Monday, March 27, 2017

Shrimp Dip

I like to make dips, so much so that I think my next cookbook might be all about them. Why do I like them so much? Besides the obvious deliciousness factor, dips are versatile. Though some are specifically meant to be eaten at room temperature or cold, many can also be heated until bubbly and golden. Some can also be re-purposed as a sauce for pasta (like the corn dip in this pasta casserole) or a sandwich component (try crab dip on a hot dog). If the dip is hearty enough, it can be dinner (see: fondue).

When we received samples of Farmer's Pantry Cornbread Crisps, I determined that they needed a dip. Well, not really--they are perfectly delicious on their own. The jalapeno flavor is especially tasty, and it does indeed have a peppery kick. I found myself eating them by the handful even before the dip came out of the oven. By that time, I was getting full, so the dip became my dinner. (Mr Minx's too, even if he didn't eat half a bag of Crisps before dinnertime).

The dip is full of chunks of shrimp and artichokes, with lots of cheese and a few sliced almonds scattered on top for crunch. It's one of those things that would also work really great as a topping for chicken breast fillets or pasta, so consider that if you have any left over. And that's a big "if."

Shrimp and Artichoke Dip

1/2 onion, chopped
1/4 red bell pepper, chopped
Olive oil
Pinch salt
8 ounces of shrimp, peeled, deveined, and chopped into dime-sized pieces
2-3 teaspoons Chesapeake Bay-style seafood seasoning, like The Spice Lab Best of the Bay
4 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/2 cup grated Swiss cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan + more for topping
1 (14-oz) can artichoke heart quarters, drained, chopped, and blotted dry
Lemon juice
Sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Over medium-high heat, cook the onion and bell pepper in a bit of olive oil and a pinch of salt until translucent. Stir in the shrimp and cook a few minutes until opaque. Stir in Bay seasoning to taste.

In a large bowl, combine the cream cheese and mayo. Stir in the Swiss cheese, the 1/2 cup of Parm, the artichokes, and the shrimp mixture. Add lemon juice to taste.

Scrape the mixture into a round or square 8" baking dish, or into individual ramekins. Top with additional Parm and some of the sliced almonds. Bake for 15-20 minutes until oozy and the cheese and almonds are browned.

Serve with Cornbread Crackers or sliced French bread.

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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Friday, March 24, 2017

Chicken in Milk

Years ago, when Mr Minx and I were regular Food Network watchers, we saw an episode of Jamie Oliver's show (The Naked Chef, I believe) in which he oven-braised a whole chicken in a pot of milk. Seemed a little weird, especially as he also added lemon peel, which curdled the milk. Jamie insisted the chicken was the best thing ever, so I filed the idea away in my head to make sometime in the future.

Flash forward a good 15 years when I stumble upon the recipe on the Internet. "Oh yeah," I think, "I was going to make this at some point." Better late than never is definitely true in this case.

I had to adapt the recipe somewhat. I don't have an oven-safe vessel that would comfortably hold a whole chicken, so I used the stovetop. Small chickens are nigh impossible to find in a regular supermarket, and if you know me, you'll know I'm not the kind of person who will go running around from store to store to find a perfect ingredient. Chicken thighs and chicken legs were more than good enough for the job, however, The recipe called for 10 cloves of garlic, skin-on, but my small bulb yielded 14 and I used all of them. I would, in the future, remove the skins, as they don't melt during cooking and are a little annoying to find in one's mouth.

The end result was pretty amazing. The chicken was meltingly tender, garlicky but not overwhelmingly so. The curds in the sauce were small and not entirely unappealing. Most of my liquid cooked away so I added a splash of milk at the end to create more sauce. I'd also, in the future, save some of the sage to chop up and sprinkle on at the end of cooking, for some fresh herbal flavor. This recipe will definitely go into my cooking rotation, as it was easy, used only one pot, and tasted great. Plus there's the possibility for variations: coconut milk and lime, perhaps, with makrut lime instead of sage; sub orange for the lemon; etc.

Chicken in Milk (adapted from a recipe by Jamie Oliver)

1 tablespoon butter
8-10 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs and legs
Salt and Pepper
½ stick cinnamon
1 good handful fresh sage leaves
Zest of 2 lemons, cut into long strips with a vegetable peeler
10 -14 whole cloves of garlic, skins removed (about a whole small bulb)
2 cups whole milk + more

Melt the butter in a dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the chicken, which you have salted and peppered, skin-side down and cook until browned on both sides. (You'll need to do this in two batches.)

Remove the chicken to a plate and drain any liquid fat from the pan, leaving the sticky crusty bits behind. Add the chicken back to the pot with the rest of the ingredients. Cover pot and bring to a boil. Turn heat down so the milk is just simmering and cook until chicken is falling-apart tender, about an hour, maybe a bit more. 90 minutes max. If you find that much of the liquid has boiled away, add half a cup or so additional milk toward the end of the cooking time, so you 'll have sauce.

Serve a few pieces of chicken per person with some of the juices spooned over, plus a green veg and some sort of starch to absorb the sauce. (I used quinoa.)

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Monday, March 20, 2017

Rasgulla

I'm not into the whole idea that one simply eats to live, because I live to eat. That has made me an adventurous cook. While I love meatloaf and spaghetti and meatballs as much as the next person, I almost never cook them. (Besides, Neal does a much better job at both dishes than I do.) I prefer to make things that are a little more unusual than what one would expect a second generation Polish-American to make: octopus; egg foo yung; b'stilla; rasgulla.

Rasgulla is an Indian dessert, basically cheese balls cooked in a sweet syrup. I found the recipe in Chetna Makan's book The Cardamom Trail. Chetna was a contestant on the 2014 season of the Great British Bake-Off and an even more recent Christmas special. Trained as a fashion designer in Mumbai, she moved to the UK a decade or so ago where she honed her already keen talent for baking. She's known for incorporating exotic spices and international flavors into her bakes, and her creativity quickly made her my favorite contestant of the four seasons of the Bake-Off that I've seen so far. I purchased her book as a Christmas gift to myself but so far haven't made anything other than the rasgulla. Why? Because most of the recipes call for self-raising flour, and I've been too lazy to look up the conversion to regular AP flour. Plus, the house has been full of holiday baked goods and food show samples and there hasn't been room for one more pie or cake or cookie in our already oversized bellies. That said, I'm hoping to try something before it gets too warm to turn on the oven.

In the meantime, however, I did find time to make these cheese balls. No self-raising flour required, and they sounded pretty simple otherwise. They're rather unusual, in that the cheese becomes very firm and "squeaky" after cooking. I find them most pleasing when warm, but they can also be eaten at room temperature or chilled.

Rasgulla (adapted from The Cardamom Trail)

1-2 tablespoons lime juice
1 3/4 pints whole milk
Pinch saffron
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons rosewater
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Mix 1 tablespoon of lime juice with 1 tablespoon of water in a bowl and set aside. Bring the milk to a boil in a large saucepan, then turn off the heat. Add the saffron. Pour in the lime juice and stir well. Let stand for 5 minutes - the milk should curdle. If it hasn't curdled enough, add the other tablespoon of lime juice and wait a few more minutes until there's a definite separation of the curds and whey.

Place a layer of cheesecloth in a fine gauge strainer and place over a bowl. Carefully pour the curdled milk into the strainer, catching the curds in the cheesecloth and allowing the whey to drain into the bowl. Gather the ends of the cloth together and wring out as much liquid from the curds as you can. Drain the whey from the bowl, set the strainer back on top, and place the bundle of squeezed curds back in. Place a small plate on top and weight it down with a can or two to help press out any excess liquid. Allow to drain for 15 minutes.

In a wide pan, heat the sugar with three cups of water until the sugar has dissolved. Remove the syrup from the heat.

Remove the curd from the cloth. Place it on a clean surface, sprinkle with the cornstarch, and knead with your palms for 10 minutes. It will go from crumbly to soft and smooth. Roll the dough into a fat log and cut into 20 pieces. Roll each piece into a smooth ball.

Once the balls are ready, bring the syrup to a boil and add the rosewater. Add the balls, then cover the pan and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes. The rasgulla will double in size and become spongy. Turn off the heat and keep the balls in the syrup until ready to serve.

Serve warm with or chilled with some of the syrup. Leftovers can be stored in the syrup in an airtight container for up to three days.

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Friday, March 17, 2017

Broccoli Cheese Soup

Most broccoli cheese soups I've had are as thick as paste and is about as tasty. The broccoli is often mushy and flatulent, well past the point of overcooked. And forget canned versions; I find them abominable.

Homemade soup, on the other hand, can be quite delicious. And no, you don't need a crock pot (not for anything in my book). Broccoli cheese soup is actually quite quick, especially if you don't roast the broccoli first. But why not? Roasting adds another layer of flavor, and it can be done while you're prepping the other veg.

There's also no need for a gloppy texture. Just don't use so much flour!

This soup is somewhat lean in that I didn't use whole milk or half and half, as some recipes call for. Much of the broth's flavor comes from bottled dry hard cider (but a light beer will also work) and chicken stock. It's roux-thickened, so there's not really any need for tons of dairy. And it doesn't need more than a cup and a half of cheese--it's not fondue, after all.

I think this soup is perfect on a cold winter day, especially like the snowy one we just had. In fact, this was dinner that very day, accompanied by hot buttered toast. It would also work well using a small head of cauliflower in place of the broccoli. Even a pound of button mushrooms, sliced and sauteed in butter, would make a good substitute for the broccoli-averse.

Broccoli Cheese Soup

2 heads broccoli
Olive oil
Salt
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
1 medium carrot, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup dry hard cider
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups 2% milk
4 shakes Worcestershire sauce
Freshly ground nutmeg (1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon, or to taste)
Freshly ground black pepper (as much as you like)
Tabasco sauce
6 ounces shredded sharp white cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Trim broccoli stems. Cut into small florets. Peel the stems and cut into chunks. Arrange in one layer on a foil-lined baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and a big pinch of salt. Roast for 20 minutes, or until florets start to char a bit on the edges. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

In a soup pot or dutch oven, melt the butter and stir in the flour until a paste forms. Add the carrot, pepper, and onion and cook, stirring frequently, for 3-4 minutes, until veg start to soften and everything smells good. Pour in the cider, stock, and milk and bring to a simmer. Season with the Worcestershire, nutmeg, pepper, a few shakes of hot sauce. Add the broccoli and simmer over medium-low heat for about 20 minutes, until the broccoli is tender. Stir in the cheese until melted. Season with salt to taste.

Serves 4-6

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