Friday, April 29, 2016

chicken tinga.

Cinqo de Mayo more then any other holiday makes me nostalgic for college.   In college we looked for any excuse to celebrate and a holiday involving drinking copious amounts of Coronas' with Lime and wearing sombreros was about the best you could get.   I'd give anything for a cooler full of cold beers and a dance party with my girlfriends next Wednesday.   

And nachos!  The most popular bar on Main Street (home to Saturday night Eighties night) served a giant plate of nachos and cheap pitchers of beer.  As a poor college kid there was nothing better that that.  On Cinqo de Mayo the line to get into this place was so long but the promise of nachos made the wait worth it.   

But this monstrous plate of nachos was not well-designed.   Oh no, it was poorly executed with a a copious amount of chips on the bottom and an assortment of toppings strewn haphazardly over the top.  Now, almost 10 years later (god I feel old), I see the error in their ways.  A plate of nachos should be so well-designed that a little bit of everything is incorporated into each and every bite.  It's all about the combinations of flavors which is why it's important to start with flavorful ingredients.

Chicken tinga (a fancy name for spicy Mexican shredded chicken) is the best nacho base.  Because it's chicken nestled in spicy tomato sauce you basically get your protein and your salsa in a single dish.  From there it's up to you.  I like homemade black beans, cheese (duh), pickled jalapenos, and a tomatillo/avocado salsa.   Sour cream optional on the side.    The key is freshly fried tortilla chips (go big or go home) and laying all of the tortilla chips onto your baking sheet so you can top each chip with a little of bit of your ingredients (as demonstrated below) followed by a generous layer of cheese.   Sure it's more work, but the resulting nachos are awesome.   Best served with a cold beer (but you already knew that didn't you?).   

Chicken Tinga (Spicy Mexican Shredded Chicken)
Recipe adapted (slightly) from Serious Eats 

2 bone-in, skin-on chicken breast halves (about 1 1/4 pounds; 550g)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons (30ml) lard or vegetable oil
6 ounces tomatillos, peeled (170g; about 2 medium)
10 ounces ripe plum tomatoes or diced can tomatoes (270g)
4 medium garlic cloves
1 small white onion, finely chopped
2 teaspoons dried oregano (preferably Mexican)
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons (30ml) cider vinegar
2 cups (475ml) homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock (or water)
2 to 3 canned chipotle chilies in adobo sauce, plus 1 tablespoon (15ml) sauce from can
2 teaspoons (10ml) Asian fish sauce

Season chicken generously with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a medium saucepan over high heat until shimmering. Add chicken skin side down and cook, without moving, until well browned, 6 to 8 minutes. (Lower heat if pot is smoking excessively or chicken starts to burn.) Flip chicken and cook on second side for 2 minutes. Transfer to a large plate and immediately add tomatillos, tomatoes, and garlic to pot. Cook, flipping occasionally, until blistered and browned in spots, about 5 minutes.

Add onion and cook, stirring, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add oregano and bay leaves and cook, stirring, until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Add vinegar and stock. Return chicken to pot, bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a bare simmer. Cover the pot and cook, turning chicken occasionally, until chicken registers 145°F when an instant-read thermometer is inserted into the center of the thickest part, 20 to 30 minutes. Transfer chicken to a bowl and set aside. Continue cooking the sauce at a hard simmer, stirring, until reduced to about half its original volume, about 5 minutes longer.

Add chipotle chilies and adobo, remove and discard bay leaves, and blend the sauce using an immersion blender or by transferring to a countertop blender. Sauce should be relatively smooth, with a few small chunks. When chicken is cool enough to handle, discard the skin and bones and finely shred the meat. Return it to the sauce. Add fish sauce and stir to combine.

Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring, until sauce thickens and coats chicken. It should be very moist but not soupy. Season to taste with salt and pepper (if necessary). Chicken tinga can be served in tacos; stuffed into enchiladas or burritos; on top of nachos, tostadas, and sopes; or on its own.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

austin, tx - a food and antique guide.

Tyler and I left our puppy and headed to Austin a couple of weekends ago.  Sadly, due to the awful thunderstorms they had, we didn't get to experience Austin the way the locals do i.e. outdoors drinking really good local beer and eating breakfast tacos in the sun.  Regardless, we made the most of it.

Austin isn't like the rest of Texas, it's a lot more urban, liberal, and filled with young kids who spend their money on fancy coffee, farmhouse ales, and superb tacos.   It feels a lot like Nashville and Portland (Oregon that is) and it's another one of those cities where I wonder what everyone actually does for a living.  No one seems to get dressed up and go to a corporate job.  Do corporate jobs exist outside of New York?

Despite my misgivings about careers in Austin, it's a fun place to visit.   The food is great and the antiquing is even better (if only we had an apartment we owned to put all of these things in!).  Below is my list of must check out places - mostly food and some shopping (because those are the things I know best).   

El Primo, Tacodeli, Veracruz all Natural - One does not visit Austin without eating at least one breakfast taco. The breakfast taco should be composed of a flour tortilla, egg, and cheese.   Additional add-ins can include avocado (duh), homemade salsas, bacon or chorizo, and if you are like me, beans.   We ate a boat load of breakfast tacos from a range of places and all were really good in different ways.  I can't rank one above the other so if you're smart, you'll visit all 3 spots.  Veracruz all Natural does win points for the absurdly large and utterly delicious mango agua frescas (it's a must order).

Elizabeth St. Cafe - An utterly charming and absurdly adorable Vietnamese cafe.   Their poached shrimp, avocado, and cilantro spring rolls have me dreaming of endless varieties that Tyler and I will consume with abandon this summer (there is no dish more suited for hot summer weather then spring rolls and peanut sauce). The whole menu is exciting, in-expensive, and very delicious.  They also make outstanding macarons in incredibly unusual flavors (I'm looking at you everything bagel) and a dreamy bouchon (which is a fancy French brownie).      

Josephine House - I had this as a maybe on my initial list of places to eat in Austin.  It seemed to hyped for me and I was worried it wouldn't be worth it.  Oh how wrong I was.  I don't think I would visit for dinner but their brunch is magical.   The morning pastries are incredible - buckwheat scones with jam, carrot cake with beets and pistachios.  It's just all around exciting breakfast foods done well and what more does anyone want?   

Launderette - Looking at a restaurants menu, it's easy for me to tell if I'm going to like the place.  Does it do small plates?  Do they have a section devoted to vegetables?   Are there things served on toast?  This restaurant checked off all of those boxes so it was no surprise that we ate there and loved it.   The labneh with beet hummus and everything crackers was light, fresh, and exciting.  (I need to figure out how to recreate.)  Oh! They have adorable birthday cake ice cream sandwiches that are insanely good and are also on my list of things I need to make a version of.  I see them being the dessert of 2016 in our house.    

Uptown Modern - As a mid-century modern junkie, I felt as if I died and went to my version of heaven.  The furnititure is beautiful and decently priced.   They sell an assortment of mid-century knick-knacks as well in case you want something that you can easily transport on a plane.

The Austin Antique Mall - Tyler and I spent several hours perusing this 30,000 square foot space. They have SO MUCH STUFF and not awful junk stuff.  I picked up a pair of amazing 1950's science prints that I'm looking to frame.  It's impossible to leave this place without buying something.   

Uncommon Objects - This place is a madhouse on the weekends since it's on the main strip in downtown Austin, but it has an awesome selection of well edited antiques/curiosities.   Some stuff is priced high, but if you dig through, you'll find some treasures (I picked up some cool candlesticks for $10).   

Thursday, April 21, 2016

almond and oat jam bars.

Deb over at Smitten Kitchen turned me on to Liz Prueitt's Instagram.   She works at Tartine out in San Francisco and takes lovely pictures of food that I want to eat (lots of grains, beans, and desserts filled with all sorts of interesting flours).   The real kicker is that she includes recipes for some of these items - it's kind of like an Instagram cooking magazine and I love it.

These jam bars caught my attention a couple of weeks back because they felt like a healthy, good for you breakfast/cookie/afternoon snack item.  In essence, they are an updated Linzer cookie - one filled with oats and almonds and chia seeds (those all the rage ingredients).   I like them because they taste really, really good.   A little bit like a cookie and a little bit like a granola bar.  They are kind of the best of both world and most everyone I handed one to couldn't get enough of them.   

Almond and Oat Jam Bars 
Recipe from the Instagram of Liz Prueitt (lizprueitt_tartine)

For the Crust

4 oz. softned butter
3 oz. almond butter
1 ounce maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanila
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 cup almond flour
1 teaspoon baking powder 
1 cup oat flour
6 tablespooons sugar

For the Filling

2 tablespoons ground chia seeds
1/4 cup water
12 ounces of jam (I used homemade rhubarb)
Pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.   

Mix all of the crust ingredients with hands or wooden spoon.   Divide into thirds, patting two-thirds into the bottom of 9x13 pan lined with parchment.

Combine all the filling ingredients in a bowl and spread over the crust.   Crumble the remaining one-third crust ingredients on top.  

Bake for 30 - 35 minutes.  Let cook.  Cut and eat! 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

apricot, oat, and spelt scones.

Scones don't get a lot of love in the US.   America is the land of the muffin and while muffins are great, they just don't exude elegance quite the way a scone does.  A scone begs for tea, china plates, hushed voices and soft music.     

I like scones a lot but it was only recently that I became re-enamored with them.  Tandem Bakery up in Portland, Maine (do you think I talk about this place enough?) does a lot of really terrific varieties - most recently I had an Apple and Feta scone that just killed me.  I like the fact that a scone can be savory and sweet - it opens up the doors of possibilities.   

But while a lot of scones are good, many of them lack substance - the stuff that keeps you full to lunch time.  Which is why this scone recipe caught my attention.  Chock-full of that healthy and trendy grain spelt, a boat load of oats, and just enough sugar to make if feel as if you aren't eating "health food" these are everything I want at breakfast.   And sure there is a decent amount of butter but with all of these articles coming out praising full-fat everything, I like to think a little butter in my morning meal isn't a bad thing  I haven't been this enamored with a breakfast item in a long time and I can't begin to stress enough that you should go and make these immediately.    

Apricot, Oat, and Spelt Scones 
Adapted slightly from Lootie and Doof

Can be halved (though having done that, I realize it was a foolish mistake).   

1/4 cup hot water
10 ounces (300g) dried apricots, diced into 1/2 inch cubes
2 cups (200g) rolled oats, plus more for topping
3 cups plus 2 tablespoons (375 g) whole grain spelt flour
1/2 cup (80g) light brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/3 cups (300g) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 egg yolks
2 eggs
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 cup (250g) plain yogurt 
1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons milk, for egg wash

Butter a 1/4 sheet pan and line with parchment paper.

Put the apricots in a small bowl and pour the hot water over them. Toss to coat, and then set aside.

In a bowl, combine the oats, spelt flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and whisk together. Use a pastry cutter to cut the cubes of butter into the dry ingredients. continue until it resembles coarse meal.

In another bowl, whisk together the yolks, eggs, maple syrup, and yogurt. Pour this into the dry ingredients and mix just until combined. Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan and spread it out. 

Take the soaked prunes and dot on top. Push the apricots into the dough.  Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 3 hours, or overnight.

When ready to cook, preheat your oven to 390°F. Line a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper.

Pop the chilled scone mixture out of the pan and cut into 12 triangles. Do this buy cutting the block in half lengthwise. Cut each half into three squares and then cut each square into two triangles. (This is when you can freeze any scones you do not want to bake right now. They can be baked from frozen.) Place the scones you want to bake on the lined baking sheet(s) about 2 inches apart. Brush the tops with egg wash, sprinkle with the remaining oats, and bake for 30-40 minutes until golden.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

roasted carrots with cumin yogurt.

While I patiently wait for the arrival of green foods at the farmers market (asparagus and ramps oh my!) my root vegetable consumption will not abate.  In fact, I can proudly say my carrot consumption increased drastically this past winter.  Our four-legged furry friend has an absurd obsession with them and he has helped to re-awaken my interest in coming up with all sorts of ways to use them.   

Carrots work with a lot of flavors but I like them best when they are paired with bold Middle Eastern spices.  The sweetness of the carrots is a good contrast to the earthy, smoky flavor of cumin and coriander and the yogurt sauce adds an appropriate level of brightness.  This is the kind of dish you need to eat right now - it's exciting! And we all know we need a little excitement while the weather tries to figure out if it's winter or spring. 

Roasted Carrots With Cumin Yogurt
Recipe from Gjelina Cookbook

Serves 4 

1 1/2 pounds carrots, scrubbed, cut into 2” pieces
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 bay leave
3 Tbsp. olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons cilantro leaves with tender stems, plus more for serving
2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 450°. Toss carrots, orange juice, thyme, bay leaves, and ¼ cup oil on a rimmed baking sheet; season with salt and pepper. Roast, tossing halfway through, until golden brown and soft, 30–35 minutes; remove bay leaves.

Meanwhile, toast coriander in a small dry skillet over medium-high heat, tossing, until fragrant, about 1 minute; transfer to a plate. Repeat with cumin. Let cool.

Purée coriander, cumin, yogurt, lime juice, ¼ cup cilantro, and remaining 2 Tbsp. oil in a food processor until smooth; season with salt and pepper.

Serve carrots topped with cumin yogurt, cilantro, and sesame seeds.