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Cranberry Apple Cider Glazed Chicken

December 27, 2012

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I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m starting to feel rather full.  I’ve enjoyed way too many Christmas sweets, much too much butter, cheese and dairy and I’m generally in need of some lighter fare.  I don’t need to wait until January 1st to lighten up a bit.  I’m all for indulging but I also firmly believe that healthy doesn’t have to mean bland and it certainly shouldn’t lack flavor.  Healthy can absolutely be satisfying and this chicken dish fits the bill.

Even before Christmas, I was feeling the need to lighten up a bit so we had this for dinner the night before Christmas Eve. Not only was it delicious, but served with braised kale and quinoa, the plate looked quite festive! I had my butcher cut a whole chicken into pieces, but feel free to use bone-in chicken breasts, thighs or a combination of the two.

The origin of this recipe is rather humorous. I never got into the Fifty Shades of Grey craze but many of my friends and coworkers got a kick out of the book. A coworker who read the book and loves to cook giddily handed me a cookbook he received as a gift last week. It was Fifty Shades of Chicken, a cookbook spoof on Fifty Shades of Grey, written from the perspective of the chicken. As I glanced through the cookbook, I was surprised to see some of the recipes looked great so I copied a few down. I’ve adapted it here and cleaned up the language for my polite readers…

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Cranberry Apple Cider Glazed Chicken
adapted from Fifty Shades of Chicken
serves 4

1 cup apple cider
1/2 cup dried cranberries
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 cinnamon stick
1 inch piece fresh ginger, smashed with the back of a knife
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken parts
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into pieces

Preheat oven to 450°. Combine cider, cranberries, vinegar, cinnamon, ginger and pepper in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until the cranberries are soft and liquid is reduced by two thirds, about 20 minutes. The mixture will have a slight syrupy consistency. Discard the cinnamon and ginger.

Pat chicken dry with a paper towel and season with salt. Place in roasting pan, skin side up, without crowding the pieces. Spoon sauce over the chicken and dot with butter. Roast for about 40 minutes, or until browned around edges and cooked through.

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Merry and Bright

December 26, 2012

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas filled with love, laughter and good food!

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Easy Christmas Cookies: Lemon Sugar Cookies and Almond Sugar Cookies

December 23, 2012

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I love cookies all year round but especially around the holidays. It’s fun to take out the Christmas tree cookie cutters and then decorate with icing and sprinkles. The only problem is cut out sugar cookies can be time consuming and we all know how crazy this time of year is. These cookies are made from sugar cookie dough but you drop them on a sheet with an ice cream scoop – no chilling the dough, rolling it out, flour all over the kitchen. These don’t have the charm of fun shapes but the flavor more than makes up for it. The little rounds look beautiful all piled up on a platter and are a delicious addition to a dessert spread for the holidays. I brought them to a birthday party last night and they were a big hit! And they taste delicious with a cup of tea or coffee for breakfast…

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Easy Lemon Sugar Cookies
adapted from Fine Cooking
yields 3 1/2 to 4 dozen cookies

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla paste or vanilla extract
1 1/2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt

Preheat the oven to 350° and position oven racks in the top and bottom third of the oven. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Using a KitchenAid mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes (or use a large bowl and hand mixer). Scrape down the sides as needed. Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Add the egg, vanilla and lemon zest to the butter mixture and mix on medium speed until for about 1 minute. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture. Turn the mixer off just before flour is completely mixed in and finish combining with a rubber spatula or wood spoon.

Using a size 70 scoop (1 tablespoon) or two tablespoons, drop rounded balls of dough onto baking sheets, spacing 1 1/2″ apart. Bake two sheets at a time, rotating positions halfway through baking, for 11-14 minutes, until the edges and bottoms are golden. Let cookies cool for 5 minutes on baking sheet then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

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Easy Almond Sugar Cookies
adapted from Fine Cooking
yields 3 1/2 to 4 dozen cookies

1/3 cup slivered almonds
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla paste or vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
12 teaspoon table salt

Preheat the oven to 350° and position oven racks in the top and bottom third of the oven. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Toast the almonds in a dry frying pan over medium heat until fragrant and just starting to turn golden. Be careful not to let them burn! It’s better to take them off slightly early because they go from perfect to burned in no time (I speak from experience!). Remove from heat and finely chop.

Using a KitchenAid mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes (or use a large bowl and hand mixer). Scrape down the sides as needed. Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Add the egg, vanilla, almond extract and chopped almonds to the butter mixture and mix on medium speed until for about 1 minute. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture. Turn the mixer off just before flour is completely mixed in and finish combining with a rubber spatula or wood spoon.

Using a size 70 scoop (1 tablespoon) or two tablespoons, drop rounded balls of dough onto baking sheets, spacing 1 1/2″ apart. Bake two sheets at a time, rotating positions halfway through baking, for 11-14 minutes, until the edges and bottoms are golden. Let cookies cool for 5 minutes on baking sheet then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Gingerbread House

December 18, 2012

Well hello, friends. Don’t you love this time of year? Everyone is in good holiday spirits, Christmas lights sparkle, the air is crisp and magical. The only problem is there just isn’t enough time. Between our usual obligations at home and work, add shopping for gifts, decorating, extra cooking or baking and holiday parties and there isn’t a whole lot of time to accomplish everything. I have a long list of things I wanted to do and make for the holidays and I’ve barely made a dent in it. One of the things I did complete on my holiday bucket list was making a gingerbread house from scratch. Perhaps the gingerbread house is why I didn’t accomplish many of the other things I wanted to make…

As a kid, I made gingerbread houses several times with my Mom and brother. We used graham crackers for the house, tons of royal icing and lots of candy (which was usually off limits in our house!). It was so much fun to create a “grown up” gingerbread house with a polished look and homemade gingerbread pieces. My decorating was a bit more precise this time, but it definitely brought me back to being a kid, wearing a big apron and sneaking bites of candy while I stuck gumdrops to the roof.

My gingerbread house is far from perfect but not bad for my first try. I learned a lot of things, primarily that I need a lot of practice with my piping bag! Most of the things I learned were small tweaks I can use in the future.

front house

I used the template provided at pickyourownchristmastree.org. The pieces didn’t all print exactly to scale on my printer but the dimensions are listed for easy reference. I used all the side panels as they showed up and trimmed the roof by about an inch since I didn’t want as much overhang. I also omitted some of the windows on the sides and the roof. The template is a guide so feel free to tweak it how you see fit, just make sure it will all line up. Next year I will print the template on thicker card stock instead of regular paper, which proved to be a little floppy when trying to cut around it.

One of the biggest things I would change is rolling out the dough. I rolled mine to about 1/4″ but next time I would roll it just a bit thinner. Transferring the pieces to the baking sheet was also a little tricky and it stretched and skewed the parts a bit – not a ton but enough to require some extra icing to even things out. So, I would recommend rolling your dough on a piece of parchment paper or a Silpat then removing all the scraps around it and transferring the parchement to your baking sheet. You could also roll out a large section of dough, drape it over the rolling pin and put it in your baking sheet then cut out the template. The goal is to avoid handling the individual pieces that will make up the house once they are cut out.

I spaced out my assembly more out of necessity because of my work schedule, but I found it made the house very stable and sturdy. I baked the pieces on day one and left them out overnight to cool and harden. On day two, I made royal icing and assembled the four walls. On day three, I affixed the roof and on day four I decorated. Four days is a long time but it ensured the icing dried completely and was rock solid before I tinkered with the house for the next step. I think we’d all be frustrated and heartbroken if we rushed and the whole house collapsed mid-decorating.

side house

 

Gingerbread House
For the House:
adapted from pickyourownchristmastree.org

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, melted and still warm
1 1/2 cups unsulphured molasses
1 1/2 cups brown sugar (dark or light works, I used dark)
2 large eggs
8 cups flour
2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons ground ginger
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground allspice

In a very large mixing bowl, combine the melted butter and molasses with a hand mixer (if you have a large KitchenAid, you can make though dough first using the whisk attachment and switching to the paddle attachment when you add the flour). Add the eggs and brown sugar and mix well.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon and allspice. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in three additions. It will start to get very tough once you’ve added about half the flour mixture. Use your hand mixer as long as you can, on low speed and stopping periodically to clear out any dough that builds up in the beaters. Using your hands, knead the dough a few times to mix in the last bits of flour until the dough comes together into a smooth ball. Divide the dough in half and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least an hour and up to one day.

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Take one of the pieces of dough out of the fridge. If it is too cold to roll out, let it sit for 5-10 minutes until it is still cold but you are able to roll it out. Cut the piece of dough in half. On a piece of parchment paper or a Silpat, roll the dough to about 1/4″ thick, or slightly less. Transfer the parchment or Silpat to a baking sheet. Cut around the templates using a sharp knife and remove any scraps, reserving.

Bake gingerbread house pieces for 15 minutes, until it starts to brown slightly at the edges and is slightly firm. Let gingerbread cool on baking sheet for 15-20 minutes then remove to a baking rack to cool completely. If you move the gingerbread when it is still warm, it may crack or break.

Repeat cutting prodecure above with remaining templates and dough. If any dough becomes too soft, refrigerate it for 15 or 20 minutes until it is slightly firm and chilled. I had plenty of dough leftover – feel free to make gingerbread people to go with your house!

For the icing:
adapted from allrecipes.com
yields about 3 cups

3 tablespoons meringue powder
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
6 tablespoons water

Combine all ingredients in a KitchenAid mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on low for a minute or two until combined and smooth, scraping down the sides if necessary. Turn the mixer to medium and beat for 5-7 minutes until the icing forms peaks.

Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a coupler and whatever tip you prefer. Icing dries out quickly, so transfer to an airtight container or cover with a damp towel when not in use.  I used two batches of icing, made on day two and four.

Assembly and Decoration:

Gel food coloring
Cereal squares such as Life or Shredded Wheat
Gum drops
M&Ms or other chocolate candies
Candy canes or peppermint sticks
Sprinkles and dragees

Prepare a base for your gingerbread house, by covering an upside down rimmed baking sheet or a piece of plywood with heavy duty aluminum foil. Pipe icing onto the edge of one of the long, rectangular sides. Line up with the peaked roof side and stick together. Add another line of icing on the inside where the two pieces meet. Hold together for a minute or two until the icing hardens enough to hold the pieces together. Repeat with remaining two sides, adding an additional line of icing to the inside each time. Let sit overnight to dry. (royal icing can be stored in an airtight container overnight. If you use meringue powder, it can stay at room temperature; if you follow a different recipe and use egg whites, refrigerate.)

The next day, affix the roof pieces. Hold the roof pieces up to the walls and determine which way create the straigtest line across the roof. Then, get cans or boxes to hold up the roof while it was drying (I stacked macaroni and cheese boxes with a gum container and a stack of business cards to get the exact height). Pipe icing along the short edges of roof panels and affix to the walls. Hold in place for a few minutes then but the boxes and other support items below. Repeat with other side. Let dry overnight.

To decorate, affix candy to house with royal icing. Color the icing using gel food coloring and experiment with different tips and your piping bag.

Merry Christmas!

rear house

Turkey Chili

December 6, 2012

I usually make a batch of turkey chili shortly after the leaves start turning and the temperature drops. I’m not sure what happened this year but I never got around to it in October or November. I finally came to my senses and made a big batch last weekend. Not only is this chili delicious, it makes enough to feed an army so I freeze most of it and enjoy it all winter long. This would make a great dish for a tailgate or an open house where you have a large crowd.

I like spice so this packs some punch to it. If you aren’t a fan of spice, make sure to use a mild chili powder and leave out the red pepper flakes. If you like things diabolically hot, add a few dashes of Tabasco. This recipe is courtesy of my Mom who has always made delicious chili. My favorites are this one and her vegetarian chili. This is comfort food at its best – warm, hearty and makes me think of Mom!

I top mine with a dollop of sour cream and some cheddar cheese but feel free to use your favorite toppings. I also like to serve this over rice.

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Turkey Chili
courtesy of Mom
makes about 12 cups, serving 8-10

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chopped onion
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 pounds ground turkey
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
2, 14 oz cans stewed tomatoes
2, 28 oz cans crushed tomatoes
1 small can chopped green chiles
2 cups water or chicken stock (more if too thick)
1/4 cup chili powder
1 1/2 tablespoons cumin
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes, optional
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained

For serving:
sour cream
shredded cheddar cheese

Heat oil in a very large, heavy bottomed Dutch oven or pot (I use a 9 1/2 quart Dutch oven). Saute onions over medium heat until soft, about 5 minutes. Ddd garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add the ground turkey, breaking up, until almost cooked. Add peppers and cook for a few minutes. Add tomatoes, chiles, broth and spices. Simmer for 30-40 minutes. Add beans and simmer another 30-40 minutes.

Serve warm, topped with cheese and sour cream.

Thanksgiving Planning, Part III: Creating a Timeline

November 14, 2012

As I said in my earlier posts, they key to a successful Thanksgiving meal is organization. Creating a timeline is probably the single most important thing you can do to ensure dinner is on the table on-time and everything is warm. I start the weekend before and try to accomplish as much as I can in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. For Thursday, I work backwards from the time we plan to eat dinner.

Below is an example of the schedule I like to follow, broken into day before and day of tasks:

I have two ovens which gives me more flexibility the morning of Thanksgiving but it’s just as easy with one oven. It takes a tad bit more organization so here are a few tips for those of you with one oven:

-Other than the turkey, pies are the biggest oven utilizers. Ask your guests to bring dessert or make your pies on Wednesday or first thing Thursday. When I made Thanksgiving in my New York City apartment, I stuck to two pies and made one on Wednesday night. The first thing I did Thursday morning was bake the second pie so the oven would be clear for the turkey.

-Utilize your stovetop! Mashed potatoes and butternut squash (even sweet potatoes) can be made on the stovetop and kept warm in a pot over low heat or in a bowl set over simmering water. Plan your menu to minimize dishes that require the oven since the turkey will monopolize the oven for a few hours.

-The turkey needs to rest for 30 minutes before carving so you have about 40 minutes after the turkey is out of the oven to reheat stuffing or other items. You can easily fit 2-4 baking dishes in the oven (depending on size) if you space the racks in the upper and lower third. For stuffing and most dishes, you can heat them at +/- 25° from the specified temperature. If you are decreasing the baking time slightly, increase the temperature a bit. If you are squeezing several items into the oven, just make sure there is space for air to circulate around the baking dishes. If it looks like a tight squeeze, increase the temperature a bit.

Equipment Check
While you’re in planning mode, take an inventory of your kitchen this week to make sure you have all the equipment you need. Chances are you have most of what you’ll need but it’s always good to check. Look at your platters and make sure you have enough serving vessels for all the dishes being served. If you need additional platters, Crate and Barrel, Pottery Barn and Bed, Bath and Beyond have good white platters that aren’t too pricey. Williams-Sonoma has great dishwares as well but they are a bit more expensive.

The equipment you’ll need:
-large roasting pan with V rack
-wood carving board
-carving knife
-cotton kitchen string or butcher twine
-turkey lifters (optional but helpful – my All-Clad roasting pan came with a V rack and lifters)
-brine bags or other large container
-pie plates

The usuals:
-dishes or china
-silverware
-wine glasses
-napkins
-platters (you don’t need anything fancy but it’s nice to have some special items like your grandmother’s platter or a crystal wedding gift)

Special touches:
-tablecloth
-centerpiece (order flowers ahead of time or use a simple potted plant or bowl of apples)
-seasonal candles
-menus (template coming soon!)

After all this, is it crazy that I’m getting excited for Christmas?!

Thanksgiving Planning, Part II

November 9, 2012

My Thanksgiving planning posts were delayed a bit by Sandy. We were without power for almost a week but luckily had no damage to our house. Unfortunately, the Peppermint Patties ran out too quickly so next time I’ll make a quadruple batch to help me weather a storm. My heart goes out to everyone displaced by the storm and I pray for a speedy recovery.

I passed the time with no electricity or internet by reading cookbooks (especially two new ones I was smart enough to preorder), sitting by the fire and playing board games with the hubby.  He made homemade chai that was wonderful and warmed the soul. I even burned down some precious computer battery to do some Thanksgiving planning.

 

I mentioned the menu blueprint I use in my first planning post so that is what I go off when planning our meal. Every family is different, so create your own – maybe it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without creamed onions – and build off it. Decide which recipes are tried and true favorites and where you want to try new recipes.

For any repeat Thanksgiving cooks, think back to last year if there were any shortfalls or disappointments. Last year our dinner was great but desserts were a disaster. Complete disaster! This was particularly disappointing for me because I LOVE pie. All year I look forward to the morning after Thanksgiving when I enjoy a nice big cup of coffee with leftover pie. It’s a delicious breakfast and I don’t feel guilty one bit. This year I’m on a mission to have successful pies so my post-Thanksgiving breakfast is as enjoyable as it should be.

There are so many sources out there for great recipes. I would start with the turkey because that’s the centerpiece of the meal. I make Anne Burrell’s cider brined turkey which I love – the subtle taste of apples in the gravy is so perfect for the season. I’ve also made Ina Garten’s perfect roast turkey which is simple but wonderful.

Look through your favorite cookbooks and blogs to fill out the rest of the side dishes. Food magazines like Fine Cooking and Bon Appétit are also great resources (Bon Appétit’s current Thanksgiving issue is a real winner). When choosing recipes, don’t just read the title and ingredient list – make sure you read through the entire recipe to make sure it’s doable in your kitchen along with everything else you are making. For online sources, read the comments so you benefit from others who tried the recipes already.

This is my current Thanksgiving plan – you’ll notice I still have a few things to fill in:

Turkey: Anne Burrell’s cider brined herb-crusted turkey
Gravy: Anne Burrell’s apple cider gravy
Cranberry Orange Relish
Cranberry Relish with Ginger and Port
Roasted butternut squash puree
Bread Stuffing
Cornbread Stuffing
Mashed Potatoes – ??
String Beans with Shallots – Barefoot Contessa

Pumpkin pie – new recipe from Barefoot Contessa Foolproof or current Bon Appetit issue??
Apple Cranberry Pie – Cooks’ Illustrated foolproof pie dough plus apple cranberry filling
Pecan Tart – ??

Develop a Plan, Part I
Now that you have your menu planned out, it’s time to start developing a plan to get you to the Thanksgiving table! Making a grocery list for such a large meal or gathering can be daunting. To prevent emergency trips to the market and panicked calls to your neighbor for an extra egg, I take a very methodical approach to grocery shopping for the Big Day (I know this is shocking for those of you who know me…wink wink). Sit down with all your recipes in front of you (I prefer to have them printed out on individual sheets or with the cookbook open to the page) – feel free to enjoy a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. On a piece of paper or a word document on your computer, start taking notes of EVERY INGREDIENT used in all the recipes and the quantity need. Only list an ingredient once and note next to it the quantity needed for each dish (i.e. flour – 2 ½ cups for apple pie crust, 1 cup for gravy, etc.). I like to divide my list into produce, dairy, meat and grocery items for ease when shopping.

Now that you have a large shopping list written out, tally up the quantities needed of each item for your final shopping list. I like to rewrite or type it so it’s a clean copy. Go through your spice rack and pantry, crossing off anything you have in sufficient quantity. I usually go to the grocery store two weeks before Thanksgiving to stock up on pantry essentials like flour, sugar, salt etc. It’s also a good idea to get any non-perishable items that you need like pumpkin puree that you can tuck away in your pantry or on top of your fridge. You never know when there will be a shortage at the grocery store!

Coming up next: guide for developing a timeline to ensure dinner is on the table at the right time and all the food is warm.