dinner party

Chicken Pot Pie

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Using trimmed chicken thighs and herbs de Provence with lavender kicks up the flavor of this classic for a modern twist without ramping up the calories in kind. Sure, it’s called “Chicken Pot Pie”, but in these parts it’s known as CHICKEN POT AWESOME.

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Ingredients

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs trimmed of any excess fat and cut into 1″ chunks

3/4 cup roughly chopped carrots

2/3 cup frozen peas

2/3 cup frozen corn

1 cup chopped mushrooms (“Optional,” my husband says. They’re not.)

1 cup chopped celery or fennel (I prefer the fennel)

1/3 cup butter

1/2 cup chopped onion

1 clove garlic, minced

4 tsp kosher salt, divided

2 tsp black pepper, divided

1 1/2 tsp herbs de Provence (if you can get it with lavender it’s better)

1/3 cup flour

1 1/4 cup low sodium chicken broth

1/2 cup dry white wine

2/3 cups milk

2 9″ frozen pie crusts or pie dough

 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Roll you pie dough into a deep casserole pan, leaving enough to top the pot pie if using. If you are going with 2 pie crusts, one will be your bottom and the other will be used for the top. I used pre-made pie crust in the aluminum pans, but turned one out and pressed it into my oval casserole pan, while rolling out the other for the top and it just worked fine.

In a medium pot heat 1/2 TBSP vegetable oil and combine chicken, carrots, peas, corn, mushrooms, and celery or fennel. Sprinkle with 2 tsp salt and 1 tsp black pepper, and sauté over medium heat for about 6 minutes. Carefully add enough water to cover chicken and veggies, leaning away so steam doesn’t hit you in the face. Crank heat to high, cover, and boil for 10 minutes. Drain and set aside. This step can be done as much as a day in advance if need be. Simply store in an airtight container in the fridge and take out about 30 minutes before you’re ready to assemble the pie.

In a bowl or large measuring cup, mix the wine, broth, and milk. In a saucepan over medium heat cook the onions and garlic in the butter until soft. You don’t want these to brown. Mix in the remaining salt and pepper, and herbs, toasting a little while, stirring for an additional 1-2 minutes. Add the flour, followed by one fourth of the liquid mixture. Stir until incorporated. Continue mixing the liquid in batches, stirring until incorporated each time. Once the liquid is well mixed and smooth with the onions, garlic, and herbs, let slightly thicken an additional couple of minutes (should coat the back of a spoon). Remove from heat.

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Pour the chicken and veggie mixture into the bottom pie crust. Pour the liquid flour-onion mixture over the top of the chicken, letting it move down and around every thing. Cover this deliciousness with the top crust, sealing the edges with the tines of a fork or your fingers. Cut 4 or 5 vents in the top about 1 inch long to allow steam to escape while baking. If you’re feelin’ fancy (and that’s okay) you can use extra pie dough to make a design on top or whisk an egg with 2 TBSP water for an egg wash to brush on for an extra shiny golden crust.

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Bake for 34 – 38 minutes until the top is nice and golden brown and the insides are bubbling hot. Allow to cool 10-15 minutes before serving. We didn’t bother to serve ours with a side of anything, though I suppose mashed potatoes might be the norm or sautéed spinach might be good. The fact of the matter is any other food would simply detract from the pie, and who wants that? No one, that’s who.

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Kale Chips

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This may be the hippy-est thing I’ve ever said, but I love me some Kale Chips! Take a bunch of Kale (or two) and dry them out in your oven for crispy, delicious, and addicting healthy treats. When you make this, bake as much Kale you have time for. They cook down more than anything else you will ever bake. It’s like sautéing spinach. So, if it’s a rainy afternoon with hours to kill, do a number of bunches and keep them in zip lock bags, then re-toast to eat as snacks throughout the week. This is time consuming, but EASY, and definitely worth it.

Easy peasy!

Ingredients

1 bunch Kale (1 bunch as a snack per every 2 people is a good rule of thumb)

1 TBSP fresh lemon juice, divided

1 tsp Cayenne, divided

1 TBSP olive oil, divided

Kosher or Sea salt to taste

If you’ve got a convection oven use it. Preheat oven on convection to 280. If you’re using a regular oven, preheat it to 325. Rinse kale and cut the leafy part away from the stalk as best you can. You want large pieces because these suckers are going to contract more than Shrinky Dinks. Spread out your future chips on tea towels to dry a bit (you can do this long in advance to preheating the oven if you’d prefer to make them fresh later on). This will also give you an idea of how many batches you’ll have to do based on the size of leaves, cookie sheets, and oven size. This is important; the number of batches will of course be the way you’ll need to divide the lemon juice, salt, cayenne, and olive oil. If you’re good at eyeballing or winging it, do so!

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Scoop a cookie sheet’s worth of kale leaves (about 12-20) into a bowl and sprinkle with fresh lemon juice (I would just squeeze a half of a lemon through my fingers each time), a pinch of cayenne, enough olive oil to lightly coat most without being overly greasy, and a sprinkling of kosher or sea salt. Toss with tongs or hands. Place kale in an individual layer on parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Immediately rinse your hands of any cayenne residue once you’ve got your kale placed. Bake for about 12-14 minutes in convection or 23-27 minutes on a regular oven setting. Some edges may brown; that’s absolutely fine. Place crisped leaves on a cooling rack for 10 minutes. Continue baking in as many batches as needed. You can store in ziploc bags for up to a week and retoast whenever needed.

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Alton Brown Bread Pudding Mashup

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This is the bread pudding recipe so good that even those claim to hate bread pudding will ask for a second helping.

In his episode The Proof is in the Bread Pudding, Alton Brown makes a spiced pudding in a bread crust, and a second chocolate version with chunks of challah bread in a pyrex dish. If I was going to attempt this whole bread pudding thing I’d want a custard that was rich and flavorful, had a relatively simple recipe and task list (i.e. pyrex over a perfectly carved crust basin), and perfect texture rather than just damp bread. I decided to balance AB’s two recipes, switch a few items, and add chewy Craisins and Ghirardelli chocolate chunks for texture.

Kate’s Mashup of AB’s Bread Puddings

Ingredients

1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon dried orange peel
15 whole cloves
15 whole peppercorns
1/2 ounce crystallized ginger, chopped
4 cups half-and-half, divided
2 large whole eggs
3 large egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
2 ounces spiced rum

1 Challah cubed into 1 inch pieces

1/2 Dark Chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli 60% dark cocoa chips)
1/2 cup dried cherries
1 to 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly (optional)

Directions

Place the cinnamon, nutmeg, dried orange peel, cloves, peppercorns, and ginger into 3 cups of half-and-half in a microwavable container and microwave on high for 3 minutes. Check the temperature of the mixture and microwave in 30 second increments until it reaches 180 degrees F. Cover and steep 15 minutes.

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Place the eggs and yolks in a blender with an 8-cup carafe. Blend on the lowest speed for 30 seconds. Raise the speed to quarter power and slowly add the sugars and blend until thickened slightly, about 1 minute. Add the remaining cup of half-and-half. With the machine still running, pour in the spiced half-and-half through a small hand strainer and add the rum. Use immediately, or store covered in the refrigerator for up to 36 hours.

Butter or non-stick spray a 9 by 13-inch metal pan and place the cubed bread in the pan. Sprinkle the chocolate chips and dried cranberries on top of the bread and slowly pour in the custard. Press down on the mixture with a spatula or the back of a spoon (or your hands) to thoroughly saturate. Cover and set aside at room temperature for 2 hours, or refrigerate for up to 8 hours. You can do this the night before if you want.

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Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Bake about 40 – 45 minutes. If you’d like your top extra crispy, set your oven to the high broil setting with the oven door slightly ajar. Remove the bread pudding from the oven. Pour the melted butter into a spray bottle and spritz the top of the bread pudding or brush on melted butter carefully. Return to the middle rack and broil for 4 to 5 minutes. Remove to a cooling rack for 15 minutes before serving.

I served mine with vanilla ice cream and leftovers kept for 3 days in the fridge.

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Light Pumpkin Cream Cheese Bundt Cake

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I’m in Austin. It’s a million degrees out here, on this second to last day of September. But I’m continuing in my quest to will it to be Autumn. Visiting a friend for a party tonight, I decided to bring a pumpkin cake. I like pumpkin bread, but tonight I wanted something more, yet light. This recipe has no oil or butter in it and makes for an ultra moist, but not too sweet dessert that’s great for company, coffee, or a night playing Beatles Rock Band. Breaking out my bundt pan and whipping together a brown sugar cream cheese filling, I set to work making an easy, but flavorful Fall cake.

Pumpkin Spice Cake

1 box Spice Cake Mix

1 15oz can pumpkin

1.5 tsp Pumpkin Pie Spice

1 tsp nutmeg

1 3.4oz butterscotch Instant Pudding Mix

2 eggs

2 TBSP Greek Yogurt

Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Filling

12 oz. room temperature Cream Cheese

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 egg

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, mix together the cake ingredients. The cake batter will be sticky and thick, but fluffy, almost like icing. If it’s seems too thick, sticky, or dense to stir of manipulate add another big tablespoon of yogurt. In a separate bowl, whip together the cream cheese filling ingredients and place in the fridge for a few minutes.On a side note, I tend to not like things overly sweet and to me the pumpkin cake with cream cheese brown sugar mixture is more than enough. That being said, add 2 TBSP to 1/4 cup of granulated sugar to the cake mixture if you like it as sweet as usual cakes.

Grease or spray non-stick spray in a bundt cake pan and sprinkle with flour. Scoop in roughly 1/3 to 1/2 of the batter into the pan and spread evenly, making a little indenture in the center while doing it. The cream cheese will sit in this like a circular river of deliciousness. Next remove the cream cheese mixture from the fridge and dollop it in the indentation around the cake batter as evenly as possible. Next, top the cream cheese with the remaining cake batter, being careful to cover all the exposed cream cheese. Smooth the top as best you can.

Bake for 45-55 degrees or until a tooth pick comes out clean. Let cool at least 20 minutes before flipping out of the bundt pan. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar, slice, and serve. It’s moist, it’s delicious, it’s low fat, low sugar, and it screams Autumn comfort!

Crispy Coconut Shrimp & Spicy Citrus Mint Marmalade

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I recently made a crispy baked Escolar filet with coconut. I really liked this bright, sweet, and oh-so-summery punch of flavor. As I had a bit of coconut leftover, I began to think of other foods that incorporate similar flavors that I love.

Years ago something I became addicted to (shamefully) was Outback’s Coconut shrimp. I’ve noticed a number of restaurants have picked up a similar recipe, but the last few times I’ve tried this dish, it’s been disappointing. The coating was too much or soggy, and the shrimp were small and sometimes not even cleaned.

The great thing about perfecting a recipe at home is that you control what does and does not go into it; the bad thing is once you have it down pat you find it’s harder and harder to eat out. …Maybe that’s a good thing.

The interesting part of the coconut shrimp was creating the spicy citrus marmalade that compliments the sweet coconut perfectly, and it was super easy. I fried my shrimp, thinking of this offering as an appetizer and not an entree. Frying the shrimp of course insures crispiness, but it also keeps the shrimp from shrinking as they so often do during cooking. You can bake the shrimp instead – it honestly comes out JUST as good – and directions for doing so are below.

Take the time to clean your shrimp. It’s really not that bad and you can pretend you’re a rugged chef who hunted the wilds for the bottom feeders you’re about to devour. I tend to butterfly the shrimp about 1/2 to 2/3’s of the way up the back of the shrimp because it helps it cook evenly, makes them seem larger for a more effective appetizer, and they have more surface area for the awesome dip. You don’t have to do that, but be sure to “devein” the shrimp in the very least. Surprise: It’s not a vein. It’s the poop shoot. So devein away.

Shrimp:

1 pound “Collosal” shrimp, deveined

1/4 cup flour

2 eggs, beaten

1/2 cup panko

1/2 cup sweetened, shredded coconut

vegetable oil for frying (or an oven for baking!)

Spicy Citrus Mint Marmalade:

3 heaping tablespoons orange marmalade

1/2 TSBP chiffoned mint leaves

2+ tsp red pepper flakes or wasabi powder based on your heat preference

1 tsp chili oil

1 1/2 tsp fresh lime juice

1 tsp curry powder (IF you’re not allergic to it!…I mean, it’s optional.)

Frying directions: Fill a heavy, deep pan or stock pot with about 3 inches of oil and heat to roughly 375 degrees. The shrimp are going to cook quick and you want them to brown, but not burn. Combine the panko and coconut shreds in a bowl. While the oil is heating up, dredge your cleaned shrimp – lightly coat in flour, shaking off excess, followed by a dip in the beaten eggs, ending with a coat in the panko & coconut mixture. Fry in the oil for about 3-4 minutes per shrimp. They should start to get golden pretty quickly, and they will continue cooking a bit after you take them out of the oil, so if it’s been 3 minutes and they’re brown, pull them out and move to a paper towel coated plate to drain.

While the fried shrimp are resting, make your dipping sauce: Combine all ingredients in a bowl, adjusting the heat with more or less red pepper flakes or wasabi to fit your own preference. Remember that as it sits it will get a little spicier if you’re using red pepper flakes.

If you’d rather bake the shrimp, preheat your oven to 400. Spray a baking sheet with olive oil spray (Pam works), prepare the shrimp the same as if you were going to fry them,  and layout the shrimp on a single layer on the pan. Spray the tops of the shrimp with a bit of the olive oil spray. Cook for 10-12 minutes, flipping half way through. Seriously, I was surprised that these came out just as tasty as their fried counter parts, there was less mess and less calories. The only difference was there was slightly less browning as well.

Serve with slices of lime and make sure you put a few shrimp to the side for yourself because these will disappear entirely too fast. Ridiculously too fast. I recommend a pound of shrimp as an appetizer for four people who like shrimp. People seem to have a tendency to eat far more than they expect of these, like really good pizza. You may have to double the marmalade as well depending on heavy handed dippers. So freakin’ good.

Pig & Fig 2: Spicy Fig Glazed Grilled Pork Chops

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I’ve started mixing sweet with savory just for the thrill. It’s taught me a lot about food, made me a bit more adventurous, and aids me in cooking. With a recent bounty of figs I knew I had to come up with a few new creations before the figs went to the great fig tree in the sky, i.e. went bad. Working on something sweet, I originally made a fig sauce for dipping chicken into or pouring over fish, but the moment I tasted it I knew: This sauce was born for charring pork. My buddy tasted it and said “It’s good,” and then proceed to dunk a grilled chicken tenderloin into it. “Mmmm!…Yeah, okay,” he said while still chewing. “It would be best with pork.” Yes, padawan. I know.

Fig Sauce/Glaze:

1 1/4 cup roughly chopped figs

1 1/2 cup water

2/3 cup brown sugar

1 TBSP soy sauce

1 TBSP Ponzu

1 tsp red pepper flakes

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup orange juice

Throw everything into a sauce pot and cook down over medium high heat until it’s reduced by at least a third to half. It’s going to be pretty thick. Set it aside to cool.

While the sauce was marrying post simmer, I took two gorgeous, thick-cut bone in pork chops, about 6-8 ounces each, rinsed them, and patted them dry. Once the sauce cooled a bit (you can make this sauce a few days in advance if need be and keep it in the fridge in tupperware for 3-5 days) I blended it with an immersion hand blender, you can also use a potato masher. It’s fine if the sauce is still pretty chunky.

I then slathered the chops with the fully cooled sauce and let them sit at room temperature for 20-30 minutes. These were thick and needed to come to room temperature before I through them on the grill.

I operate on one speed: Fast. The also means that I generally cook on one temp: High. I preheated my grill, cleaned the grates, and slathered the pork just a bit more and cracked fresh black pepper over them before putting it on the grill. Now these chops were about 1 1/2 inches thick, so they had to cook a while, and though I wanted a char, I didn’t need dry pork. No one needs that. After 4 minutes on one side my friend gave the chops a quarter turn and left them for another 4 minutes.  We dripped a bit more sauce on the top and topped with black pepper again prior to flipping them and lowered the burners to medium-high. After about 4 minutes, there was a quarter turn and they were done two minutes later. You want your pork to register at 145 degrees – YES, this is safe – and remember that as it rests, it will continue cooking a bit.

This was a lot of pork for 2 people, so I served it with simply an arugula and summer greens salad dressed with olive oil, quartered figs, and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, which really intensifies the natural flavor and sweetness of the ripe figs. It was a perfect, protein packed, low fat dinner for a summer evening. This is great for everyone, but it’s also paleo friendly and excellent for South Beach or Atkins

The sauce and char makes ’em!

Summer Cakes: Berries, Lemon, & David Bowie

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Summer desserts have to be easy, fun, and minimal on oven time.

I want a flavor that reminds me of my childhood, bright, complex, lemony, and sweet. I also bought my first ever bundt pan, so I want to make something in that, because I didn’t spend $8 for nothin’! I took a simple cake recipe and added a bit of lemon flavors, creaminess, and berries to make the plain extraordinary, and then coated it in a glaze because why not?

Cake:

2 1/2 cups flour

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

2 sticks/1 cup room temperature butter

1/3 vegetable oil

1 3/4 cups sugar

1 TBSP lemon curd

juice and zest of 1 lemon

1 tsp vanilla extract

4 eggs

1/2 cup sour cream

1 cup Greek yogurt

1 TBSP honey

1 1/4 cup berries, fresh or thawed from frozen, and pureed. (I used a blend of strawberries, blue berries, and raspberries, but any will work)

Glaze:

1 TBSP lemon juice (or use 1/2 TBSP lemon juice and 1/2 TBSP lime juice)

Zest of 1 lemon

1 1/4 cup powdered sugar

Preheat your oven to 350 and grease the crap outta your bundt pan. In a large bowl whisk the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together. Set aside. Blend the eggs, oil, butter, sugar, lemon curd, lemon juice and zest until smooth. The lemon may make the butter look almost as if it’s curdled; don’t worry about it. Using a spatula combine the wet mixture into the flour mixture. The batter will seem thicker than your average cake batter.

In yet another bowl, mix together the Greek yogurt, honey, and sour cream. Fold or cut the cream mixture into the cake mix. Pour 1/2 of the the pureed berries into the batter and mix slightly. Pour the second half into the batter, but don’t mix, let it hang out all messy like.

Pour/dollop the batter into the bundt pan and cook on the middle rack of your preheated over for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let the cake cool at least 20 minutes before inverting it and removing from the bundt pan. Let the cake cool at least another 30 minutes before pouring the glaze over the cake and letting the excess drip over the sides. You can also poke small toothpick holes all over the cake before topping with glaze to really allow the sweetness to penetrate the freshly baked goodness. One of my favorite things about this is that it’s flavorful without being very sweet, so a slice in the morning is a great alternative to coffee cake or some other stale pastry.

Want a simpler version? Get a boxed lemon cake mix, prepare the batter according to the directions with the addition of the juice of a lemon, mix in the sour cream concoction noted above, pour in the berries just as I mentioned previously, and bake in a bundt pan according to the box. It’s a faster, less involved way to meet the same ends.

And in the spirit of cakes, a friend made a sheet cake of psychedelic colors, and an airbrushing of Aladdin Sane, in honor of the 40th anniversary of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. It was delicious and absolutely worth sharing here.