn’t to say that you can’t make them on your own, but honestly, if you grind the meat, make the sauce, and make the dough all by yourself, why should you share? I should warn you now that these dumplings are so good that I have been held at chopstick-point over the last one. The good news is, this recipe makes so many of these little guys that it wont even come to that. That is if there’s only 2 of you. Otherwise, good luck.

war

Ya see? 🙂 6 each, and fight to the death over the last one.

Just kidding, the recipe actually makes 36 so you can serve 6 people, but this is a good way to fake out the family. We were cooking for two people, so we actually ended up freezing almost half of these for next time, which is awesome, because you don’t want to have to put in this much effort every single time you want a dumpling… am I right? I find that 7 just about makes a meal for me, with G leaning more towards the 10-12 mark. I’d say they keep in the freezer for up to 3 months if you pack them properly, between sheets of baking paper, evenly spaced, and over a thick dusting of flour.

Now, I like to steam mine, and G got me this fantastic steamer from my favorite store in Jerusalem. If you don’t have a steamer, you can pan sear then boil them, or fry them, as you like, there is almost no wrong way to cook a dumpling.  My advice, if you plan to do this as often as we do, get a steamer. It’s really worth it.

Traditionally these little guys are made with pork, but I make them with chicken and they are really quite wonderful. You should use ground chicken from the store, but I’m super forgetful and always just buy the breasts so I had to chop my own meat the last few times I made these. Talk about a labor of LOVE. I don’t suggest you do the same, unless you have someone who will really appreciate the effort when all is said and done.

So here they are; I wish you luck my fellow food warriors, I hope you enjoy these as much as we do 🙂

dumplings2

Ingredients: for 4-6 servings

For Filling: (modified from “Asian”, 2003 Barnes and Noble books)

  • 1 1/4 pound ground chicken breast
  • 2 cups chopped cabbage, bok choy, or bean sprouts
  • 1/4 cup chopped scallions
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh ginger (don’t go overboard)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil

For Dough: (makes 36 dumplings)

  • 2 1/4 cups plain flour
  • 1 cup slightly warm water (1/3 cup boiling water + 2/3 cup room temperature water)
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

For Dipping Sauce:

  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon sweet chili sauce (or hot chili sauce and 1 teaspoon light brown sugar)
  • 1 large chopped garlic clove
  • 4 chopped scallions
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar or mirin

Method:

1) Make dough: I got the dough recipe here.  Add salt and oil to the warm water. Stir till the salt has dissolved completely. In a deep bowl, pour in plain flour. Add the warm water mixture slowly and stir. Add a little water at a time so that you can judge how wet or dry the dough is. Stop when it looks slightly sticky. Just continue stirring (or using your hands when it gets too sticky) till the dough comes together in a large, clumpy ball. As long as most of the dough clumps together, it’s time to stop. Don’t worry that it looks lumpy and dry. Seal the bowl with cling wrap and allow to relax for about 10 – 15 minutes.

(You can mix together the filling ingredients now, just blanch the bok choy in boiling water for 10 seconds and drain before adding to the rest)

2) Now, start kneading. You will notice that the dough no longer looks as lumpy and dry. As you knead, it will become elastic and shiny. If you find that it’s too dry, add a little more warm water; if it’s too wet, add a little more flour. Throw the dough onto your work surface in between kneads to improve the structure. Really slam it down, and enjoy the satisfying THWACK noise that it makes as you smack it silly.  Those of you who have made breads by hand will be familiar with this routine.

3) The dough is ready to be rolled into wrappers as soon as it is smooth and pliable.

making the wrappers

4) This is the tricky part. Pinch off 36 little dough balls, about the size of a Godiva truffle, no bigger. Make sure they are all even. Now, smoosh them down until they are about the size of a silver dollar. G did this part, then handed them off to me and I went around the edges flattening them out more. You want them to be thinner on the edges where the dough will all come together, and thicker in the middle where the filling will sit. Once the edges are all flattened out, have your assistant spoon  1 1/2 tablespoons into each wrapper as you hold it out like a square.

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Don’t let the filling touch the sides, if it gets wet it won’t stick to itself so you have to be really careful here. Have the person in the house with the most nimble fingers do this part.  Now carefully bring together 2 opposite diagonal corners and seal them, then bring together the other two. you should end up with a cute little ball/purse looking shape. if there are openings, pinch them shut and bring them up to the top with the other corners.

Breathe, wipe your brow, and repeat 35 more times, spacing them a few inches apart. 🙂 TEAMWORK!

dumplings spaced

It’s a really good idea to flour a piece of baking paper to lay them on while you work, otherwise they might stick to the surface and then they will rip when you pick them up.

Once they are all done, you can cook them, 14 at a time. I lined my steamer with cabbage leaves so that they wouldn’t stick…

2013-01-17 21.47.24Getting ready to steam their little butts off

you can also use lettuce but I like how the cabbage holds its form and doesn’t bleed flavor or color onto the dumplings. The steamer goes over a wok or pan of boiling water, like so:

steamer

Again, you can pan sear them for that lovely brown color for 2-3 minutes then boil or steam for 5-7 minutes, or just deep fry them, but I really like this method where you just steam them, and it’s a bit healthier. Steaming for 8-10 minutes is more than enough, make the dipping sauce while they cook, then its time to EAT!

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Herbed Butternut Squash with Onion Marmalade and Ricotta on Olive Oil Toast, and A Few Words About Staying Fit While Writing A Food Blog

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I am one of those people who just LOVES food. So you can imagine how stinky things get when I decide its time to go on a diet and start getting fit again. It doesn’t help that my husband (the sandwich king) also loves food and can eat whatever he wants in huge quantities without ever gaining an ounce. I love him, but seriously-not cool.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my body, as each and every one of you should love yours. Beautiful women come in all shapes and sizes. It’s just that winter brings with it a certain sense of couch surfing complacency and most of us don’t instinctively jump on the “lets get toned for summer” bandwagon until it’s WAY too late. By then, we just sort of give up and hide beneath a beach dress hoping that our skinny friends wont try to be “cute” and drag us into the sea, ocean, pool, or whatever. Thus, the soft body phenomenon perpetuates itself, year in and year out. Lets be honest, exercise takes WORK, and most of the time we just don’t feel like it.

Just trying to limit myself to small portions becomes a chore when I know I need to make twice the amount normal “healthy people” (read: skinny with motivation)  eat in an attempt to satiate my husbands’ appetite- and when it’s all pretty yummy, you try eating just a little bit.  Go on. I double dog dare you.

No? I thought so.

As I’m sure you will all agree, when we get to this place, we are literally ready to consider almost any method to get skinny quick. (Tapeworm, anyone???)

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I’m sure you’ve all been there, when you are single or dating and it’s just so easy to limit what you are eating because there is no one else to cook for; eating ramen noodles (GACK) out of a cup for a few meals a week and skipping others because it’s just not fun to cook while you are alone, let alone do the dishes afterwords (ack, dishes! my arch nemesis!!!!!!!)- the weight just seems to fly off. Oh how I miss those effortless skinny days.

So with all of this in mind and no taste for “fad diets” I finally broke down (read: manned up) and started using the treadmill that has been sitting sad and neglected in the corner gathering dust for the last few months. An hour and a half a day (walking fast, not running, I don’t run) really gets my blood flowing, burns a ton of calories, and as an added bonus, get me warm without having to spend a fortune on heating. SCORE. It’s slow going, but it’s healthy and sustainable. Also, with the advice of a dear friend, I started planning my meals ahead, having the same things each day for breakfast and lunch, and varying my snacks a bit, so that I can actually have a wonderful dinner with G where I eat what I want within reason and don’t feel like a hungry puppy trying not to drool as he cooks and consumes something simple while trying to fend for himself. He actually is a pretty good cook but just like I described before, when you are just cooking for yourself the motivation to WOW just flies out the window and hides under a bridge. With the trolls.

trolls

If you want the details, it’s pretty bland, but it’s working, and I appreciate dinner that much more, so here it is. Breakfast: SMALL bowl of oatmeal with cinnamon and a coffee or any green tea. I like Lemongrass with Ginger. Lunch: SMALL bowl of quinoa. Snacks: Two 12 Minute boiled egg-whites with pepper ( I give the yolks to the Dog and she adores me for it) and the occasional ginger snap cookie or two spread with ricotta or some other tasty thing. I use a small amount of salt and pepper in the oatmeal and quinoa and use coconut milk for half the water I would normally put in the quinoa, which makes it creamy and delicious. The idea is to eradicate most, but not all salt and fat because then I would just fail. Any veggies I can slip in there are also great, but this is a good basis that gives me protein and healthy carbs without feeling like I’m starving. Then comes DINNER when I can have any delicious thing I have been obsessing about, and take a smaller portion than I would if I just had it all in front of me and just kept eating. And eating.

This is actually easier if:

1) I make my own plate and don’t let him make it for me,

and

2) I consciously think about how much I want to consume over the next 30 minutes and STOP WHEN I’m FULL. Easier said than done right? Well, I’m learning.

Doing it this way, dinner always feels like a treat and I work harder to make it awesome because I know it’s where I’m going to get all of my happy food chemicals for the day. It’s interesting how much more seriously I take these meals knowing I will have to wait until the next night to try again if it doesn’t work out.

OK, reality check- I miss being slim but I LOVE being able to whip up and eat super yummies in the kitchen without too much fuss, which is why you will love this recipe from our dinner last night, for squash with onion marmalade on toast from chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten of ABC kitchen in Manhattan. I stumbled across it a week ago while surfing Mark Bittman’s NY Times dining section videos and spent 30 minutes or more trying not to lick my computer screen. The fact that I couldn’t find ricotta for weeks for a different recipe I’ve been wanting to try didn’t help much either, the stores kept selling out before I got there. I guess the early bird really does get the worm, er, cheese.

 

So here it is, with my variations. Sorry for the less than awesome shots, our lighting is all yellow and I haven’t figured out yet how to do that sexy food photography where everything comes out looking huge and amazing without looking flat or wet. Trust me that this was stellar despite my poor photography, and think of the photos more as visual aids than actual representations of this fantastic dish. If you need more convincing, use the video in the link above. 🙂

Herbed Butternut Squash with Onion Marmalade and Ricotta on Olive Oil Toast

Ingredients: (for 2 for dinner, or for 4 for appetizers)

1 ripe medium or large sized squash, peeled sliced, and de-seeded. I used butternut

butternut squash

but you can use others. Use a bigger squash if you want to make it for more people, I had leftover onion marmalade and cheese mixture, so this recipe can easily be expanded.

16oz good 9% fat ricotta cheese, fresh if possible. you may have leftovers, no tragedy there 🙂

A loaf of Really good fresh rustic bread, something towards the baguette or nutty sourdough flavors, NOT SWEET.

Olive oil

Chili Pepper flakes

1 very large onion

1 cup apple cider vinegar

1/2 cup pure maple syrup

Small handful fresh parsley

Pinch of *fresh thyme (my own addition)

Pinch of *fresh rosemary (my own addition)

Fresh mint for garnishing ( I didn’t have any, but I highly recommend using it)

Sea salt

Black pepper

*For those of you who don’t use fresh herbs that often (and why you wouldn’t is beyond me) and who don’t want to spend the money to buy a whole bunch of fresh herbs just for this one dish, There is an answer. I didn’t know this until last year, but herbs keep amazingly well in the freezer for ages, I’d say up to a year. This means that you can use what you need and save the rest, and just take a bit when you need it. So much better than using the dead dry stuff or buying a whole bunch of fresh and then throwing it out when it rots a week or two later in the fridge. Cool huh?

Method:

1) Preheat oven to 400-450F

2) Peel squash, de-seed, and slice into 1/4 inch slices. Arrange on a baking tray over baking paper for easy clean up. (Did I mention how much I HATE dishes)… Chop rosemary (ours grows outside and is HUGE, you may not have to) and sprinkle it, thyme, sea salt, pepper, and chili flakes over squash. Drizzle olive oil generously over the whole baking tray, and pop into preheated oven for 30 minutes.

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3) While squash is baking beautifully, slice onions into thin spears, and saute in olive oil, salt and pepper on medium high heat. Once they are browning, add 1 cup cider vinegar and 1/2 cup maple syrup to deglaze the pan. cook down until you have a sticky sauce and the onions are really soft, about 25-30 minutes. Add some water if you feel like the onions need more time and there isn’t enough liquid, but not too much. I’m sorry that I don’t have a photo of the onions alone, because they were really beautiful, but G had come home and was bouncing around the kitchen helping me prepare the cheese mixture and I just forgot. Make them and you will see for yourself 🙂 They will be a sort of brown sweet and sour caramelized delicious mixture that fills the whole house with a pungent and intoxicating heady aroma.

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4) When that is done, and if you didn’t have help, mix the ricotta with salt, pepper, and a small handful of chopped parsley. The squash should be done by now, so take it out of the oven and mash it up. It will smell heavenly.

See the bits of chili, rosemary, and thyme?! YUM!!!

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4) In a pan, pour out a bit of olive oil, heat the pan, and toast your crusty bread slices on both sides, or just one if you are impatient like we were to get it into our mouths already. WATCH them so they don’t burn! They should be golden brown, less dark than my photo below. This is where I got sad because I didn’t have any really amazing bread in the house so I first tried it with a challah roll, which I toasted a bit too much 😦 and was too sweet for this dish, and then I tried it with a nice sandwich baguette which turned out to be far superior. I’m still going to do it again when I get some real artisanal bread….FOOD ZEN. Spread the ricotta on the toast, then add some or all of the onions to the squash – You should have a ratio of (2:1) squash to onions. mix them up gently, and add a layer to the cheesy toast. See how nicely the onions swirl in with the squash? They should be just combined, not mixed completely, so that you get the different flavors and textures.

voila!

A little shake of salt and pepper to top it off, aaaand FRESS!!!!!!

Again, here it should be garnished with fresh chopped mint, and I highly recommend it, it would be a good contrast to the sweetness of the squash and the sweet and sour onions. SO effing GOOD. Sigh. Can’t wait until tonight!!! OK, I’m going to go slave away on the beloved/dreaded treadmill for a while before I eat my keyboard, quick word of advice, find some walking/running music with a good fast beat that you can match while speed walking, it really helps get your head into the right mindset.

The next day:

As a quick update, just wanted to let you all know how well the leftovers held up from the squash on toast extravaganza. If you have any, which you probably wont. No photo, so sorry, I hadn’t thought to include it in the blog, but it was too good not to!

Ingredients:

Tortillas

Ricotta with parsley, salt and pepper

Onion marmalade

Spinach, fresh or frozen

Parmesan

Melty cheese

1 egg per tortilla

Preheat toaster oven. 350-400 (low broil)

I wanted to do something with spinach so I defrosted a bit of frozen spinach, squeezed all the water out, and added salt and pepper. Then I took the leftover ricotta mix and slathered some over a couple of uncooked tortillas, about 2 tablespoons more or less per tortilla. I dotted the cheese with spinach, not much, about the same as the cheese, maybe less. Then I took a forkful of the onion marmalade (see recipe above) and spread that across the spinach and cheese.

Next I shredded a tiny bit of best ever Parmesan, (see the importance of being cheesy blog post) not much, and a bit more melty cheese, you can use mozzarella or cheddar, I used something local called tal haemek. Lastly, I fried up a couple of perfect over easy fried eggs with whites set but the yolks still runny, this was essential. Be careful not to break the yolks.  Place them over the rest and wrap them up GENTLY.

I arranged them on foil over the rack from the toaster oven, and then popped it in for about 4-5 minutes. Set a timer so they don’t burn! They will come out hot and crispy, and all delicious inside from the runny egg yolk and the warm cheeses, and have that delicious sweet and sour bite from the onions. Slice on  an angle, serve immediately alone or with salad, and drink a beer with your dinner and all will be well 🙂

The Importance of Being Cheesy

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Photo from http://www.Basher.co.il

Do you ever feel like you want more from the cheeses in your life-but then you look at the absolutely sprawling selection in the grocery store and just feel intimidated? I used to feel that way back in the states, when I almost always just gave up and went for a nice sharp cheddar.

I mean hey. Cheddar is reliable, he’s a safe bet, he’s easy to find, and the most you have to invest into the thinking process is mild or sharp? (sharp, always sharp).

After moving to Israel I had a different problem. There was practically no cheddar anywhere, and when I did find it, it was an expensive slab of waxy food misery that had me weeping into my pillow for the sharp Vermont cheddars of yore. Fast forward through a year or two of feeling sorry for myself (there are basically one or two dairy mass producers in the whole country and they are all for the most part flavorless and BORING wastes of calories) to the day I found *Basher, Fromagerie Fantastique! in Jerusalem’s famous Machaneh Yehuda market where, as you can see, I was in for a very different kind of ride…

basher4Photo from http://www.Basher.co.il

Not only do they know more than you can imagine about the cheeses featured here, they offer you tastings left and right until you literally have tried 5-15 cheeses you have never had before. I could never leave the store without spending $50.00 – $100.00 or so, but Oh My God was it worth it! I learned more about cheese than I had ever thought I could know, tasting real creamy Parmesans, mustard seed studded Goudas, black truffle sandwiched between truffle infused layers of Camemberts? (I think it was), huge rolls of goat cheeses, creamy aromatic sheep’s milk cheeses that literally melt in your mouth…

SexiestCheese

I’m salivating like a wolf so I’ll stop here, but the list goes on. and on. and on. Oh, and for my old and uninitiated self, they had a crumbly white cheddar veined with salty crystals seen in a massive block in the top photo that will literally make you want to forget you ever ate anything else that ever carried the name. A happy girl was I.

About a year and a half ago we moved up north, away from the cheese mecca that is Basher, and this as I’m sure you can all imagine, made me very sad indeed.

I randomly saw Eli Basher (owner featured in the photo at the top) at a conference for prospective small business owners last week, and was able to hear how he got things going 15 years ago when the entire country knew locally made Kashkavalo (meh) as the most exotic cheese around. Sadly I didn’t have time to swing by the shop that day. Lucky for me my husband was down state this week and brought home some long lusted after PRESENTS!!!!!!!!!!!!
Presents!!!

And opened 3.2 seconds later…

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What you see here is the best Parmesan you ever had, (eva eva), the aforementioned white cheddar of lore, and of course, my personal favorite. The Lou Perac is a creamy sheeps milk cheese (not for the faint hearted) that is so yummy and smooth, spicy, salty, and sharp in all the right ways, that if you handed me some slathered on a hunk of crusty baguette with a glass of a good semi-dry chilled white wine, there is little in the world that I wouldn’t do for you. Seriously. My advice? Next time you are faced with a wall of cheeses and absolutely no guidance whatsoever, be bold, and try a new cheese. It just might change your life. 🙂

Also on the menu for the weekend was a visit from my sweet sister the chef, who brought joy and happiness in her own way, in the form of Italian organic wild blueberry jam (my favorite ever since I moved to a place where a 1/4 pound of berries costs more than a gallon of gas) and the biggest bottle of real vanilla extract that I have seen in AGES and that dwarfed the now almost empty one in my fridge that she brought me last time. It’s freaking impossible to find the real deal, like no one up here ever considered that buying the fake stuff might seem like an affront to our very being. Well, it is.

WildBlueBerryVanillaMonster

Soon after she arrived, we celebrated with a Parmesan and sauteed onion herbed omelet with sour cream and buttered toast with blueberry jam, and suddenly, almost all at once, everything was right in the universe. Even my plate was happy, talk about heavy subliminal messages! 🙂

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*Quick note, these are all things I love, none of the companies you see above paid to be here, I just want to share some really great stuff with you guys.

Chocolatey Food Porn

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Lady Godiva (c.1898) by the Hon. John Collier (1850-1934) is in the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Coventry.

Some of you may know how seriously addicted I am to good chocolate. How my face involuntarily twists in a grimace when I taste something that was mass produced to feed the undiscerning hordes. Blech. Sure, it’s fine if you are in a bind, personifying the mega-bitch from hell; nostrils flaring as the smoke pours out of your ears and you twitch like a crack fiend aching for just a bite of something, anything that will pull you up out of the pit of despair and give you that much needed panacea of a dopamine/chocolate/endorphins/love rush. I get it. But when its not life or death, (someone elses if they cross you on days like this) quality matters. That’s where these little beauties come into play,

normanlove
the top 10 best chocolatiers in the world according to national geographic.com, and I’m not likely to disagree with them any time soon. Thanks mom for the article. Photo above is of Norman Love Confections hailing from Florida, USA. Also, check out what one of my favorite chocolatiers is doing to give something back with the Lady Godiva Program.

In other food porn related news, I just searched Chocolate Cinnamon Buns on Google images and holy F***.

choccinnbun

It’s safe to say that I have found my next project at thefreshloaf.com 🙂 so stay tuned for some cinnamon chocolaty goodness coming your way soon.