Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Slow Cooker Chicken Enchilada Stew

Fall is slowly arriving and school and other activities are kicking into high gear. Enter the slow cooker. I love the ease of prepping a meal in the morning — or even the night before — pushing a button and having a meal ready by dinner time.

We love chili and Mexican food at our house, so this recipe for Chicken Enchilada Stew seemed like a good fit.

I made a double batch to stock my freezer and we had plenty of leftovers for a second meal, too.

Mangia! Mangia!

Slow Cooker Chicken Enchilada Stew
Inspired by this recipe from The Kitchn

For the stew base:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tablespoon (or more to taste) of canned, chopped jalapeño peppers
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 heaping tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon sugar
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 15 ounce can tomato sauce
2 cups chicken stock
Salt and pepper to taste

Additional ingredients:
1 15 ounce can of corn, drained
1 15 ounce of black beans, drained
3 pounds boneless chicken thighs and/or breasts
Splash heavy cream, to taste (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

You'll need a 6 quart slow cooker for this recipe.

Heat oil over medium heat in a Dutch oven or deep skillet. Add onion and jalapeño and cook until softened, about 6 minutes.

Add garlic, chili powder, cumin and sugar. Stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the chopped tomatoes, tomato sauce and chicken stock. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then transfer to the bowl of your slow cooker.

Add the corn and beans to the slow cooker and stir to combine. Nestle chicken into the stew. Cook on low for 6 to 7 hours, or high for 4 hours.

Remove the chicken and shred with two forks. Return chicken to the crock pot and stir to combine. Mix in a splash of heavy cream.

Serve with shredded cheese, sliced green onions and tortilla chips. Refrigerate leftovers.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Fresh Apple Pie

I grew up close to an orchard and apple pie is one of the first things I learned how to bake. For years I would make the crust from scratch, using a big bowl and two knives to incorporate the butter into flour.

Discovering the pastry cutter in my early 20s was a major breakthrough. After I got married, a friend told me about using a food processor to slice the apples. Game changer! I once packed that kitchen gadget and drove it from Cincinnati to my parents house in New York just to make Thanksgiving pie baking easier.

This year I've been experimenting with prepping dough in the food processor, too. I recommend it for saving time and less mess. I also discovered (thanks to Ina Garten) that adding shortening to the dough recipe makes the dough  easier to work with.

After a recent visit to our local apple orchard here in Illinois, my boys were craving apple pie and my husband needed a treat for an office party. So I put the food processor to work. I had two pies in the oven in a little more than an hour.

Another secret to perfect pie: use a variety of apples. You need at least 2-3 Granny Smith, then use your favorites. Fuji, Honeycrisp, Macintosh and Jonagold hold up well, as does Sweet Tango, which I just discovered.

If you're a novice, don't be afraid of making pie. It's a great way to get the whole family in the kitchen.

If you end up with extra apple filling and enough dough scraps, let your kids make small hand pies or cook the apples in a saucepan for some apple sauce.

Mangia! Mangia!

Fresh Apple Pie

For the crust:
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
3 cups all purpose flour, plus more for rolling out the dough
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup chilled vegetable shortening
1/2 cup ice water
Egg wash (1 egg whisked together with 1 tablespoon water)
1-2 teaspoons coarse sugar

For the filling:
4-5 pounds of mixed apples, peeled, cored, quartered and thinly sliced by hand or with food processor
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons butter, cut into chunks

*One note: I tend to just eyeball the apples and spices, tasting as I go. I also pile the apples high in the pie plate. So feel free to make your own adjustments.

To make the crust, set up your food processor with the steel blade. Add flour, salt and sugar to the processor bowl and pulse to combine. Add butter and shortening and pulse until the butter is the size of small pebbles, about 12 times.

With the food processor running, pour in the cold water until the dough comes together. Turn out onto a floured counter and roll into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate while you make the filling.

To make the filling, thinly slice apples by hand or set up your food processor with the larger slicing disk. Place each apple quarter into feeder shoot and let the food processor do the work. Place apples into a large bowl.

Add sugar, flour, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Mix to combine so that all the apples are coated in the spices. Add more spices if you think it needs it, or if you used more apples. Set aside.

Grab dough from fridge. Lightly flour (1-2 tablespoons) a counter. Cut dough ball in half. Gently roll out one half of dough into a roughly 10-inch circle. Carefully fold in half and place into pie plate. Unfold and press dough into pie plate. Let extra dough hang over the edge, then trim it so that 1/2 inch or less hangs over.

Brush the edge of the bottom crust with egg wash. This will help the top crust stick to it.

Fill pie crust with apple filling. Arrange apples in a mound slightly higher in the center. Dot with butter chunks.

Roll out the rest of the dough to make the top crust. Place dough on top of filling. Trim off excess dough. Press together edges of dough. Crimp with fingers or a fork.

Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Cut a few 1-inch slits in top crust to allow steam to escape during baking.

Place a sheet pan lined with parchment on a lower rack in the oven, to catch any drippings from the pie.

Place pie on a middle or upper middle rack in the oven. Bake for about an hour, until the crust is brown and the juices of the pie are bubbling. If crust is browning too fast, cover loosely with foil.

When done, remove and let cool before serving. Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream. Refrigerate leftovers.

My kids devoured half the pie before I could take a pretty photo!

Monday, October 2, 2017

Singapore Noodles

Singapore noodles is like the original Asian fusion dish. First of all, they originated in Hong Kong, not Singapore. Plus, there's a little bit of China (soy sauce), a little bit of Thai (rice noodles) and a little bit of India (curry).

I've been meaning to try this recipe from Cook's Illustrated for years and finally got around to doing it one weekend night recently. It's involved with a lot of steps, making it not suitable for a weeknight week, in my opinion. While this dish was perfectly good the night I made it, it tasted even better as leftovers.


Singapore Noodles
Based largely upon Cook's Illustrated
4 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon vegetable oil or olive oil
2 tablespoons curry powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
6-8 ounces rice vermicelli
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
12 ounces large shrimp (ideally 26 to 30 per pound), peeled and deveined, cut into 1/2 inch pieces, OR smaller shrimp (36 to 40 per pound, peeled and deveined and left whole
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 teaspoon salt, and extra for serving, as needed
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and cut into 2-inch-long matchsticks
2 large shallots, sliced thin
2/3 cup chicken broth
4 ounces (2 cups) bean sprouts (optional) (I hate bean sprouts, so no way)
4 scallons, finely cut
2 tablespoons lime juice, plus lime wedges for serving

Heat 3 tablespoons oil, curry powder and cayenne, if using, in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally until fragrant, about 3-4 minutes.

Bring 1 1/2 quarts of water to boil. Place noodles in large bowl. Pour boiling water over noodles and soak noodles until flexible, but not soft, about 3 minutes. Drain noodles and transfer to cutting board. Using a chef's knife cut pile of noodles roughly into thirds. Return noodles to bowl, add curry mixture, soy sauce and sugar; use tongs to toss until well combined. Set aside.

Wipe out skillet with paper towels. Heat 2 teaspoons oil into skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. add shrimp in even layer and cook without moving them until bottoms are browned, about 90 seconds. Push shrimp to one side of skillet. Add 1 teaspoon oil to empty side of skillet. Add eggs and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Using rubber spatula, stir eggs gently until set but still wet, about 1 minute. Stir eggs into shrimp and continue to cook, breaking up big pieces of egg, until eggs fully cooked — about 30 seconds longer. Transfer shrimp-egg mixture to second large bowl.

Reduce heat to medium. Heat remaining 1 teaspoon oil in empty skillet until shimmering. Add garlic and gingers and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Add bell pepper and shallots. Cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are a little tender but also still crisp, about 2 minutes. Transfer to bowl with shrimp-egg mixture.

Return skillet to medium-high heat, add broth to skillet  and bring to simmer. Add noodles and cook, stirring frequently, until liquid is absorbed, about 2 minutes. Add noodles to bowl with shrimp-egg and vegetable mixture and toss to combine. Add bean sprouts, scallions and lime juice and toss to combine. Plate noodles and serve with lime wedges.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Banana Muffins with Nutella Swirl

My son Sam truly loves to be in the kitchen — almost as much as he loves Nutella. I need more ways to get him to eat more bananas.

Say hello to banana muffins with Nutella. You can use your favorite banana bread or banana muffin recipe here. The chocolate-hazelnut topping makes these treats special for breakfast or a snack.

Kids can help by swirling the Nutella into the muffin batter.

Mangia! Mangia!

Banana Muffins with Nutella Swirl
Inspired by this recipe from MyRecipes.

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
3 ripe bananas, mashed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup Nutella

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 12-muffin tin with cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder and salt. In a second bowl, beat butter and sugar until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, banana and vanilla and beat until smooth.

Add flour mixture in batches, beating to incorporate after each addition. Use a spatula to scrape down the side of the bowl.

Divide batter among the muffin tins. Top each muffin with a heaping teaspoon of Nutella. Using a toothpick, swirl Nutella into muffin batter.

Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Quick Cucumber Salad

Once again we have a bumper crop of cucumbers. They seem to be the only thing we can grow in our tower garden. Time to make cucumber salad, a nice, light side dish to a dinner in which the husband grilled burgers, sausages and chicken (for the week, not just one dinner!)

Even the kids LOVE this cucumber salad. I prefer it to the creamy Hungarian version, but that's good too. Put this on your culinary radar for when you have an abundance of cucumbers.


Quick Cucumber Salad
2 medium cucumbers, thinly sliced (I used the 1/16" setting on my mandoline.)
1/3 cup vinegar — apple cider or white
1/3 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon fresh or jarred dill weed or parsley, if desired (I much prefer dill.)

Place sliced cucumbers in small glass or plastic bowl, preferably one that has a lid that fits.

Combine remaining ingredients and pour over the cukes. Cover and refrigerate at least three hours to blend the flavors. Drain cucumbers. Sprinkle with dill weed (or parsley). Serve.

Confession: I have made this when I've only had time to let the cukes site and marinate for one hour, and nobody could tell as they were too busy stuffing their faces.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Zucchini Bites

It's that time of year when fresh zucchini is still plentiful. When my farmer's market had one of these giant vegetables for just $1, I could not pass it up.

My boys may disagree, but I think zucchini is one of the hardest-working veggies out there. You can use it in so many different recipes, like side dishes such as a simple saute or Zucchini Rice. And you can bake with it for super moist Zucchini Chocolate Cake or Zucchini-Blueberry Bread.

One thing I'd never done with zucchini is wring it out in a towel to squeeze out the moisture before using it in a recipe. Wowza. The process adds just a few extra minutes and it's a great way to get your kids involved in helping out.

Removing the zucchini's extra water led to these amazingly light and fluffy veggie bites. In fact, these will likely replace my go-to Zucchini Pancakes.

I'll be making this recipe again because it is so versatile. You can easily change up the herbs and cheese for variety.

Mangia! Mangia!

Zucchini Bites
Inspired by this recipe from Mel's Kitchen Cafe

1 1/2 cups packed, shredded zucchini
1 large egg
3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup finely chopped white or yellow onion
1 bunch green onions, diced
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper lightly coated with cooking spray.

Place the shredded zucchini in a clean dish towel and fold up the edges of the towel. Holding the towel pouch over the sink, twist and squeeze the zucchini and towel to wring out as much excess water as possible. You want the zucchini to be almost dry.

Place zucchini in medium bowl and add remaining ingredients. Mix until combined. If mixture is too wet, add a tablespoon to two of bread crumbs or flour.

Scoop up rounded tablespoons and drop onto prepared baking sheet. Gently flatten mounds with the back of a spoon.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown and the tops are browned in spots.

Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes before serving. Goes well with plain Greek yogurt or ranch dressing.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Tahini Shortbread Cookies

A recipe for Tahini Cookies in this month's issue of Bon Appetit caught my eye.

"These are your grown-up peanut butter cookies. The tahini lends a creamy, earthly flavor." 

Sold. Plus, I had a can of tahini in the pantry. Boom.

And, I actually had a reason to bake, as if a reason is necessary. Icing on the cake. Oops, wrong dessert. Anyhow, my friend Megan invited my family over for dinner to celebrate her husband Steve's birthday.

Bon Appetit reported these cookies were inspired by the Tahini Shortbread Cookies at a Cambridge, Mass. restaurant called Mamaleh's.

Indeed, these are cookies for adults. Not too sweet. Not even so pretty. Rich and melt in your mouth. Exactly like shortbread. "They're ugly, but so good," I announced upon arriving at the dinner party. And because I'm a fab friend and lacking in self control, I left all of the uneaten cookies with Megan and Steve. That was on Saturday. Here is the text exchange with Megan the following Tuesday:

Megan: "Even though I just had oral surgery 2 hours ago, I am still eating those cookies you made. They are too (freaking) good to let pain stand in the way."

Me: *Laughing/crying emoji* "Glad they held up and are being devoured."

Megan: "They still taste just as good as day 1....for future reference. Make-ahead potential is very high."

Me: "That's gtk for when I blog them."

There you go, dear readers. My pal Megan and I doing the hard research and reporting for you.


Tahini Shortbread Cookies
From Bon Appetit

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons honey
3/4 cup tahini
1/8 to 1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together the flour, baking power and salt in a medium-sized bowl. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, mix together the butter, sugar and honey in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about three minutes. Mix in tahini, then add dry ingredients in two or three batches. Beat until thoroughly combined. Batter will be slightly sticky.

Place 1/8 cup of toasted sesames in a small bowl or on a small plate. You can always add more if you run out. (I didn't need the 1/4 cup that Bon Appetit called for.) Scoop out heaping tablespoons of dough (about one ounce) and roll into balls. Dip tops of balls in sesame seeds and place on very lightly sprayed cookie sheet, spacing cookie balls about two inches apart. Take a spatula and gently press the balls to very slightly flatten. (I learned to do this after the first batch of cookies came out of the oven pretty much still looking like dough balls.)

Bake cookies until golden brown, about 13 to 15 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire cooling racks. Cookies will firm up as they cool.