I burned the garlic bread.

It was an event repeated so often in my childhood that it became a family joke. My mom would burn the garlic bread, fairly consistently. It was a light joke, something we could tease mom about and she would good-naturedly take the ribbing.

“I’ll just scrape the black parts off and you won’t even notice,” she’d say. ” I don’t know what happened.” But as a women who tried really hard, who worked really hard, and who took pride in her accomplishments, I’m sure it galled her.

I know, because last night I did the same. And I’ve been racking my brain to figure out how it happened ever since.

Here is how I make garlic bread.

Baguette or french loaf cut lengthwise.
room temperature butter
1 roasted garlic bulb, mashed
salt
shaved parmesan

Roast the garlic. Tip: I tend to try to roast a 5-10 bulbs at a time. Roasted garlic keeps just fine in the freezer. Alternatively, you can submerge the bulb in good olive oil to keep it handy.

Mix the roasted garlic with the butter and spread it across the bread. Top with shaved parmesan and sprinkle with a little salt. Put your oven rack about 3 inches from your broiler on high for 1 minute (seriously, check it after 1 minute), and no more than 3 minutes.

This critical point of 1-3 minutes is where I went wrong. What I thought was no more than two minutes, was actually more like five. That’s because prior to putting the bread in the oven, I was feeding the baby. After that I was seasoning the pasta, getting plates and utensils out, figuring out if the dishwasher was clean or dirty, being asked for chocolate milk, running long division in my head, and trying to take over the world.

All those things are very distracting, even though they are part of the everyday. So set your timer to remind you to check the garlic bread. And if you burn it once in a while, don’t beat yourself up. Chances are you’ve got a lot going on.

End note: Recently, many people have been making fett-unta, a more traditional type of grilled bread, drenched in olive oil and rubbed in garlic. Here’s the one from Nancy Silverton. Maybe I should try that one next time.

Thirty-eight(ish) ingredients to cook (nearly) everything.

Ever feel like you go to the store and buy stuff only to come home and still have no idea what to make? Here are my basic pantry items that allow me to cook on the fly.

This won’t cover special meals and it certainly doesn’t mean you’ll be able to cook or bake every dish you might want. Instead it provides a way to make your way through nearly every recipe and make adjustments or substitutions during cooking. Further, you can scramble together a meal with nothing else in the house.

Full disclosure, I was trying to make a list of 20 items, but I kept adding. In truth, there are probably 50 things and I’m just forgetting a few.

With this list you can make pastas, stir fry, sheet pan dishes, soups, stews, casseroles, pizza, breads, quick breads, and biscuits.

Here is the list of products I keep on hand at all times:

Fresh
Onions or green onions
Garlic
Broccoli or zucchini (any seasonal vegetable too)
Bell peppers
Carrots
Celery
Fresh fruit (whatever is in season)
Fresh herbs (I usually keep cilantro)
Milk
Eggs
Butter
Cheddar cheese
Parmesan cheese wedge

Spices
Salt
Pepper
Smoked paprika
Chili powder
Garlic powder
Onion powder

Condiments
Fish sauce
Vinegar
Soy sauce

Frozen
Juiced and zested lemon
Chicken stock
Frozen herbs (parsley, cilantro, basil)
Ground beef or turkey
Chicken breast
Grated ginger

Canned goods
Plain tomato sauce
Refried beans

Pantry
Dry pasta
Rice
Self-rising flour
All-purpose flour
Corn starch
Instant yeast
Cooking oil
Brown sugar
Baker’s sugar

It’s too hot to cook. Arroz con pollo in a pressure cooker.

After a pretty mild summer, temps hit the hundreds for us late last week. So cooking anything must be weighed against how much harder the AC will have to work. Time to pull out the pressure cooker.

I like the pressure cooker a lot. It is the best tool to achieve perfect steamed artichokes (I might have already said this). But it is not always ideal. First, it takes up precious counter space, or alternatively, precious cabinet space. It is also a pain to clean, particularly the lid, which is made from multiple parts that must be disassembled. My husband had to convince me to get one because I thought everything could be done in a slow cooker.

He will be astounded to hear me say, I was wrong (don’t tell him).

Despite some hassles, the pressure cooker makes food more itself, if you know what I mean. Plus, you can brown and sauté food in the same pan, with very accurate and steady temperatures. If you’ve read any of my other blogs, you’ll know I love dishes that only require a single pan, and I do my best to pay attention to temperatures.

Here is some truth: I was not prepared to make this dish. In fact, I really had no idea what I was going to make for dinner that night. So the chicken and the stock were still frozen. The pressure cooker doesn’t care. The pressure cooker laughs at your foolish frozen items. It will cook them anyway.

OK that’s enough of an intro… let’s cook:

1 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs
1 tbs butter
1 medium onion chopped
3 cloves of garlic chopped
2 cups rice
2 cups chicken stock
1 can tomato sauce
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp cumin
Salt and pepper
1 cup frozen peas
Cilantro to garnish

Defrost the chicken enough to get it out. Set the cooker to brown and add the chicken, generously seasoning with salt and pepper.

Brown the chicken and then remove. You don’t have to worry about ensuring it cooks all the way through, because you are going to add it back in with the rice.

Switch the cook instructions to sauté. Put a pat of butter in the cooker and sauté the onions and garlic. Add the rice and sauté until the rice starts to get a little translucent around the edges, maybe 5 minutes.

Add the stock, tomato sauce, paprika, and cumin, stirring gently. Here is my trick for ensuring I have the right level of liquid to rice. I stick my pinky (very clean) into the pot and touch just the top of the rice. The water level should come just up to the first joint line on my pinky.

Place the chicken on top and close the lid. Set the pressure cooker on high pressure for 10 minutes. When the timer is up, use the quick release valve.

When the pressure is gone, remove the lid and give the rice a stir. It might look like there is too much liquid on the top at first, but after a few minutes, that liquid redistribute and the result with be a really nice velvety sauce. Add the frozen peas while you stir (don’t worry, the mixture is surface-of-the-sun hot and will defrost those peas immediately). Garnish with cilantro as you dish it out.

A few changes I would make: I did not have saffron. I would have used either yellow rice or saffron to get that rich color expected from arroz con pollo. Also, other recipes call for a small amount of tomato paste rather than a full can of tomato sauce. That would also yield a more traditional color.

Still, this was a win in my book. It was perfect for a last minute dinner plan on a sweltering day.

Stone fruit sangria is the woo girl summer sipper of your dreams

It’s time for summer cocktails. This weekend I did a little experimenting with some of my favorite flavors and came up with what I think is a pretty delightful little summer cooler.

Here’s what you need to make a pitcher (serves 4):

8 peach tea bags
3 cups water
1 large handful of mint
4-5 ripe peaches or plums cut up into small pieces
Juice of 1/2 lemon
4 shots Cointreau (or other citrus liqueur)
1 bottle (25 oz) sweet or semi-sweet wine
ice

Steep the tea bags in the water overnight in the fridge. You want the tea to be strong. In a small jar or cocktail shaker, put ice in with the lemon, mint, and Cointreau. Shake the mix to release the mint flavor and use the strainer to add the liquid to the tea. Add the fruit. Top off with the wine and stir.

Pour into glasses filled with ice, making sure to get some peaches into every cup, garnish with fresh mint.





Secrets to a really great red gravy (spaghetti sauce).

Think it’s too hard to make your own spaghetti sauce? It isn’t. You are just a few ingredients away from a great, flavorful, mellow meat sauce. I made this one with sausage eggplant and green beans.

Here are the basics:

2 cans plain tomato sauce
1 cup of water or broth
1/2 onion chopped or grated
3-5 garlic cloves
1 lb of ground meat (turkey, sausage, beef)
2 tbls butter
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan or the hard end of a parmesan wedge
Salt and pepper (or red pepper) to taste

In a large pot brown the meat in the pot over medium heat. Add the butter and cook the onions (after a few minutes add the garlic). Add any vegetables. Here I’ve added eggplant. I cut the eggplant a little too big here. Luckily, eggplant gets nice and soft as it cooks, so I was able to mush it against the bottom and the sides of the pot.

Add in the tomato sauce and water and let it simmer over low heat. Add the grated parmesan or a parmesan end (Be sure to fish out the wedge, which will get a little mudgy in the heat.)

Did you catch the secrets? Let the onions cook for a long time so they get sweet and melty. Butter (lots of it) mellows the acidity of the tomato. Parmesan (fresh from a block) in the sauce adds a metric ton of flavor and it is a great way to get rid of those ends that are a bit too hard to grate over pasta.

Eat Moar Noodles!

Although I pride myself on being willing to try new things, the truth is I tend to circle the same recipes. I guess that is good and bad. It’s good because, in life, it is better to get really good at a few things rather than endlessly try new stuff and only churn out mediocre. I do have a few dishes that I’m very proud to have developed and honed to my taste.

That said, noodles are really popular in my house. I made pasta 3 times last week. So it can get a little monotonous. I decided to get some different kinds of noodles onto the menu.

Our local Island Pacific market is fantastic, so I took a little trip. Pancit is similar to Lo Mein. Pancit noodles are also called flour sticks or rice sticks, depending on the source of the noodle. I got the pancit canton, which are long, yellow, flour noodles packaged in a big nest. Pancit is a festive dish—the long noodles symbolizing long life. It is a celebration of bounty with a variety of vegetables, shellfish, and meats both fresh and preserved.

I did not come up with this recipe, but the final dish was born out of what was in my kitchen. Here are my ingredients:

1 pkg pancit canton
1 strip steak, purchased with the intention of a grill night that did not materialize.
1/2 head of Napa cabbage, chopped into 1/2 in. pieces
2 ribs of celery, bite sized
5-6 baby carrots (cut into long quarters)
1/2 medium onion
2 green onions, sliced thin
1/2 bunch of cilantro chopped
2 tbls of chicken bullion (I ran out of stock)
2 cups water
1 tbls of oyster sauce
2 tbls soy sauce (divided)
1/2 tbls Sambal Oelek
2 garlic cloves crushed

Assemble the marinade using half of the garlic, the Sambal Oelek, and 1 tbls soy sauce. Slice the beef very thin. The thinner the better, To get really thin slices, consider freezing your beef for 20 minutes (Only if it was not previously frozen!). Put it in the marinade and let sit while you chop the veggies. In addition, mix the chicken bullion with water, oyster sauce, and other tablespoon of soy sauce in a separate container and set aside.

Cook the beef in a large, very hot pan or wok with some oil. This should cook very fast. Remove to a plate. In the same pan cook the onions and garlic on medium until soft. Add the celery, carrots and cabbage to the sides and let them cook for a few minutes.

Then add the steak back in and nestle the noodles among the other ingredients. Add the cooking liquid (bullion, water, oyster sauce, and the rest of the soy sauce)

Cover the pot to let the noodles steam for about 5 minutes. Lift the lid, add the cilantro, and gently toss the noodles in with the veggies and meat.

Chicken kabob veggie bowls

A yogurt marinade makes for juicy delicious chicken, without the hassle of finding those kabob sticks you know you put somewhere…

NOTE: I had some gorgeous pictures of my kebab bowl, but they are lost to the tech gods due to an old phone that won’t update. Please enjoy images of these beautiful fruits and veggies from our local farmers market.

There’s a reason we usually do kabobs this on the grill. They spatter like crazy. But sometimes you can’t remember where those dang kabob sticks are. So you decide to improvise. I wanted mediterranean style kabobs and I went for the stove top. They still taste amazing because, although you miss the smoke flavor, this recipe is all about the marinade. Reserve 1/4 cup to drizzle over the bowl once it is assembled (warning, it has raw garlic, so vampires beware!)

Here is the recipe:

1 pkg boneless skinless chicken thighs (cut to bite sizes)
1 onion, cut large
1 pgk sliced mushrooms
1 zucchini sliced into half moons
Any other veggies you might have that are good in a stir fry. Broccoli, carrots, green beans, cabbage, etc.
Golden buttered rice, (cook 1 cup rice with 1 cup chicken stock, 1 cup water, 1 tbl butter, and 1 tsp turmeric)

Chicken Marinade:
1 cup plain greek yogurt
5 cloves of garlic crushed
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tsp paprika (I like smoked)
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp kosher salt
3/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper

Let the chicken sit in the marinade for about 20 minutes. In the meantime, heat a large skillet on high with a tablespoon of oil or butter. When skillet is hot add onion and mushroom into skillet and season with salt and pepper. Let the vegetables cook on high, flipping mushrooms and onions occasionally, to golden brown (add any long-cooking veggies to this step, e.g., carrots) as well. Add other veggies and cook to desired doneness.

Remove vegetables from skillet and set aside.

Add another tablespoon to the skillet and gently lay chicken in one layer, in batches if necessary. Allow to brown over medium high heat, making sure chicken is cooked thoroughly (no longer pink). Serve with golden buttered rice and veggies in a bowl.

Lambic braised slow-cooker ribs with jus BBQ sauce

These 2-step slow cooker ribs use lambic beer as a braising liquid, and can be finished by using the jus to create your own BBQ sauce.

Ribs, before they are baked in the sauce.

Slow cooker ribs can be done so many ways. Here is the method I like to use. This is a two-cook method so it is important not to overcook the ribs in the slow cooker. You want them tender, but not fall-off-the-bone. They should hold up in the oven.

It s very unlike me to engage in a two-step cooking process, but for this recipe, it is worth the extra effort.

What you need

1 large onion quartered or sliced
1 package loin baby back or St Luis style ribs
6 oz of beer… I used Lindeman’s Framboise Lambic (see notes)

Spice rub:

  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 bay
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 3-5 whole cloves or allspice corns
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

For the BBQ sauce:
Braising liquid (strained and defatted, if desired)
2 tablespoons sweet chili sauce or gochujang (spicy chili sauce)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch

How you do:

Season the ribs with your spice mixture. Load onions into the bottom of the slow cooker and lay ribs on top. Alternatively, curl ribs around the sides of the slow cooker. Pour the Lambic into the bottom of the dish and cover. Get a big glass and enjoy some Lambic while you relax. Cook on low for 6 hours. Resist temptation to lift the lid.

When the ribs are done, line a sheet pan with foil, parchment, or other non-stick surface and heat oven to 375F. Move the ribs to the pan and section them, if desired.

Strain the liquid left in the cooker (you can save the onions for a stir-fry or as a garnish, if you like). Use a fat separator to remove the fat and move the jus to a medium sauce pan, reserving a few tablespoons to mix with the cornstarch (slurry). Add the sugar, chili sauce, and cornstarch slurry. Cook on high to reduce sauce to desired thickness…between 10-20 minutes.

Brush some sauce onto the ribs and put them in the oven for 45 minutes, glazing with the sauce every 10-15 minutes or so.

Notes:

Lambic is a sour, fruity beer that comes in various flavors. It is delightful and refreshing in the summer. Lindeman’s peach and raspberry are my favorites, but any will do for this recipe. What I like about this beer is that it adds acidity and sweetness to the mix. However, you can use any beer or cider you like. If you use the lambic, get the big bottle so you can have some while you cook and then serve it with dinner.

How to make better chicken stock

Photo by Bil Harding, via Flickr

Here is the deep dark secret to developing the “chickeniest” chicken stock you’ve ever tasted. Plus, my genius (stolen) ideas for straining and cooling. With my apologies to the vegetarians.

The goal for this recipe is to achieve a deeply flavored bone stock that is fundamentally “chicken.” It takes on a jello consistency when chilled. It can be used to make soup or to flavor other dishes for any type of cuisine (ok, except vegetarian). Also, I’m sorry for the intro photo.

There are a ton of chicken stock recipes out there. Most of them call for an addition of aromatic vegetables, and flavorful spices or herbs.

But I’m here to tell you to knock it off.

Here is the recipe:

A large stock pot (tall, not wide), pressure cooker large enough to fit everything, or a crock pot .
A fine mesh strainer
A large metal bowl sitting in an ice bath
A variety of freezer-safe containers. I find 32 oz, 16 oz, and ice cube trays (with lids) the most useful.

1-3 chicken or turkey carcasses (with some meat still on), leftover wings, neck, skin, or any other tendon-rich pieces. I keep carcasses in my freezer and when I have a couple of them, I make stock.
Water
Optional: 1 tablespoon of salt or less

Put the carcasses in your stock pot and put just enough water to hit the top of the bones. Do not overfill the pot. Bring the pot to a boil over high heat, then turn the heat down to simmer for 8 hours or overnight. If using an electric pressure cooker, follow the same directions, then check your manual for heat, time, and release instructions. With a crockpot, be sure everything fits (you will not be able to make as much at one time).

When the stock is ready, fit a fine mesh strainer over a large metal bowl sitting in an ice bath. A fine mesh strainer is usually good enough for my needs. However, sometimes, I prefer clearer stock. If you do also, run it through the fine mesh, then, in a secondary process, add a cheese cloth to the stainer and run it through again. (If you try to do the cheese cloth during the first run, it will get clogged really quickly.) The bowl sitting in the ice bath is a great method to start the cooling process quickly. The faster you can get it cooled and into the freezer, the less time there is for bacteria to set in.

Empty the strained stock into your smaller vessels often so you can get them into the refrigerator for a few hours. The fridge-first method is a good idea—it reduces steam condensation and deters freezer burn, and it allows you to gauge the success (does it look like jello) of your stock. Once the stock is cold you can move it to the freezer and keep it for 2-3 months. If you use ice trays, freeze them overnight then pop the cubes into a freezer safe bag for storage.

What is missing?

Do not add any onion, celery, carrot, garlic, ginger, chiles, parsley, cilantro, or any other fresh plants. Sure, adding these things are traditional and make you feel like you are “adding flavor” to make your stock.

But these other ingredients turns your stock into chicken/vegetable stock, and the result is usually not very good because vegetables release flavor much more quickly than bone and don’t improve with long cooking. Make a vegetable stock on its own in about 30 minutes and you’ll like the flavor better.

I’m not opposed to adding some spices, such as peppercorns, bay, and thyme. However, I have found they aren’t necessary, because you will likely use them in the secondary process. Others such as anise, cinnamon, can bring in either an Asian or Middle Eastern influence. Be cautious, however, because those distinctive flavors can clash with other cuisines. And again, you will likely add them to your final dish.

One note: It is better to under salt than over salt. I have two reasons: One, if you are using a leftover carcass, it is likely there is already salt on the bird, particularly if it was brined. Two, you are going to add salt to your final dish. This is a base ingredient and it does not need to be salty.

One more note: I do not talk about fat. There are ways to remove it. I’m not going to go into those methods, because I like the fat in my broth. Fat is flavor.

Make the Stock Even Better

There are additional ways to improve this stock. I’m approaching it from the idea of using what is leftover after a holiday or Sunday night dinner with family. If you really want to get exceptional stock, buy chicken feet from your butcher and use that alone or along with your carcass and pieces. Tendons, cartilage, and connective tissue are what make stock great. Chicken feet are nothing but tendons, cartilage, and connective tissue.

A pressure cooker is the best way to get a really “essential” stock flavor. The way pressure cookers force liquid into food at a high heat produces a caramelization that simply cannot be achieved with slow cook methods. The result is a deep and complex stock in a fraction of the time. It is great for cooking in the summer as well. My only problem with the pressure cooker is that mine has a 10-cup capacity, which includes the bones. It is a lot of work to make stock for such little output.

So there you have it. The best chicken stock recipe I’ve found is the one that emphasizes technique and contains no extra ingredients.

Crockpot Chicken Chili 2 Ways

Two basic basic chili recipes are made more flavorful with fresh chili powder made from scratch.

Ok, there are three different recipes in this post so hold on to your hats! We have chili often at our house. It’s easy and pretty healthy. Serve chili with shredded cheese, green onions, chocolate chips, sour cream, avocado, and/or chopped tomatoes.

First up: the chili seasoning.

Make your own chili seasoning

3 dried ancho chiles
3 dried Pasilla chiles
3 dried Guajillo chiles

1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt

Choose some dried chiles from the market. I like a mix of Ancho, Pasilla, and Guajillo, for a sweet/smokey combo that isn’t too hot. Use a combo that makes sense to you, and don’t be afraid to experiment.

To prep the chiles, stem and seed them by cutting off the tops with kitchen shears and shaking or scraping out the seeds (SAFETY: Use gloves and be sure not to touch your eyes). Cut the chiles into small pieces and toast them in a dry pan over medium heat for 5 minutes until they become fragrant.

When the chilis are toasted, put them in a blender and grind them finely. Don’t open the container, and be sure to let the contents settle for a minute once they are done. Transfer the powder to a spice container and add the rest of the ingredients.

Note about the sugar: Not everyone adds sugar, but I like to play with salty sweet in my food. In addition, this makes an epic dry rub for tri-tip meant for the grill.

Fast and Easy Chicken Chili

1 lb of chicken tenders or breast
1/4 cup chili powder or chili seasoning (see below to make your own)
1 medium chopped onion
1 12 oz. can crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce
6-12 oz. water or broth
1 1/2 cups (1 can) pinto, navy, or black beans rinsed and drained
Optional: 1 bell pepper

Stew the chicken with onion chili seasoning, onion, bell pepper, sauce, and water for at least 4 hours on low. Add the beans 20 minutes before serving.

You can easily adapt this recipe for the stove top. Brown the chicken with the onions. After the chicken is cooked, add the seasoning and stir on high for 2-5 minutes. Add the other ingredients except the beans and cook on low for at least 1/2 hour. Be sure it comes to a strong simmer. Add the beans 5 minutes before serving.

All Day Bean and Bacon Chicken Chili

1/2 package of bacon cooked, drained, and chopped
1/1/2 cups (15 oz) dry beans of your choice
7 cups chicken broth or water
1 lb chicken breast
1 small/medium onion, chopped
1 green pepper
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped.
1/4 cup chili seasoning, divided into 2 portions
1 can crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce

Pour rinsed beans into slow cooker. Add the chicken, bacon, onion, green pepper, garlic, and half of the chili seasoning.

Add 7 cups of broth or water and put lid on slow cooker. Cook on high for 4-5 hours (or low for 8-9 hours). When beans are tender, add tomatoes and remainder of chili seasoning. Cook on low for an another hour.