Saturday, January 29, 2011

Green and White Chicken Chili

As I begin to  write this post, I have to channel my thoughts in another direction, as my inspiration for this dish flew out the window last Sunday is no more.  I no longer can give this recipe the name that inspired me to write this post.   So let me back up and you will understand my dilemma.   Two weeks ago Paul hosted the Jets - Patriots game at our house.  I made pulled pork for the occasion.  A few hours before game time I thought to stupid!  I should have made something more "Jets-like" like a green pepper studded white chicken chili, you know, the Jets colors?  I like to be thematic.  Well,  it was too late to change the menu so I made the pulled pork anyway.  I bridged the gap to the football game by calling it pigskin sliders, with Jets green and white coleslaw, and bake-those-Bostons baked beans!  The beverage rule for Jets games is this: it must come from a green bottle.  Traditionally that would be beer.  It was blasphemous, but I also served Zinfandel, which goes nicely with pulled pork, and adheres to the green bottle rule.  The Jets won, so no harm was done.

As the week went on, I still had that chili in my head.  Maybe the fact that it's been the coldest, snowiest winter in God knows how long, or that the mountain of snow piled outside my kitchen window is now about 5 feet high, or maybe because the weatherman is talking about another midweek winter storm...maybe that's why I'm thinking of chili?  We were not hosting the Jets-Steelers game, but I decided that I would have to be prepared with a Green and White Jets Super Bowl chili, just in case they pulled off a win, which as we all know, they did not.

Mind you, I am not a football fan.  I did not slip into a deep depression like some people did; I've moved on.  So that idea of chili that was intended for the Super Bowl party will live on. Why?  Because it is a great winter meal that you will enjoy, and a break from traditional red chilies.

I spent the better part of a day searching for fresh poblano chiles. I can find them easily in the summer, but this time of year it is hit or miss.  Wholefoods is your best bet to find them around these parts.  If you want to know a little more about chili peppers,  this is an interesting site.    This time, I also made this chili with one of my favorite ingredients....COSTCO roasted chicken.  Yes, you heard it.  If you are new to this blog, you will learn that I think COSTCO chickens are a time-saving, all around efficient convenience as I use them in countless recipes.

This recipe is an adaptation of a  Cooks Illustrated, White Chicken Chili.  No, they don't use COSTCO chicken, the chicken is cooked in the chili. I have made it several times and is quite delicious.  It is just more time consuming and the flavor of chili does not suffer if you take my shortcut.  They have you brown the chicken, cook it in the sauce, wait for it to cool enough to handle and on and on..  Quite frankly, I think my version is just as good and takes half the time. Try it for yourself, then you decide.  This recipe is made with ease if you use your food processor.  If you don't have one, you'll need to do a lot of fine mincing, and will eventually have to use a blender or an immersion blender.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Remembering Aunt Gloria and Her Carrot Cake

Aunt Gloria's original recipe card, from my mother's recipe box
Growing up, I spent some time at my Aunt Gloria's house.  She lived in Woodhaven (Queens, NY for those of you who may not be familiar).  There were several reasons I loved staying at Aunt Gloria's.  First of all,  I got to spend time with my cousin Lynda who was, and still is,  just a year younger than me.  We had the freedom to walk to the stores on Jamaica Avenue by ourselves. No one had to drive us.  I'm sure this excited me much more Lynda.  There were no stores to walk to in my neighborhood.  I felt like a country girl in the city.  Aunt Gloria's house was the "fun" house, never a dull moment.  My cousin Robert used to play 45's on the record player and show us his latest dance moves.  If I close my eyes I can see Robert dancing around the dining room table to "Spirit in the Sky".   John was just a baby and we were totally amused  listening to him learn to speak.  We'd say, "how hot is it John?"  He'd wipe his brow and reply, "it's hot ta hell" ( in baby-talk of course).  We would make him say it over and over again.  We'd laugh and he'd giggle.  We were so easily amused, and life was so simple.

Aunt Gloria had a zest for life.  She could turn any day into a party.  She was ready with her Johnny Mathis records, cold beer in the fridge,  a percolator with coffee and a tea kettle on the stove ready to be fired up, and if you were lucky, a freshly baked carrot cake.  People would just stop by her house.  Family lived closer.  It wasn't unusual for one or two of my uncles to stop in.  "Stopping in" was a way of life back then.   Everyone sat around the table, drinking, eating, sipping coffee, singing along with Johnny Mathis and just be together shooting the breeze.  OK, it wasn't always perfect, sometime the Irish blood got boiling and things would get a little heated, but in the end, everyone was family, they'd still get a hug and kiss before heading home.

So back to that Carrot Cake.  Aunt Gloria's carrot cake was my first, and the standard to which I have held each subsequent carrot cake.  I remember she'd say to Lynda and me, I'll bake the carrot cake if you grate the carrots.  Not a bad deal.  It was worth a few scraped knuckles. Her carrot cake had a fairly tight crumb.   It was an old fashioned cake, and baked in a tube or bundt pan.  She did not frost it rather, she sprinkled it with powdered sugar.  But today, people's expectations of carrot cake have changed.  Carrot cake is a common occurrence on most menus today.  Generally it is baked as a layer cake with gobs of cream cheese filling and frosting.  It may even have some pineapple or coconut tossed into the batter.
Are you getting hungry? Here...have a bite just to hold your appetite.
I've made Aunt Gloria's carrot cake many, many, many times.  Over the past year or so, I have made a few changes and I've been very pleased with the results.  I've lightened it up a bit, substituting half of the oil with apple sauce.  The cake is a bit more dense with a larger crumb as a result, but not so much that it changes the integrity of the cake.  She always used Presto self-rising flour.  I don't, so I've added leaveners.  I always add walnuts and a few raisins.  I bake it in my mother's trusty tube pan.   This cake is a big, and serves 12 to 15 people depending on how big you slice it.  It is incredibly moist and will last for days.  I like to make a batch of cream cheese frosting and keep it refrigerated.  I don't frost the whole cake.  I frost it by the slice; if you like your cake frosted, or if you are into nostalgia, I can serve it plain sprinkled with powdered sugar.  I aim to please.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Make It A Blueberry Oatmeal Pancake Weekend!

Pancakes make me happy.  I'm not sure why, they just do.  Or maybe it's the other way around.  Maybe when I'm happy I want pancakes.  Really, when do you eat pancakes?  Weekends?  Snow days?  On vacation?  Which came first, being happy or pancakes?

Growing up, pancakes were like "the special occasion" breakfast.  We ate pancakes the first day of summer vacation.  We'd have pancakes on Christmas morning.  My mother didn't make pancakes just any old time; she made them to celebrate something special.  There were a few times we actually got to eat pancakes for dinner when my dad was out of town on business.   My dad did not like pancakes.  For the longest time I did not understand how he could not share in my love of those heavenly, fluffy vehicles for maple syrup.  It wasn't until I was about 12 years old,  begging to go to IHOP while our family was on vacation, that my dad shared his story of the origin of his pancake avoidance.   During WWII he served in the Navy on a ship in the South Pacific.  The ship was at sea for quite some time and had run out of rations.  The only thing they had left to cook was pancake mix.  My dad and his shipmates ate pancakes for something like 28 days, two meals a day. what was the problem?  I guess they didn't have any real maple syrup.

The first thing I ever made from scratch was a batch pancakes.  I made some pancakes for my brother and his friends.  I was trying to impress the boys with my culinary skills, but my pancakes were not the light and fluffy pancakes that I envisioned.  I don't know where I went wrong, but they were dense and well....inedible.  I was horrified to see my brother's friends playing Frisbee with my pancakes in our back yard. 

I can say with confidence that my pancake making skills have improved.  The apple did not fall far from the tree, as pancakes are one of Melissa's favorites as well.  I've experimented with recipes over the years, and she has always been a difficult customer since she likes Bisquick pancakes and doesn't understand my my quest to make the perfect buttermilk pancake.  Since she has been eating healthy the past few months,  I thought she'd be open to trying my newly concocted Blueberry Oatmeal Pancakes for breakfast when she visited last weekend.  Like I said, she's always been a difficult customer....when I asked her opinion I got, "they're OK".  I translated that into a SUCCESS.  We all really liked them and I hope you do too.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Snow Day Chicken Pot Pie with Polenta Crust

I am going to start out by saying, I've never liked chicken pot pie.  Actually, I think I had only tasted it once as a child.  It was of the frozen variety and I was quite grossed out.  Fast forward to about 2007.  I was watching the Food Network and Rachel Ray was making a 30 minute meal, pot pie with polenta.  She succeeded in getting my attention.  I love the pairing of roast chicken with a well executed polenta.  This, I thought, had potential.

The first time I made her recipe, I followed it to a T.  First of all, it took me way longer than 30 minutes.  It was tasty, but it was too rich.  I've played around with this recipe and tweaked it over the years and think I have come up with a pretty darn good pot pie.  Not only does it taste good, it is quick to make and I'll go out on a limb here and say, it's not bad for you if you use skim milk and low fat cheese.  What makes this version quick is to start out by using cooked chicken.

I am a self-proclaimed Costco chicken junkie.  I think the the rotisserie chicken sold at Costco is reason in itself to buy a membership.  I have fed Paul and I: 4 nights of dinners, 2 lunches and made chicken stock to boot on one $4.99 Costco rotisserie chicken.  It's the best bargain in town.  If you do not share my enthusiasm for Costco chicken, you can use any roasted chicken, store bought or leftover.  I have also used baked or poached chicken breast (cooked in white wine, lemon and herbs) with equal success. You can also play around with the vegetables and cheese that is used in this dish.  Use what you have on hand.  Some things you wouldn't want to change as they give the pot pie its flavor.  I will indicate which ingredients you may want to switch out in the recipe.

If you are looking for an easy, convenient warm comfort food that looks somewhat it is.  If you are like me, it will also give you a chance to use some of those nifty bowls you may have picked up at Home Goods or Crate and Barrel like these...

Monday, January 10, 2011

Dreaming of Sunshine, Grilled Tuna Steaks with Pineapple Salsa

This weekend the Food Network featured shows that were healthy and on the lighter side for the New Year.  I tuned in for a few minutes and saw Paula Dean making smoothies, a fruit crisp and grilled fish.  Really???  No mayonnaise, no butter?  I couldn't believe my eyes.  At the very last minute, she broke down.  She couldn't do it.  She had to put a scoop ice cream on top of her fruit crisp...shame, shame.

Just because summer is a faded memory, doesn't mean that we've abandoned our grill either.  We grill all year long.  There are some things that I refuse to cook indoors.  Fish, with the exception of shellfish, is something that I prefer to grill outdoors, no smell and easy clean-up.  Just dig your grill out of the snow and remember to let it heat up a little longer.  After a "Season of Eating" it feels good to serve something fresh and simple.  It's something healthy, a reminder of summer or maybe a trip to someplace tropical?  Yes, it's January in New York.  I've spent a good part of the day reading about cruises and trips to the Bahamas....not to mention gardening blogs.  I think the mention of an impending "big" snow storm has me a little crazy.  Hurry and make this while you can still find the grill!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Inspired Cooking, Beef Daube

Santa really listened to me this year.  I had a short list of cookbooks that I've been eyeing and boy, did he deliver!  I have an ever growing collection of cookbooks.  I haven't actually counted them, but I think it would be safe to say I have close to 100.  The first cookbooks I ever bought were the Gourmet Cookbooks, Volumes 1 & 2.  I remember how excited I was when I ordered them and had my name embossed in gold on their covers.  That was almost 35 years ago.   They still sit on my bookshelf and now have a lot of company.  I honestly think that they were the last cookbooks I bought for myself.  Over the years, I've received most of my collection as gifts.  I love getting new cookbooks.  This Christmas I've added four more to my collection.  I was excited to receive Nigella Lawson's Nigella Kitchen: Recipes from the Heart of the HomeReady for Dessert: My Best Recipes, by David Lebovitz and Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table.  A gap was also filled in my Ina Garten collection, after receiving Barefoot Contessa Parties!

I was inspired by our recent NY blizzard to dive into Dorie Greenspan's new book, Around My French Table.  This book is beautiful.  What else can I say?  The photographs are gorgeous.  It has made me look at French cooking in a whole new way.  It is one of those books that I will want to cook through the recipes, cover to cover.  Now I know why it is listed in the Top 10 cookbooks of 2010.  Thank you Lauren.

With almost 2 feet of snow on the ground,  and a quiet day alone, I thought I would make a comforting stew.  Matt and Lauren were spending the day in the city and I knew they would be hungry and cold when they returned.  I can pretty much count on Matt being hungry anytime he comes home for a visit.