Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Cauliflower Cheddar Soup

At this point I have eaten my weight in cookies, truffles, cheesecake, and other holiday delights. If you're a regular reader, you probably have the suspicion that I eat nothing but sugar. I promise, I eat vegetables. I even like them! And my favorite way to eat them in the cooler months is in a hearty soup. I made this soup a couple of months ago and it immediately went into our menu rotation. It's simple, doesn't take long to make, and tastes very rich, even though it's pretty healthy! There's only a little over 1 ounce of cheese in a serving and lots of vegetables, but it tastes as rich as baked potato soup.

After you've got the cauliflower, potatoes, carrots, onions, and garlic chopped, this soups comes together in about 20 minutes. If you've got a food processor or mandoline to help you out with the chopping I'm pretty confident you can have this done and on the table in about 40 minutes. Alternatively, you could use chopped, frozen veggies to make this even quicker.

After chopping, you throw all the vegetables in a large stock pot with 4 cups of chicken broth and let it simmer for about 15 minutes until the vegetables are tender.
Then you take the soup off the heat and puree. If you prefer chunky soup, you could skip this step or just partially puree. If you like smooth soups, I highly recommend getting an immersion blender. Seriously, you do not want to be transferring boiling soup in batches into a blender. Plus taking apart and cleaning a blender might be the most obnoxious kitchen chore on earth. An immersion blender costs about $30. There's one piece to rinse off. And no moving boiling pots of stuff, while you're dogs are circling for anything you might drop. What is there to think about?
After pureeing be careful because the soup may continue to boil, sending splashes of soup flying. Just leave it alone for a couple of minutes until it stops boiling. Then you add shredded cheese, milk, salt, white pepper, dry mustard, and a teensy amount of dill.

The key to this soup is to use a good cheddar. If you use something bland, your soup will be bland. Go for an aged sharp cheddar. I used Hooks 1 Year for this batch. The golden color of the soup comes from the carrots so feel free to use a good quality white cheddar if you want.

As with a lot of soups, this tastes even better a day or two later, after the flavors have melded. Your finished product will look something like this:

I'll update this post with some better photos of the finished soup the next time I make it.

Cauliflower Cheddar Soup
Yields 6 servings
Adapted slightly from LonghornMama's recipe on

4 cups chicken stock
2 cups chopped potatoes
1 large head cauliflower or 1 1/2 small ones
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped carrots
3 large garlic cloves, minced
8 ounces good quality sharp, aged cheddar, shredded 
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon dill
salt, to taste (we use low sodium broth so I add about 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons)
white pepper, to taste (I don't measure, but I probably add in the neighborhood of 1/4 to a 1/2 teaspoon)
3/4 cup milk (I've been subbing cream + water, I do this a lot when recipes call for milk since I don't usually have any)

1. Throw all the veggies in a stockpot with the broth, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.
2. Remove from heat and puree soup with an immersion blender to desired consistency.
3. Stir in spices, cheese, and milk. Taste and adjust spices.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Grandma's Gingerbread Cookies

Most people get gingerbread cookies wrong. They choose cuteness over content and use hard-as-a-rock royal icing or bizarre candies to decorate them. Or they think they must be baked until so firm that they can be used to make a scale model of the Empire State building out of gingerbread. My version tastes like what you always wished gingerbread houses would taste like, but never do. Spiced, but not a ginger slap in the face. Firm, but still chewy. Covered in cinnamon sugar rather than some unidentifiable candy.
My grandma has been baking this recipe for decades and I believe it was originally from an old issue of Woman's Day or a similar magazine. The use of allspice, sour cream, and orange zest set it apart from a lot of gingerbread recipes. The only changes I've made to the recipe are that I use Fage Greek yogurt in place of the sour cream, I coat them in cinnamon sugar (a lot of my family like them with Red Hots instead), and I bake them at a lower temperature for a chewier cookie.

To start this recipe you heat some molasses, cream it together with sugar, and add the spices.
Then you add the sour cream (or Greek yogurt), melted butter, and alternately stir in egg yolks and flour sifted with baking soda.

Once you've added about 4 cups of flour, you'll have a smooth but somewhat mushy dough. You pop it in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour so that it's easier to roll out and work with. then you roll out the dough to about 1/4 inch thick and cut your cookies. I accidentally added too much flour to this batch, so the dough is a little dry in the next picture.

Then the cookies get dipped in cinnamon sugar. I like a lot of cinnamon so I usually use a 3 to 1 sugar to cinnamon ratio. Since I usually have cinnamon sugar sitting around premixed, I'm not sure how much the recipe uses. The amounts in the recipe below will probably give you more than you need. You can always mix it up as needed: 1 tablespoon of sugar to 1 teaspoon of cinnamon. Yet another reason I love this ratio: it's easy to remember!

The cookies get baked for about 10 minutes (it takes exactly 9 minutes on my oven) on parchment lined cookie sheets. Then I usually let them set up for a minute or two before transferring them to a cooling grid.

Grandma's Gingerbread Cookies
Yields around 4 dozen large cookies


1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons molasses
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/3 cup sour cream (or a good quality unsweetened Greek yogurt)
2/3 cup (a little under 11 tablespoons) butter, melted
1 tablespoon grated orange rind
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon ginger
2 teaspoons cinnamon
4 egg yolks
4 cups flour (plus extra for rolling out)
2 teaspoons baking soda

Cinnamon Sugar
6 tablespoons sugar
6 teaspoons cinnamon


1. Heat the molasses in the microwave and pour into a large mixing bowl. Stir in the sugar.

2. Add everything EXCEPT the egg yolks, flour, and baking soda. Stir until smooth.

3. In another mixing bowl, combine the baking soda and flour. Alternately add the egg yolks and flour mixture to the sugar mixture. Mix until a smooth dough has formed, adding additional flour if necessary.

4. Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes to an hour.

5. Roll out dough on a well floured surface to 1/4 inch thick. Cut out cookies.

6. On a small plate slightly larger then your largest cookie cutter, combine the cinnamon and sugar. Lay the cookies in the cinnamon sugar, pressing gently. Transfer to parchment lined baking sheets.

7. Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes. Let set up for a minute or two before transferring to a cooling grid.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Dark Chocolate Pecan Macarons

Ok, it's confession time. I am not a French pastry chef. I know, shocker right? But that did not stop me from trying to make macarons last week. (Perhaps it should have.) I had tons of trouble with them. For those of you who aren't familiar with them, a macaron is a meringue sandwich cookie that's often filled with jam or buttercream and in shops they're often died in unnatural, Easter-egg colored hues.
It all started with some egg whites I had left over from making lemon curd. And after some googling, I found an awesome macaron recipe by David Lebovitz, who is a pastry chef. And even though I should have been wary seeing as it took him 7 tries to get them just right, I brazenly decided I would try anyway.

What's especially funny is I don't even like meringue that much. Meringue cookies are often under-flavored and have a weird styrofoam texture. And even when meringue is good like on lemon pie, it has a tendency to weep and make the pie a sloppy mess. If you were going to personify foods, meringue is a prima donna. If you get one little tiny thing wrong, you'll just get frothy whites instead of meringue. By some dumb luck, I'd never had a problem making meringue. This time I failed three times before realizing my whites were contaminated by a tiny bit of yolk and therefore wouldn't turn into meringue.

But by then, there was no turning back. I had powdered sugar in my food processor and meringue murder in my heart. Oh yeah, I also realized I didn't have any almond flour, which is an essential ingredient for macarons, but I did have pecans. These might be the worlds first pecan macarons. 

And then I under-baked the first batch and got a gooey mess stuck to the baking sheet. And then I over-baked the second batch. And then I cried inside for all the chocolate I was wasting and made the filling anyway.

And in the end, I got the world's ugliest macarons. They have air bubbles and blemishes. And they don't have the proper 'foot' at the bottom. And a good number of them caved in because the shell separated from the interior.

Despite all the drama, they taste AMAZING! It's like eating little clouds of dark chocolate. They're chewy and melt in your mouth. And after they sit for a while, the filling melds with the cookie and the macarons gets even better. I will be making these again with some strategic changes.

The first step is to combine the nut meal with powdered sugar and cocoa in the food processor and process until smooth.

Then you should do some thing I didn't: sift the resulting mixture so any random nut chunks don't give your mixture a grainy texture.
Then make the meringue.  If you've never made meringue before, you should know that fat, grease, or extra moisture of any kind can ruin meringue. This includes egg yolks and greasy or wet mixing bowls. The easiest way to ensure perfect meringue is to do two things. One, take a cloth dampened with vinegar or lemon juice and wipe down your mixing bowl and beaters, then allow to air dry. Two, be very careful about separating the egg yolks from the whites. Separate over a smaller bowl and then transfer the white to the mixing bowl each time. That way if you break a yolk you only have to toss one egg rather than all of them.

As you're making the meringue you add in the granulated sugar gradually. You want the finished mixture to be at the soft peak stage, not firm peaks. My meringue is over beaten and that's probably the number one reason the macarons came out so ugly.

Next you very gently fold in the cocoa/nut/powdered sugar mixture into the meringue until they are just combined with no streaks of white. Then you load the batter into a pastry bag with a plain tip and pipe them onto lined cookie sheets. Then you smack the cookie sheets against a counter a few times to flatten them slightly and release any air bubbles and bake.

Unlike with most cookies, with macarons you should err on the side of over-baking because even if they are a bit too crisp, they absorb moisture from the filling and the air so that 24 hours later they are the perfect texture. It's also a good idea to use two stacked baking sheets rather than one. Supposedly this helps keep air pockets from forming between the shell and the interior of the cookie. This blog has some great tips and troubleshooting for macarons.

While the macarons are cooling you make the filling, which is basically a dark chocolate ganache made with a half pound of dark chocolate. You chop the chocolate pretty fine:
Then you just boil the cream, remove it from the heat, stir in the chocolate, and let it stand for a minute or two. Then you stir and add the butter. Then you've got to let it set up for about 20 minutes so it's a spreadable paste. When it's done, it will look like this:
Then you assemble:
You can store them at room temperature for 5 or 6 days or freeze them. Since they're pretty labor intensive for a cookie, I made a double batch and we had no problem eating them within a week.

Dark Chocolate Pecan Macarons
Yields about 15 cookies
Adapted slightly from David Lebovitz's recipe 


Macaron Batter

1 cup (100 g) powdered sugar
½ cup powdered pecans (about 2 ounces, 50 g, chopped pecans, pulverized)
3 tablespoons (25 g) unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 large egg whites, at room temperature
5 tablespoons (65 g) granulated sugar

Chocolate Filling

½ cup (125 ml) heavy cream
2 teaspoons light corn syrup
4 ounces (120 g) dark bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 tablespoon (15 g) butter, cut into small pieces


Make the macarons:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a food processor, grind together the powdered sugar, pecans, and cocoa powder. Sift the resulting mixture.
  3. Beat the egg whites, gradually adding the granulated sugar until you have meringue at the soft peak stage (you should be able to make peaks with a spoon, but they should sort of melt back into the mixture after a second or two).
  4. Gently fold the sifted dry ingredients into the meringue until there are no streaks of white.
  5. Stand a pastry bag with a 1/2 inch plain tip in a tall glass and transfer the batter into the pastry bag.
  6. Pipe 1 inch circles of batter onto a lined cookie sheet two inches apart. Rap against the counter a couple of times to flatten and remove air bubbles. Stack the filled cookie sheet onto another cookie sheet.
  7. Bake for 15-18 minutes until completely firm. Err on the side of over done. Let cool on cookie sheet.
Make the filling:
  1. In a saucepan, heat the cream and corn syrup until it just bubbles around the edges. 
  2. Remove from heat and stir in the chopped chocolate. Let stand a minute or two.
  3. Stir until smooth and then stir in the butter until smooth.
  4. Let stand at room temperature for about 20 minutes or so until the filling sets up into a spreadable paste. 
  5. Gently remove the macarons from the cookie sheets and assemble with the filling. I only used a couple of teaspoons of filling for each cookie so I had some filling left over.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Honey Vanilla Granola

Let me start out by saying, I am the type of person who takes 15 minutes in the cereal aisle because I read all the ingredients on the label. And when I finally settle on a natural or organic granola with no weird preservatives and that tastes good, I might be paying upwards of $5 for a small box. That's pretty expensive for something that is mostly oats. NEVER AGAIN!

Granola is one of those things that tastes a million times better when it's homemade. And you can completely customize it. Although my version has a decent amount of sugar, the other ingredients are pretty darn good for you: whole oats, nuts, and virgin coconut oil. Seriously, just smelling this baking I knew I would have a crack like addiction to it. For real, make it now!
My other reason for making this is I am making two care packages. One for my sister-in-law, Kimberly, and one for my brother-in-law, Brent. He's an avid rock climber and she's a sky-diving, marathon-running adrenaline junkie. Needless to say, these are two fit people and I felt a tad guilty when I looked over their packages and realized I was sending them giant sugar bombs. Now they're getting giant sugar bombs plus granola! But seriously, this granola would make an awesome gift packaged up in 2 1-quart mason jars or in cute holiday bags.

The recipe is super easy. Basically, you mix your dry ingredients together and heat your wet ingredients together in saucepan. Then you toss them together and bake. It's really that simple. Five to ten minutes of active cooking time and under 30 minutes of baking and you've got granola. Here it is before and after baking:
 If you like your granola with clusters or you want to try and cut it into bars, put a solid layer down on your baking sheet and don't stir the granola while it's baking. If you like a looser texture, then put down a thinner layer and stir it 2 or 3 times. I went the clusters route and got one solid block of granola:
Which I broke up into large chunks:
Next time I'll be doubling the amount of nuts; adding a little more salt, vanilla, and cinnamon; and replacing the honey with maple syrup for a different flavor. For this batch I used a mix of pecans and walnuts and buckwheat honey. Because buckwheat honey has such a strong flavor, it's the main note in this version, but if you used something milder like orange or clover honey, the vanilla would probably come through more. Anyhow, I highly suggest playing around with it. If you want to add dried fruit, stir it into the granola after it's done cooling.

Honey Vanilla Granola
Yields about 8 cups
Adapted from Bev's recipe on


4 cups oats
1 cup nuts, coarsely chopped (next time I'll be doubling this amount)
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/3 cup virgin coconut oil (you could substitute another neutral vegetable oil, but coconut is excellent for you and adds a hint of it's flavor)
1/4 cup honey
4 tsp vanilla extract


1. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees and lightly grease a large jelly roll pan (or any baking sheet/pan with an edge to it).

2. In a large bowl, mix together the first 5 ingredients.

3. In a saucepan, melt the coconut oil and combine it with the honey and vanilla. Pour over the oat mixture and toss until combined.

4. Spread evenly on the baking sheet and bake on the middle rack until golden brown, about 20-30 minutes. For loose granola stir 2 or 3 times while baking (see discussion above).

5. Let cool completely before breaking it into pieces and storing. If you want to try bars, use a thicker layer of granola and let them cool slightly before cutting into bars. Since the granola sets and gets crunchier as it cools, you'll have a small window somewhere in the first 10 minutes out of the oven where the granola will be somewhat set, but still pliable, when you can cut it into bars.

Update 12/22/11.

I've made this recipe several times now and I really like a maple pecan version with Grade B maple syrup in place of the honey, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1 1/2 cups pecans, and if you like it really mapley add 1 1/2 tablespoons maple extract too and skip the vanilla.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Pumpkin Cheesecake with Graham Cracker Crust

I have never made cheesecake before. It's another dish that I've always wanted to try, but was intimidated by stories of half set, cracked, and stuck to the pan cheesecakes. Ha! I have conquered the beast and all it took was a well greased pan, a pan of water in the oven, and a sharp eye close to the end of the baking time. This is totally doable for the holidays and I like this recipe better than pumpkin pie.
This cheesecake is adapted from a Paula Deen recipe that has stellar reviews and is very similar to Cheesecake's Factory's pumpkin cheesecake. Whether you love or hate Paula Deen, you've got to admit the woman knows how to make something rich and decadent. And what better time for decadence than at the holidays, when there is plenty of people around to help you polish this off.

This recipe starts with  a simple crust of crushed graham cracker, brown sugar, cinnamon, and melted butter pressed into the bottom of a pan.

Then you beat 3 packages of cream cheese until they are light and fluffy and mix in the rest of the filling ingredients. Here's the filling before it goes into the pan:
Then you pour the filling over the crust and bake for about 60-75 minutes. I put the cheesecake on the middle rack and a pan of water on the lower rack to help it keep from cracking. Start checking the cheesecake at about 60 minutes. It's a bit tricky to tell when it's done. It should be slightly puffed on top and it will still shake somewhat, but it shouldn't jiggle like jello. When I checked mine at 65 minutes the outer edge was puffed but the center was still really jiggly. 10 more minutes and it was perfect.  You can definitely use a regular springform pan instead of the bundt-style one with the center hole that I used here. It's just what my husband's family had handy. Here it is after baking, puffed with only a couple of hairline cracks.
You let the cake cool in the pan for about 15 minutes, then cover it and refrigerate at least fours hours before serving. The cheesecake shrinks away from the sides of the pan as it cools, making it really easy to remove after the chilling period. Please excuse the orange-colored pictures. It was all I could do at 8 pm before it was devoured.
My husband whipped some cream with brown sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla for the topping, but if you want to take this up a level or two, I think a few candied walnuts or pecans and maybe a small drizzle of caramel on top would be awesome. (A restaurant in Atlanta serves pumpkin cheesecake this way and it's by far my favorite).  I also want to try these in muffin tins for mini cheesecakes when it's just my husband and I eating; the rest should freeze well. Other alterations might include: gingersnap crumbs for the crust or pecan meal for the crust and nut flour in place of regular for a gluten-free version.

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Adapted slightly from Paula Deen's recipe
(Paula says this yields 8 servings, but it's so rich that many people will only want a sliver. I would guess the servings are actually about 12, and you could definitely get 16 if you plated it for your guests.) 



  • 1 3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs (Buy crumbs or crush crackers in a bag with a rolling pin.)
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 stick melted salted butter 
    • 3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature (or sub Neufchatel for less fat)
    • 1 (15-ounce) can pureed pumpkin (about 2 cups if you make your own)
    • 3 eggs plus 1 egg yolk
    • 1/4 cup sour cream (or sub Greek yogurt)
    • 1 1/2 cups sugar
    • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
    • 2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

      1. Preheat your oven to 350. Set the racks to the middle and lower positions. Put a pan of water on the lower rack. Grease a 9 or 10 inch springform pan.

      2. Make the crust: Melt the stick of butter and set aside. Combine all the other crust ingredients and then stir in the butter until moistened. Press into the bottom of the springform pan.

      3. Make the filling: Beat the cream cheese with a hand blender until light and fluffy. Beat in all the other filling ingredients, adding the flour last. Pour over the crust.

      4. Bake for 60-75 minutes or until the top is slightly puffed and the cheesecake no longer jiggles like jello (it will still shake some). Let cool in pan for 15 minutes. Cover and refrigerate for four hours or more. Run a knife around the edge of the pan and release from form. Enjoy!

      Monday, November 21, 2011

      Oatmeal Cake with Coconut Topping

      Saturday was my birthday and instead of a regular old yellow cake my mother-in-law made me one of my favorites: this super moist oatmeal cake with coconut and pecan topping. And because it has oats in it you can justify having it with a cup of coffee for breakfast the next day (if it makes it that long). 
      The cake itself is mildly spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg, studded with nuts, and is very crumbly and moist. Once the cake is baked, you mix up the coconut and some more nuts with a substantial amount of butter and spread it over the cake while its still hot. The cake is then broiled for an additional few minutes to give it a crispy, toasty, nutty coating. I adore the mild/flavorful and moist/crispy contrast that goes on between the cake and topping. I have never had anything similar to this cake and apparently it's an old-fashioned recipe her mom used to make.
      As an added bonus the whole thing comes together in about an hour including the baking time and you probably have most or all of the ingredients in your pantry. Make it now! It's great any time of day.

      Oatmeal Cake with Coconut Topping 

      Cake Ingredients 
      1 ½ cups boiling water
      1 cup rolled oats
      ½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
      1 cup sugar
      1 cup brown sugar
      2 eggs
      1 ⅓ cup flour
      ½ tsp. salt
      1 tsp. baking soda
      1 tsp. nutmeg
      1 tsp. cinnamon
      ½ cup chopped nuts (I like pecans!)

      Topping Ingredients
      1 cup brown sugar
      1 egg
      ¼ cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened
      1 ½ cups shredded coconut
      1 tsp. vanilla
      ½ cup chopped nuts (I like pecans!)
      3 tbsp. cream or milk


      1. Pour the boiling water over the oats and let stand for 20 minutes. 

      2. Cream the stick of butter with both sugars, then add 2 eggs.

      3. Stir in dry ingredients and oatmeal alternately.

      4. Stir in nuts and spread in a greased 9” by 13” pan. Bake 35 minutes at 350 degrees.

      5. Beat together topping ingredients and pour over hot cake and broil for a few minutes until coconut is browned.

      Sunday, November 13, 2011

      Skillet Apple Crisp

      Stop what you are doing and make this now! It is a-FREAKIN-mazing. It tastes like apple pie and Poppycock had a love child. Even more so because I covered all my servings with salted caramel. It is a sugar bomb of glory that beats out all other pie/tart/crisp style desserts for me. Sweet apples are tossed with a cider mixture and baked with a buttery oat and pecan crumble topping. Any sweet apple like Gala or Honeycrisp would work for this.

      First you toss your prepped apples with a cinnamon-sugar mixture and mix up the crumble topping:

      Then you cut the butter into the topping and throw the apple cider into a skillet to reduce. The cider should reduce by about half in volume. I didn't reduce mine enough so there was some extra liquid on the bottom of my crisp, but it thickened up nicely in the fridge.

      After you reduce the cider, you remove it from the pan and stir it with the lemon juice. Then you throw the apples in the same skillet and cook them until the edges start to get soft, but they're not totally cooked through (the apples finish cooking in the oven):


      Then you toss the reduced cider mixture with the apples, add the topping, and bake for 15 to 20 minutes. And if you wanna go completely over the top, you whip up a batch of salted caramel while the crisp is baking:


      Then you devour it while convincing yourself that most of the pan is a reasonable serving size. I mean it is mostly apples, right?

      Skillet Apple Crisp

      Yields 6 to 8 servings
      Adapted from Cook's Illustrated via Brown Eyed Baker

      For the Topping:
      ¾ cup all-purpose flour
      ¾ cup pecans, chopped fine
      ¾ cup old-fashioned rolled oats
      ½ cup light brown sugar
      ¼ cup granulated sugar
      ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
      ½ teaspoon salt
      ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

      For the Filling:
      3 pounds Honeycrisp apples (about 7 medium), peeled, cored, halved, and cut into ½-inch-thick wedges
      ¼ cup granulated sugar
      ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
      1 cup apple cider
      2 teaspoons lemon juice
      2 tablespoons unsalted butter

      1.  Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Prep your apples and toss them with the cinnamon and sugar (from the filling ingredients).

      2. In another bowl, make the topping by combining all the topping ingredients EXCEPT the butter. Then cut the butter into the topping mixure.

      3. In a skillet, simmer the cider until it's reduced by half, about 5-10 minutes. Remove and stir with the lemon juice.

      4. In the now empty skillet, cook the apple mixture in the 2 tablespoons of butter, stirring frequently for 12-14 minutes over medium heat. Don't completely cook the apples.

      5. Toss the cider mixture with the apples and cover with the topping. Bake for 15-20 minutes. While it's baking, you can make this salted caramel recipe, just reduce the salt by half or more. Let the crisp cool a few minutes before devouring.

      Sunday, November 6, 2011

      Arroz con Pollo (Chicken with Rice)

      You should know I'm not a native Southerner. I'm from Miami, which is a whole different ballgame. You know what the most awesome thing about Miami is (ok apart from all the awesome beaches and the fact that you can have pool parties in December): the food, specifically Cuban food. And I miss it like crazy. So a couple of weeks ago I made a 45 minute trip outside of my usual stomping grounds in Atlanta for Cuban food. And while the arroz con pollo at this restaurant was very good, there was enough salt in it to kill a horse, which is one of my biggest pet peeves. Don't get me wrong, I like salt, but if your first thought is "This is salty.", then it's too salty. Anyhow, I digress.

      So, I decided to pull out a Cuban cookbook that I bought a while back and haven't used. I made their version with a few tweaks. OMG, best arroz con pollo ever! I am kicking myself for not having tried it sooner. It's pretty easy, makes an enormous amount of food, and is way better than any restaurant version.  Tender, fall off the bone chicken and perfectly seasoned rice studded with chorizo, onions, bell pepper, and peas. You won't look at chicken the same way again. It's from the cookbook Three Guys from Miami Cook Cuban, which despite the dorky title appears to be a gem of a cookbook. I've since tried a split pea soup recipe, which was also excellent (I didn't even think I liked split pea soup before).

      Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with the authors/publishers of this cookbook, and if I ever receive something free to try, I will always let you know. 

      This dish is not healthy and you really shouldn't try to healthify it by using boneless, skinless chicken. It will just be bland. If you have to cut the fat a little, skip the chorizo or use turkey sausage or turkey bacon instead. The original recipe actually calls for regular bacon, but my favorite versions always have pork or chicken chorizo.

      Another word of warning: this recipe calls for Bijol powder, which can be a pain to find. The Bijol is mostly made up of annatto powder, which is a Latin spice that adds flavor and colors the rice the orange color that is typical of arroz con pollo. If you can't find Bijol or annatto powder, you can substitute Goya's Sazon con Azafran, which is pretty widely available in the ethnic section of grocery stores. DO NOT buy whole annatto seeds like I did. They are a royal pain to work with because they are super hard and can break spice grinders and food processors. I only managed to crack mine with my marble mortar and pestle. If all you can find is whole annatto seeds, soak them for an hour or two and make a paste with them after they soften. 

      And last, but not least, make sure to get parboiled rice (aka converted rice) since it holds its shape and doesn't turn into mush with the extended cooking time.

      Arroz con Pollo
      Serves 8
      Adapted slightly from Three Guys from Miami Cook Cuban


      1/2 pound chorizo
      8 chicken thighs, skin on (Don't substitute boneless, skinless chicken or it will be bland!)
      2 cups chopped onion
      2 cups chopped green pepper
      4 large cloves garlic, mashed or pressed
      3 1/2 cups chicken broth
      1 12 ounce bottle of beer
      1 8 ounce can of tomato sauce
      1 teaspoon Bijol or annatto powder (or Goya's Sazon con Azafran, or as a last resort annatto seeds, see discussion above)
      1 bay leaf
      2 teaspoons oregano
      2 teaspoons ground cumin
      1/2 teaspoon black pepper
      3 1/2 cups parboiled rice
      1/2 cup frozen peas
      salt to taste


      1. Season the chicken with salt, pepper, and a little cumin and set aside.  Squeeze the chorizo out of its casings and saute in a large skillet, breaking it into bite size pieces as it cooks.

      2. Remove the chorizo from the skillet and add it to a large stockpot or dutch oven. In batches, brown the chicken on both sides in the rendered chorizo fat. The chicken shouldn't be cooked through just crispy and browned on the outside. Add it to the stockpot as well.

      3. Saute the green pepper and onion in the same skillet until the onion is translucent. Then add the garlic and saute for an additional minute. Transfer the mixture to the stockpot.

      4. Add all the other ingredients EXCEPT the peas to the stockpot and stir to incorporate. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce it to a very low simmer, cover, and cook for 30 to 45 minutes until the mixture is no longer soupy. Scrape the bottom occasionally so the rice doesn't burn.

      5. Add the peas and cook 5 minutes more.