Chocolate King Cake

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On the twelfth night after Christmas, January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany begins. In the Christian faith, it’s supposed to celebrate the coming of the 3 Wise Men/Kings to the Christ Child and the bringing of gifts to honor him. It’s also supposed to mark the beginning of the Mardi Gras season that lasts until Fat Tuesday, which is always 47 days before Easter Sunday. Although you may not be able to celebrate with the folks down south in N’Awlins at Mardi Gras, you can still celebrate in your own kitchen with traditional Cajun/Creole foods that are typically eaten at this time of year.

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Muffaletta sandwiches. Catfish. Shrimp n’ Grits. Beignets. There’s a chain of bakeries in my hometown that sells to-DIE-for Packzi, the jelly, fruit or cream filled donuts. I make a pretty mean Jambalaya myself, and last week I shared a recipe for what I think is also a pretty mean Gumbo. (Which you guys absolutely should try for yourselves). This week, four days before Fat Tuesday itself, I thought I would share one more recipe that gets a lot of attention this time of year: the King Cake.

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The King Cake is a staple of Mardi Gras food. It hearkens to the Feast of the Epiphany and the 3 Kings who came to visit the Christ Child, who in the Christian faith was called the King of Jews. Kings come to visit the King, thus yielding the King Cake; pretty self-explanatory. For that reason, a small plastic baby figurine is even tucked into the bottom of the finished product; the person who has and finds the baby in their piece of King Cake is supposed to have good luck for rest of the year.

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Alright, now down to brass tacks.

Although it’s called a ‘cake’ I would actually describe it in taste and texture as closer to a brioche style bread. It’s made with yeast in a very similar way to brioche and provided your dough is made right, the texture should be close to it as well; moist and buttery with a tender chew. Traditionally, King Cakes are filled and rolled up with a mixture of cinnamon, sugar and pecans. As you guys can see, mine…isn’t.

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Why? Well, two reasons. First, nuts are expensive and the old purse strings gave me the side-eye when I asked them about going out to get some. Second, I already had chocolate in the house and I’d say that a chocolate filled cake is just as tasty as one filled with nuts, right? Of course right.

What do you guys think of the finished product? The topping I kept traditional; a powdered sugar icing sprinkled with green, purple and yellow sanding sugar, which are the typical colors of Mardi Gras. And I think it both looks and tastes pretty nice if I may say so myself, nuts or no nuts.

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One thing I will advise is that you follow the tip that I included in the recipe to help maintain the circle shape through the second rise and baking. If you have an oven-safe bowl (like the kind creme brulee or lava cakes are made in) it would be perfect to wrap the ring around and let it proof and bake that way. If you don’t, that’s fine too. Just mist a big ball of crumpled up aluminum foil with cooking spray and wrap the ring loosely around that. Loosen the cake from eiher the bowl or the foil shortly after it comes out of the oven; it’ll make for easier removal. And if you’re so inclined, feel free to slip a plastic baby figurine (or a bean, because who actually has one of those just sitting around) into a slit that you cut into the bottom of your FINISHED & BAKED loaf for that special person to find and get their extra bit of luck for the rest of the year. Aaaaand, that’s it.

Laissez le bon temps rouler, y’all.

Linking this up to Fiesta Friday #160, co-hosted this week by  Anugya @ Indian Curry Shack and Margy @ La Petite Casserole.

Chocolate King Cake

Recipe Adapted from LouisianaCookin.com

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Ingredients

For Dough

  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 tsp white sugar
  • 1/3 cup warm water (between 105° and 110°)
  • 1/2 cup plain sour cream (or 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 3 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed and softened

For Filling/Top

  • 1 2/3 cups chopped semi sweet chocolate
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons warm milk
  • 1 tablespoon baking cocoa or unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/3 cup powdered/confectioner’s sugar,
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • Yellow, green and purple sanding sugar/sprinkles

 

Directions

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with dough hook attachment, combine the warm water with the yeast. Sprinkle the 1 tsp white sugar on top & let sit for 10 minutes, until frothy. Meanwhile in a small bowl whisk together the sour cream (or buttermilk), vanilla extract, eggs and egg yolk. Mix into the yeast mixture and beat for about 1 minute.

Turn the mixer off and add the flour (1 cup at a time), salt and remaining 1/3 cup sugar. Beat at medium-low speed until most of the dry ingredients have been absorbed. Turn the speed up to medium and add the butter in small chunks, beating until combined, about 2 minutes. Flour your hands and a clean surface (like a pastry mat or wax paper. Scrape the dough out and onto the surface (it’s fine if it’s a little sticky). Gently knead it about 5-6 times until it’s smooth and pliable. Spray the mixing bowl with cooking spray and punch down into the bottom. Flip over and punch down one more time. Cover with a piece of plastic wrap, then a damp kitchen towel. Allow to rise until doubled in size for about 90 minutes in a warm place (I usually use my microwave).

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spray with cooking spray. Punch risen dough down onto floured surface and roll into a rectangle, about 17×16 inches. In a medium microwave safe bowl, combine the chopped chocolate and butter. Microwave in 30 second intervals until the chocolate is melted and smooth (don’t over-microwave or else chocolate will seize and be unusable; 60 seconds TOPS should do it). Stir in the baking cocoa or cocoa powder & warm milk. Spread in a thin layer over the rectangle of dough.

Starting with one short side, roll dough into a log and pinch the seams thoroughly to seal. Gently lift and place on baking sheet and form a ring, pinching the ends together to seal. (You can use a ball of aluminum foil lightly sprayed with cooking spray or a small oven-safe bowl placed in the center of the ring, to help it maintain its shape). Cover with plastic wrap and damp kitchen towel and let rise until doubled in size, about 60 minutes.

Preheat oven to 325°. Uncover cake. Use kitchen shears to make 7 (1/4 inch) deep cut into top of dough. Bake until golden brown, about 35 minutes & covering with foil if browning too quickly. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

For icing, combine powdered sugar with vanilla extract & milk in a small bowl. (If too stiff, add 1 tsp milk until spreadable) Drizzle over top of cake with a fork. Sprinkle colored sanding sugar in alternating colors. Let stand until icing is set.

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Gumbo Ya-Ya

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I’ve never been to a Mardi Gras celebration before. I’ve never been to New Orleans before. I think I would like to go to both one day, despite my being an introvert. Mardi Gras just so I can say that I did it. New Orleans, mainly for the food (of course).

And speaking of food, another disclosure: until now, I’ve never even cooked or had real gumbo before. That one, I’ll concede is a bit more serious. I’ve made Jambalaya several times before, but gumbo was something I hadn’t tackled. I wouldn’t even order it in a restaurant if it was on the menu. Why?

Sigh. Well…the word ‘gumbo’ itself derives from the vegetable okra and….I don’t like okra.

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Actually, false. I don’t not like okra. I kinda hate it. A lot.

I know. But it’s true. I just can’t get with that gelatinous inner texture. Triggers my gag reflex. And since just about everyone cooks gumbo with okra, I just steered clear of it. Not because I didn’t think I wouldn’t like the rest of the stew that is the dish itself. I always knew that when made correctly, it was probably delicious. I just didn’t want it with that darn okra inside.

This year though, it finally hit me: if I was so curious about gumbo, why not just make it for myself WITHOUT the okra?

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*taps temple* See? Thinking.

Gumbo purists who believe gumbo isn’t gumbo without okra may want to just stop reading right here and move along. Personally I don’t recommend it, as this stuff I’m peddling today is damn tasty with or without your funky okra, but hey, it’s your world.

In my view, as long as your gumbo has a delicious base of well-seasoned broth and meat, then it’s still a gumbo worth trying. This one has both, mainly because it’s a genuine from scratch process from start to finish. That’s right, Buttercup: not only are we starting out with fresh meat, we’re making our own chicken broth.

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Don’t freak out. It’s not that serious, I swear it’s not. Making chicken broth is simple; you throw a whole bird in a stock pot with some water, herbs and veggies, and as the saying goes, set it and forget it for a while. It’s an extra step, but you’d be surprised the difference it makes, especially in a dish like gumbo where the broth is so essential to its success.

The only other laborious part of making gumbo is the roux: the flour-oil mixture you make that serves as both a slight thickener and a flavor booster. So long as you stay attentive to it, keeping a watchful eye AND a regularly stirring hand, it should turn out fine. After that, you’re pretty much done doing ‘work’. Just dump in your broth, spices and veggies and let that sucka go until the flavors have melded and it tastes like money.

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We’re huge meat lovers ’round here, so I not only had the chicken from the scratch-made broth, but smoked andouille and smoked turkey sausage in my gumbo as well. The flavor that the sausage adds is pretty much everything. Don’t leave at least one type out. As for the rest, I know that gumbo proteins can range from chicken, sausage, shrimp or even crawfish. All of these would be delicious in this; just add the meat towards the end so that it doesn’t overcook in the time it takes for the gumbo flavor to develop in the broth. As for veggies, well…I’m gonna just recommend that you do what works for you. That means if you like okra, throw it in. If you’re like me and you don’t, forget about it. If there’s another veggie that tickles your fancy, I’d say go ahead and throw it in there too. This is for Mardi Gras. Who cares about rules? Laissez les bon temps rouler, eh?

Oh! But please, PLEASE don’t leave out the scoop of rice on top. That part I must insist on.

Linking this up to Fiesta Friday #159, co-hosted this week by Zeba @ Food For The Soul and Jhuls @ The Not So Creative CookY’all be easy.

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Gumbo Ya-Ya

Recipe Adapted from Emeril Lagasse

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Ingredients

  • 1 whole chicken (about 6 pounds; you can use 2 3lb. Chickens if you like)
  • 16 cups water
  • 2 medium-size yellow onions, quartered
  • 2 ribs celery, each cut into 6 pieces
  • 4 bay leaves, divided
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons seasoning salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups bleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • A few dashes of Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 cups chopped yellow onions
  • 1 cup chopped green bell peppers
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 1/2 pound andouille or other smoked sausage, finely chopped, plus 1 pound smoked sausage, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices
  • 2 tablespoons chopped green onions or scallions (green part only)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves

 

Directions

In a large heavy stockpot, place the chicken, water, the quartered onions, celery ribs, 2 bay leaves, 1 tablespoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of the cayenne pepper together. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a low simmer. Partially cover and allow to cook for about 2 hours, until the chicken is tender.

Remove the chicken from the pot, place on a plate or in a bowl and cover with aluminum foil until cool enough to handle. Strain the broth and allow to cool.

In a large pot or a Dutch oven, pour about 2 tsp vegetable oil and add the onions and bell peppers, cooking until they are softened and slightly translucent. Remove the veggies to a small bowl, and saute the sausage until slightly browned on both sides. Remove the sausage to another small bowl and set aside. Do not drain off the grease from the pot.

In the same pot, combine the vegetable oil and all purpose flour over medium heat. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon to make a roux until the mixture has thickened and is the color of milk chocolate, about 15-20 minutes. (Don’t walk away from it, roux can burn VERY easily.) Add the veggies, garlic, smoked paprika, cumin, coriander, remaining 2 bay leaves, remaining salt and cayenne and the Worcestershire sauce. Pour in the strained broth, stir and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and allow to cook for about 1 1/2 hours, tasting and adjusting for seasoning.

Remove the chicken meat from the bones and roughly chop, then set aside. Discard the carcass. Place the chicken and sausage into the gumbo broth and allow to cook for about 15-20 minutes. Take off the heat and use a wide spoon to skim the fat off the surface. Sprinkle with the green onions and parsley and eat with crusty bread, or over rice.

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Red Velvet Cookies and Cream Shortbread

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I’m not an artsy person. I wish I was….but I just am not.

When I was growing up in elementary school Art Day was one I viewed with apathy at best and dread at worst, because I knew that my creation wasn’t going to be particularly pretty to look at. Most times I just hoped it wouldn’t be the worst of the worst.

I can’t really draw. I can’t paint. Sculpting with clay and the like never really produced much more for me than misshapen blobs.

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I don’t really have much of an artistic eye or decorating skills either, which is why I feel like sometimes my pictures on the blog suffer from not being ‘styled’ as pretty as I’ve seen them on other sites. Maybe I should take a class or something.

In the meanwhile, I do what I can to make art, ‘my way’. I’ve found that way to be through cooking and baking. I get to be creative with many a recipe canvas, and I’d say that on the whole, my results aren’t too shabby.

Case in point, today’s recipe.

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I view shortbread as a blank, albeit delicious canvas. It’s a great thing all on its own, but to be at its best, I think it’s largely dependent on what you can do to elevate it so that it’s your own artistic creation.

The possibilities of elevation really are endless: Herbs. Citrus. Chocolate. Nuts. Cheese. Tea. I’ve even seen booze flavored shortbread recipes. There’s something out there for anybody and any occasion.

So, naturally it makes sense that there should be one that’s geared towards a particular occasion coming up this week, right? You know which one I’m talking about.

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Last year at about this time, I did a riff on Red Velvet cupcakes that I flavored with the Oreo Red Velvet Cookies and Creme sandwich cookies. It was a big hit that got a lot of traffic, with admittedly, for good reason. After a little bit more brainstorming, and some more experimenting I’m pleased to announce I’ve found yet another way to take these yummy flavored Oreos and use them to flavor another great dessert: shortbread.

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Shortbread is, I think, a fail-proof recipe for baking. It’s almost impossible to mess up because there are only two things you have to get right: properly creaming the butter and pricking the holes in the finished dough just before baking. You get that right and you’ll have perfect shortbread every time, guaranteed. Because of that, it was relatively easy for me to see how it could be adapted into a Red Velvet flavor without compromising on the original very much. I took about 12 of the flavored Oreos and blitzed them in my Ninja until they were a very fine reddish powder; it made about 1/2 cup’s worth. I took that and incorporated it into a base recipe for regular golden shortbread, then also added vanilla and a bit of almond extract to that dough.

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I thought about maybe scraping the filling out of the cookies before crushing them because of the moisture affecting the dough, but ultimately decided against it. I’m glad that I did. The filling I think really helps that Red Velvet/Cookies and Creme flavor really come through in the finished product. To solve the issue of the filling adding too much moisture/pasty-ness, I added about 1/4 cup extra flour, which I think easily solved that problem.

I decorated half the shortbread with a simple white icing and some leftover crushed cookie crumbs, but as you can see I left half plain for the simple reason that I think it tastes pretty darn good all on its own without needing it.

Side note, didn’t the red cookies add such a pretty pink color to the dough? I love that. I love this recipe. It makes me feel like in spite of being artistically challenged with a paint brush or modeling clay, I just may be an artiste in the kitchen after all.

Happy Fiesta Friday #158 (co-hosted this week by Ai @ Ai Made It For You and Petra @ Food Eat Love.). Also, Happy early-Valentines Day to all of you who will be doing something special with a significant other. Have a good steak and some chocolate, or something.

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Red Velvet Cookies and Cream Shortbread

Recipe Adapted from King Arthur Flour

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 cups All-Purpose Flour, plus 1/4 cup if needed
  • 1/2 cup crushed Red Velvet flavored crème sandwich cookies (about 10-12), plus more for decoration (optional)

For Glaze

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1-2 tablespoons milk, plus more if needed

 

Directions

Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray two nine inch cake or tart pans with cooking spray.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or  using a large bowl with a hand held mixer, cream together the butter, powdered sugar and extracts until light and fluffy.

Add 2 cups of the flour, 1 cup at a time. Then fold in the crushed cookies. The dough should be able to hold together if pressed with your fingers. If it still seems too sticky, you may add the extra 1/4 cup of flour.

Divide the dough in half. Using your hands, press each half into a pan, using a spatula to smooth out the surface. Prick holes evenly across the surface of the dough. (This will keep it from bubbling up during baking.)

Bake in the oven for about 35-40 minutes, until deep golden brown at the edges.

Wait for about 2-3 minutes, then turn shortbread out onto a plate. Using a pizza cutter, bench scraper or sharp knife, cut into desired shapes. (Note: you HAVE to cut the shortbread while it is still warm. Cutting it when it’s cold will only cause it to crumble and fall apart).

Remove to a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

If decorating, combine the powdered together in a small bowl. If the glaze is too stiff, you can add more milk, teaspoon by teaspoon; don’t add too much though, or it will become too runny to set on the shortbread. Dip a fork into the glaze and allow it to drizzle off the tines and on top of the shortbread in desired design. Sprinkle the crushed cookie crumbs on top. Allow to sit for about 20-30 minutes until glaze hardens.

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Pulled Brown Sugar Chicken

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There are, naturally, plenty of Golden State Warrior fans to be found out here.

I’ve kinda become one myself for various reasons.

First, one of their starting power forwards, Draymond Green, went to my alma-mater Michigan State University. In Spartan country, we have a saying of “We Bleed Green”meaning that no matter what happens or where we go, we’ll always be Spartans and the ‘green’ (from our school colors of green & white) will always flow through our veins. I tend to follow college athletics more closely than the pros, but if there’s a Spartan on the team,  I’ll usually be rooting for them to win by default.

Yeah, it’s that serious.

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The other reason I tend to root for Golden State is that I just like the Curry family; Golden State’s point guard Stephen, his wife Ayesha, and their two kids. Lord knows they’re an attractive bunch, but I also like that Steph and Ayesha have been together since they were kids and by all appearances, seem happily married. I’m sure most of us sports fans remember the post-game press conference a little over two years or so ago when Steph brought their eldest daughter Riley with him in front of the cameras and she completely stole the spotlight with her charisma and spunk. That was so cute to me.

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After that press conference, I noticed a definite spike in the branding of Steph Curry as a ‘family man’, with a brighter spotlight on his wife and kids and the dynamic they have as a family. As it turns out, Ayesha Curry is a foodie and a lover of cooking and baking, which, is another detail about her that makes me a fan. She recently opened a pop-up restaurant to showcase her cooking skills, landed her own show on Food Network, and this past fall released her very own cookbook, “The Seasoned Life.”

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As both a GSW and Curry family appreciator, (and an avid cookbook collector) I knew that I wanted the book. My older sister made it a birthday present for me and as soon as it arrived in the mail from Amazon, I immediately started thumbing threw it for the first recipe to try out.

You guys know me well enough to know that it was DEFINITELY gonna be something with the word ‘chicken’ in it. But I do think that even if it wasn’t my favorite protein, I still would’ve picked this dish first. In the recipe notes, Ayesha herself says that if there is any recipe that someone has to try from the book, it’s this one. Upon testing that theory, I gotta say that I totally understand why.

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The title may be somewhat misleading or off-putting; for some people brown sugar with chicken may sound like a clash of ingredients and flavors that just shouldn’t mix, but au contraire. The brown sugar is but one of the ingredients in one of the best damn sauces I’ve EVER had; the sweetness is balanced with soy sauce, fresh ginger and garlic. It friggin works. Trust me.

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The chicken first gets seared over the stove,then baked in the oven until it’s fall apart tender and the sauce has thickened into syrupy, sticky, sweet/salty/slightly spicy stuff that is honestly delicious enough to slurp up all on its own with a spoon.

I mean, my GOD, is it good.

Ayesha hit a solid three pointer, Curry-style with this chicken. It’s officially received the Cooking is My Sport Stamp of Approval. So, I guess she can say that now she’s *really* got it made. Smile.

Linking to Fiesta Friday #157, co-hosted this week by Andrea @ Cooking with a Wallflower and Su @ Su’s Healthy Living.

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Pulled Brown Sugar Chicken

Recipe Adapted from “The Seasoned Life” by Ayesha Curry

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Ingredients

  • 3 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • Garlic powder & onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 minced garlic cloves
  • 3/4 cup chicken broth
  • 1 cup low sodium soy sauce
  • 2 cups packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 heaping tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • About 2 stalks of green onion, chopped

 

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Take a fork and prick the chicken breasts all over evenly. Season both sides generously with the kosher salt, black pepper, garlic powder and onion powder.

In a large Dutch oven, melt the butter with oil over medium-high heat. Sear the chicken in the pot (working in two batches if need be) until both sides are browned, about 3-5 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate when they are done and cover with foil.

Add the onions to the pot and saute until they are translucent and softened. Halfway through, add the minced garlic and continue to cook until the garlic becomes fragrant—don’t let it burn. Pour the chicken broth into the pot and bring to a boil, scraping the bottom bits up with a wooden spoon.

In a medium size bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, dark brown sugar and ginger. Pour the sauce into the Dutch oven and let it cook with the onions and garlic for about 2-5 minutes until sauce has slightly thickened.

Add the chicken back to the pot, cover with lid (or aluminum foil) and place in the oven. Bake for 30 minutes, then remove the lid and continue to bake until the chicken is tender and can be pulled apart with a fork and the sauce is thickened, about 30 minutes more.

When chicken is done, sprinkle with green onion and serve atop rice if desired.

PB Sandwich Cookies (with Honey-Cinnamon Filling)

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I can’t think back to a time when there hasn’t been a big jar of chunky peanut butter in one of my cabinets or pantry. I’m crazy about the stuff.

I’m not hugely picky on the brand; Jif, Skippy and Peter Pan have ALL passed the test of my tastebuds–just so long as there’s some there whenever I want it. Even when I went through a ‘health nut’ phase, do you think I turned my back on peanut butter? Tuh. I just spend the extra buck or two and bought the natural chunky pb without the extra hydrogenated oils that you have to stir every once in a while. Wasn’t that much of a difference in taste (albeit it a little less sweet) and it did the trick until I finally caved & went back to the really good stuff. I was NOT going to live my life without peanut butter. No way, no how.

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Can I let you guys in on a little secret?

I never could, and still haven’t grown to like peanut butter and jelly as a combination on a sandwich. Who *needs* jelly when you could just slather more peanut butter on two slices of toasted bread? Jelly can take a hike so far as I’m concerned.

Just shut up, pass me the Skippy Chunky and a spoon, and no one will get hurt.

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Apart from just loving the stuff all on it’s own, I remember that I went through a phase as a kid when I was ka-razy about peanut butter cookies–especially the Nutter Butter sandwiches. I just wanted them all the time. I craved them: ALL.THE.TIME.

You know how when you went to the grocery store with your mom and if you were good (or if she was in a good mood and there was a little extra money) she’d let you pick something out to get? For a while, the ‘thing’ that I would always pick out were Nutter Butters.

At the time it didn’t matter because I had the metabolism of an Olympic athlete, but looking back (now that I definitely do not), I can admit that it was embarrassing how many I could put away.

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However. These are not Nutter Butters.

They are…dare I say it? Yeah, I will.

They’re better than Nutter Butters. Got your attention yet? Good.

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I decided to make these on a random whim, since #1, I felt like baking, #2, I had all the ingredients in the house at the time and #3, I was feeling guilty for not using my America’s Test Kitchen cookbook more often and this was in it. It’s a fabulous recipe that’s fairly easy to put together, and with my personal modifications, it just tasted even better.

I swapped out the recommended regular dry roasted peanuts for honey roasted ones that are lightly coated in sugar. I prefer the taste of honey roasteds, and I also think the ‘roasted’ flavor just comes out stronger in them for some reason. The cookies themselves remind me of the peanut butter cookies that can often be found in the bakery sections on cookie platters sold in Sam’s Club or Costco. They’re soft and chewy with the perfect contrast of texture from the crunch of the honey roasted peanuts that are chopped inside the dough.

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The filling was another modification. Whereas Nutter Butter cookies are just filled with a stiff peanut butter frosting, the filling in these cookies is smoother in texture. Second, the combination of peanut butter, honey and cinnamon makes it so that the overall sandwich isn’t too ‘one-note’ in flavor. Spoiler alert: it works. Really well.

I don’t know if there are words that can adequately describe what this tastes like when it’s warmed up in the microwave. You know, where the cookies are just on the verge of falling apart from softness of the crumb, and the filling is gooey and sticky so that the whole thing just kinda melts together in your mouth and–

Yeah, let me just stop now.

My twin sister pronounced these as some of “the best PB cookies” she’s ever had, and I really can’t say that she’s too far off on that assesment.

Guess that means I’ve got Nutter Butters beat, huh? Rah rah sis boom bah.

Linking up this post to Fiesta Friday #156.

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PB Sandwich Cookies (with Honey-Cinnamon Filling)

Recipe Adapted from The Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook

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Ingredients

For the Cookies:

  • 1 1/4 cups (6 1/4 ounces) honey roasted peanuts, roughly chopped
  • 3/4 cup (3 3/4 ounces) all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter,melted
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed (3 1/2 ounces) light brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1 large egg

For the Filling

  • 3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 5 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Directions

Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Pulse peanuts in food processor until finely chopped, about 8 pulses.

Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt together in bowl. Whisk melted butter, peanut butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, milk and egg together in second bowl. Stir flour mixture into peanut butter mixture with rubber spatula until combined. Stir in peanuts until evenly distributed.

Using a tablespoon measure, place 12 mounds, evenly spaced on each prepared baking sheet. Using dampened hand, flatten mounds until about 2 inches in diameter.

Bake until deep golden brown and firm to touch, 15 to 18 minutes, switching and rotating baking sheets halfway through baking. Let cookies cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire rack and let cool completely, about 30 minutes. Repeat portioning and baking remaining dough.

For the Filling:

Microwave peanut butter until melted and warm, about 40 seconds. Stir honey and ground cinnamon into the warm peanut butter before using a rubber spatula to stir in the confectioner’s sugar.

Place 24 cookies upside down on counter. Place 1 level tablespoon of warm filling in the center of each cookie. Place second cookie on top of filling, right side up, pressing gently until filling spreads to edges. Allow filling to set for 1 hour before serving. Assembled cookies can be stored at room temp for up to 3 days.

   

Texas BBQ Pot Roast

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It’s January. It’s cold outside. In most parts of the country, the weather is pretty crappy. It still gets dark pretty early in the evening. It’s Friday afternoon.

And you-know-who is now the president.

All of the above means that we deserve some MAJOR comfort food.

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I almost didn’t post this recipe. Almost. The lighting on the day I cooked it was REALLY bad, to the point where there was barely any sunlight outside at all and very little natural light to shine on the food.

All my fellow food bloggers out there know that shooting pictures of monochrome ‘brown’ foods like beef are difficult enough as it is, but without sunlight? Eh. It’s not picnic, I’ll tell you.

But ultimately I decided, what the heck? It’s a few hunks of beef. I think it looks like a few hunks of beef. Maybe not as pretty as they could be, but what makes a dish at the end of the day is the taste.

And I promise you, it does not fail to deliver on that.

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There’s not many bells and whistles to this dish. It takes the sweet and tangy flavors that remind me of barbecue and infuses them into a hunk of beef that is cooked low and slow in the oven until fork tender. It’s no grilled so we obviously don’t have that charred, charcoal flavor, but…it’s still pretty great stuff.

In fact, upon tasting, my older sister remarked that the sauce that it produces is VERRRRRRY close to the homemade barbecue sauce that our grandmother always made for holidays when we would grill out.

Which suffice to say, is very high praise indeed.

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The low roasting temp makes the beef come out so juicy, moist and tender. The sauce that it makes is the perfect blend of sweet and tangy flavors. It made for an absolutely delicious sandwich, guys. I mean, wow. I ate mine with caramelized onions and peppers and pickled gherkins, as pictured. But however you’d like to eat it, I guarantee you’ll be satisfied.

Linking this post up to Fiesta Friday #155. Y’all be easy.

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Texas BBQ Pot Roast

Recipe Adapted from Family Circle Magazine

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Ingredients

  • 1 pot roast (about 4-5 pounds), such as bottom round or chuck (I used a London Broil cut)
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon seasoning salt
  • 1 cup bottled barbecue sauce (I used Sweet Baby Ray’s Hickory Brown Sugar)
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup chicken or beef broth
  • 1/8 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon or Honey Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 large onion (1/2 pound), chopped
  • 1 large green bell pepper, sliced
  • 4 large cloves garlic, crushed and minced

 

Directions

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

Prick the meat all over with a fork or knife on both sides.

In a small bowl, combine the onion powder, smoked paprika, pepper and seasoning salt. Rub the mixture evenly over both sides of the meat.

Heat the oil in a large Dutch Oven or pot over the stove over medium high heat. Just before it starts to smoke, sear the meat in the pot until a crust forms on surface, about 3-5 minutes per side. Remove the meat to a plate and cover with aluminum foil. Set aside.

Place the onions and green pepper together in the Dutch oven and sauté them in the residual oil and drippings until just tender/translucent. Add the garlic and cook for about one minute more until the garlic is fragrant.

In a medium bowl, combine the barbecue sauce, vinegar, broth, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and chili powder. Pour into the Dutch oven and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat.

Add the meat back into the pot, cover and place in the oven. Roast for about 3 to 4 hours, until the meat is fork tender, turning the meat every hour or so.

Let the meat stand in the pot for about 30 minutes. In the meanwhile, drain off about 2 cups of the liquid from the pot and place in a small saucepan. Bring the liquid in saucepan to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low and allow to simmer until thickened into a sauce. Skim off the fat on the surface, then serve with the meat.

Curry and Ginger Crackers

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I know what you all are thinking.

Crackers. This chick actually took the trouble to make crackers? Like, from scratch?

But…why? For what? There are grocery stores with entire aisles of shelves holding droves and droves of crackers. Good ones. Some, *really* good. So, what is even the point of this post?

I can explain. Not only the why and how of me taking the trouble to make crackers, but why they’re actually something that I think YOU should be taking the trouble to make for yourself as well.

The first reason is that they’re actually not hard to make at all. They come together VERY quickly, the ingredients are not only minimal, they’re ALL recognizable and easy to pronounce–something that can’t be said of many of the mass produced popular name brand crackers out there.

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A few weeks ago, I started making my own ginger syrup. I’ve been drinking water diluted with lemon juice and the ginger syrup to ease some digestive issues that I’ve had for a while; the stuff really works. Maybe I’ll get around to sharing the ‘recipe’ to that one of these days, but the main takeaway for today’s is that to make the syrup I would simmer raw ginger slices in water and sugar until their flavor infused the syrup. The ginger was ‘candied’ by the syrup, then I rolled it in some white sugar and let it chill out in the fridge overnight. Voila: crystallized ginger that comes MUCH cheaper than the pricey stuff in the spice aisle.

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There are many things you can do with crystallized ginger, most involving a dessert of some kind.  My first instincts before resolving to make a cake or gingerbread or something like that, was to see if there was something else I could do with it using the ingredients that were already in my house as opposed to buying extra stuff. A quick scanning of the index of my King Arthur Flour cookbook brought me to this recipe. I’d never made crackers before, but the instructions did look very easy to follow, the flavor combination was intriguing and finally I figured hey…I hadn’t done it before, after all. Why not?

I’ll be upfront with you guys: besides these, I’ve already made 3 OTHER cracker recipes in the last few weeks. This is NOT the last you’ve seen of my homemade cracker endeavors. I’m kinda hooked on it. That’s how much I liked these.

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Look, I know they’re far from pretty. This WAS my first time. I’ve gotten better with practice, but for these, I just cut them out in haphazard shapes with a pizza cutter. But that’s the thing: the recipe is so easy to follow and hard to mess up that you can cut these out however the heck you want, and it won’t make a lick of difference because they’re just so damn tasty. The combination of the ginger with the curry powder is a match made in Heaven: it’s a perfect blend of sweet & balanced spice. There’s a kick in the aftertaste for sure, but it’s a subtle one that’s quite pleasant. ANDAND! Ginger and turmeric are natural remedies for upset stomach/nausea. Sooooo, how cool would it be to have these around for an absolutely delicious alternative to plain ol’ saltines? I’m pretty sure this is a cracker you can’t find on just any grocery store shelf anywhere–and in my humble opinion, these can compete with the best of them. Just saying.

Linking this up to Fiesta Friday #154. Have a great weekend everyone.

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Curry and Ginger Crackers

Recipe Courtesy of King Arthur Flour Baking Companion

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Ingredients

  • 2 cups (8 ounces) all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup crystallized/candied ginger
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
  • About 6 tablespoons cold water
  • Coarse sugar or salt, optional

 

Directions 

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. In a blender or food processor, combine 1 cup of the flour and candied ginger. Process until the ginger is very finely diced.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour-ginger mixture, the rest of the flour, salt, curry powder, turmeric, sugar and cayenne pepper if using. Cut in the butter using a fork, working it into the dry ingredients until the mixture forms small and even crumbs. Add enough of the water to form a smooth, workable dough.

Divide the dough into 2 pieces and roll each out to a flatness of about 1/8 inch thick. Using a pizza cutter, a bench scraper or a sharp knife, cut the dough into squares and transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Freeze the crackers for about 15 minutes. Using the tines of a fork, prick the crackers evenly, pressing down all the way through to make holes. Sprinkle with either the coarse salt or sugar.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until they’re a very light golden brown around the edges. Remove from oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.