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adventures in a culinary neophyte's kitchen

Archive for February, 2012

bangin’ leftovers

Posted by culinaryneophyte on February 21, 2012

If I’m having a bad day, I’m extra susceptible to the smallest miscue in the kitchen sending me into a tantrum-throwing tailspin. For example, I recently found this bang bang chicken recipe on Table For Two, and had planned to serve it atop some white rice for a spicy little weeknight dinner. But then I didn’t have enough panko. And the oil was being feisty and burning my hand. And I somehow managed to screw up a single serving of rice in my Cuisinart rice cooker. Feeling fairly defeated, I dropped the rest of the chicken in my deep fryer, ate a few pieces standing over the sink and threw the leftovers in the fridge.

no, that's not Cheez Whiz...

The next day, the most amazing thing happened: My leftovers were even better than the original dish. (Or maybe I was just in a better mood.) All it took was a roll and some reheating to create this bang bang chicken sandwich. To make it fresh, follow the directions below.

slightly adapted from Table for Two
♦1 lb. chicken tenderloins, cut into chunks
1/2 c. light mayo
4 tsp. Sriracha sauce
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. rice vinegar
1 egg, beaten
1/2 c. milk
1/2 c. flour
1/2 c. panko breadcrumbs
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. dried basil leaves
Oil for deep frying
Torpedo rolls 

Heat deep fryer to 380 degrees. In small bowl, combine beaten egg and milk. In a separate shallow container, combine flour, Panko, salt, pepper, garlic powder and dried basil. Bread the chicken by dipping it first into the dry mix, then the egg mix and back into the dry. Place on a plate and refrigerate for 20 minutes to help coating stick to chicken. In the meantime, combine sauce ingredients (mayo, Sriracha, sugar, rice vinegar) in a small bowl. Remove chicken from fridge and fry in small batches. (You can also do this on your stove top.) Drain on a plate lined with paper towels. Lightly toast roll, then add chicken bites and generously top with spicy sauce.

Total time? 35 minutes prep (includes 20 minutes fridge time), 10 minutes cook.
Cost? $3.50 chicken, $2.99 Sriracha, $2 rice vinegar, $1.50 panko, $1.69 rolls
Overall success relative to expectations? Originally, 3 out of 10; on second attempt, 9 out of 10. Like I said, the first go-around was pretty unsuccessful, but that was mostly due to the rice flop. The chicken had good flavor, but the wind was already out of my sails. Thankfully, my inability to waste food breathed new life into the dish. The sauce is far and away the best part, so don’t skimp on that. You might also want to throw on a few lettuce leaves for some added crunch. Next time, I will try this in its originally intended form — Bonefish’s bang bang shrimp — and report back on the results.

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avocado spinach salad

Posted by culinaryneophyte on February 12, 2012

Looking back over my last few posts, it’s hard to believe I haven’t spent the last week in a sugar coma. To get back to the savory side of things, I’m sharing this steak and avocado spinach salad with warm mustard vinaigrette. This is an easy weeknight meal whose leftovers can be easily morphed into a satisfying lunch. It also works well as a vegetarian dish by nixing the steak.

♦5 oz. baby spinach (fresh or bagged)
1 ripened avocado
1/2 lb. London broil (or chicken breast, if you prefer)
1 tbs. McCormick’s barbecue seasoning
salt and pepper
3 tbs. olive oil
2 tsp. sesame seeds
1 tbs. lemon juice
2 tsp. spicy mustard
Optional: 2 tbs. bacon bits 

Season meat with McCormick’s and salt. Let rest for 10 minutes, then sear on medium-high heat for two minutes per side (or longer for well done). Remove from heat, and slice just before dressing the salad (see below).

While steak is cooking, wash spinach leaves and gently pat dry.  Place in a large bowl. Cut avocado, remove seed and cut into slices. Heat one tablespoon olive oil over medium-low heat. Add sesame seeds and cook until golden. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Add lemon juice, remaining oil and mustard to mixture.

Add sliced steak to salad. Pour dressing over salad and gently toss. Serve warm.

Total time? 17 minutes prep (includes 10 minutes rest for meat).
Cost? $2 London broil, $1.50 avocado, $2 baby spinach, $3.29 sesame seeds.
Overall success relative to expectations? 9 out 10. I’m not a big salad person — or a steak person, for that matter — but I loved this. The juicy bits of steak, creamy avocado and tangy mustard vinaigrette worked really well together. I threw in some bacon bits for a crunch, but they’re not necessary. You can also substitute steak for chicken, or nix the meat altogether. This recipes makes enough for two, but if you’re planning for leftovers, reserve some steak and vinaigrette for the next day and warm them both separately before adding to the salad. Also, throw a little lemon juice on the avocado to keep its color.

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cupcakes fit for the champs

Posted by culinaryneophyte on February 8, 2012

2012

The Super Bowl is the Thanksgiving of the sports world: At the heart is a celebration of an American tradition, but most people are just there for the food.

2008

As I mentioned in my last post, I was a little overzealous in the kitchen this weekend because I was not only cooking for a big group of people, but also super pumped for the game itself: a rematch of the greatest Super Bowl played since I’ve been alive, and maybe of all time. I get chills whenever I think about Super Bowl XLII — the Giants’ final drive, Eli’s Houdini-like escape, David Tyree’s epic helmet-catch, ruining the Patriots’ 19-0 dreams. Pure magic.

I was nervous for this year’s game all weekend, and the best way to take my mind off of it was to bake. I already showed you the Giants sugar cookies I made earlier in the week, and when I saw strawberries on sale, I decided to make festive chocolate-covered strawberry footballs. The stars of the show, though, were these chocolate chip cookie-bottom vanilla cupcakes, which I first saw on how sweet eat is. I wanted to take it a step further and add some Giants colors in there to support Big Blue. (That’s probably why they won.)

Note: The lighting in my house is awful, and my snarky friend Scott pointed out on Facebook that they look more like Broncos cupcakes than Giants. He said, “You should probably fix that before you put it on Pinterest” (mocking his girlfriend’s new obsession that I may or may not have introduced her to). The good news is that the New York Giants seemed to think the colors were suitable, because I received a notification on Twitter saying they had chosen my photo to publish on their website! In any event, they were clearly blue and red in person, so… yeah.

slightly adapted from how sweet eat is
COOKIE LAYER
1/2 c. butter, room temperature
3/4 c. brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1-1/3 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 c. chocolate chips

Combine flour, baking soda and salt in bowl. In stand mixer, beat butter and sugar until fluffy. Add egg and vanilla, and beat
on medium. Slowly add dry ingredients, and mix on low until just combined. Fold in chocolate chips. Spray each cupcake liner with a spritz of cooking spray and spoon in about 1 tablespoon of cookie mix. Press down evenly with spoon. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and prepare cake mix.

CUPCAKE LAYER
1/2 c. butter, room temperature
1 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 tbs. vanilla extract
1-1/2 c. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1/3 c. milk 

Combine dry ingredients in a bowl. After a quick clean of the mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla, and beat. Add 1/3 dry ingredients and 1/2 the milk, and mix on low. Alternate dry and milk until all ingredients are just combined. Scoop cake mix into each liner until 2/3 full. Bake for 17-20 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out cleanly. Makes 18 cupcakes.

FROSTING
For buttercream frosting, use this recipe (sans the chai spices). You might want to make a double batch, because I didn’t have enough and needed to use a little bit of Pilsbury vanilla frosting for my white component. To make the swirled effect, separate frosting in proportionate amounts into separate bowls, and add food coloring. (FYI: Wilton food coloring is much more effective than what I used for the sugar cookies because this blue color was perfectly royal.) Place in a piping bag in stripes, and push through even if it gets messy.

Total time? 35 minutes prep, 20 minutes bake. (You’re basically making two desserts.)
Cost? Nothing out of the norm here — just nominal baking supply costs.
Overall success relative to expectations? 9 out 10. I was a little concerned having cookie involved could dry out the cupcake portion, but these were surprisingly moist. (They don’t stay that way longer than a day or two, but you probably won’t have many leftover anyway.) The only complaint — if you could even call it that — is that the chocolate chip cookie portion was slightly overwhelming in a few of the treats and took it more in a cookie-cake direction. Again, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but that’s why I decreased the cookie measurement. These are a little time consuming, but definitely worth it. Sooo good! (And of course: Congratulations to the New York Giants on their Super Bowl XLVI win! Déjà BLUE all over again!)

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Super Bowl XLVI cookies

Posted by culinaryneophyte on February 4, 2012

Because I don’t often cook for more than two people, I go a little overboard when I’m attending potlucks, which is the case for this Sunday’s Super Bowl gathering. Officially, I’m bringing chipotle guacamole and chocolate chip cookie-bottom vanilla cupcakes, but I went on a bookmarking binge, and now I’m unofficially bringing, like, seven dishes.

These Giants-themed sugar cookies might get some jeers because I’ll be the lone Big Blue fan at the party, but I’m hoping my friends will at least appreciate the effort because, honestly, this was a lot harder than I thought it would be! I actually had never made a sugar cookie until this week, and the last time I decorated a cookie was probably 20 years ago. I had no idea how much prep goes into making cute cutout cookies with moderate aesthetic value. Thankfully, I came across brown eyed baker’s fantastic, step-by-step guide to decorating with royal icing. Mine are nowhere near as pretty as hers, but I don’t think it was too bad for a first go.

FOR COOKIES
2 c. flour

1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 sticks butter, room temperature
1 c. sugar
1 tbs. brown sugar
1 egg
1-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Combine flour, baking powder and salt in bowl, and set aside. In a stand mixer, cream butter and sugars on medium until fluffy. Add egg and vanilla, and beat on medium for 30 seconds. Slowly add dry ingredients and mix on low until combined. Shape dough into a disk and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Place in fridge for at least an hour. (NOTE: I refrigerated my dough for 24 hours, and it was so hard that I thought I did something wrong. Really, I was just impatient and it needed 10 minutes to slightly thaw, but I instead repeatedly hit it with a rolling pin. Hope my neighbors didn’t mind that racket…)

You can either flour the counter or roll dough between sheets of parchment paper to avoid sticking. Dip cookie cutter in flour before each press. Place shapes on parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes or until edges turn slightly brown. Remember, these cookies look uncooked, but you can easily burn the bottoms if you don’t pay close attention. Place on rack and let cool completely before frosting. (I waited two hours.)

FOR ROYAL ICING
♦3 egg whites, room temperature

4 c. powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
food coloring/gel coloring

Attach wire whisk to stand mixer. Beat egg whites, powdered sugar and cream of tartar on low until combined. Stop and scrape down ingredients. Beat on medium for 7-10 minutes until royal icing is shiny and thick. If it needs to be thicker, add more powdered sugar.

Again, I would recommend using brown eyed baker’s tutorial on the best tools and techniques for decorating (plus step-by-step photographs). I used a little bit of makeshifting in a panic (plastic bags, tape, cupcake icing, sprinkles [I'll explain later]), but you should probably take a more composed approach.

This frosting recipe yielded way more than I needed. I divided it into three bowls, proportionate to the colors needed, i.e. blue 80%, red and white 10% each. I then added all the coloring gel and liquid food coloring I had and the blue still wasn’t royal enough. (Good thing the Giants aren’t playing Carolina or some other baby blue team.)

I slopped some blue icing into my handy dandy piper and outlined each helmet and jersey with what turned out to be a bit-too-thick stroke. I then filled a squirt bottle — which you can find at any craft store — with some blue icing and added a few teaspoons of water. This mixture is used for “flooding,” a technique that makes the icing easier to spread and produces a smooth look atop your cookie. (And it’s really fun.) Squirt some of the runny mixture inside your lining and spread with a toothpick until completely coated.

NOTE: Everything I’ve read about royal icing recommends placing a dampened towel over what’s not in use because it dries very quickly. I didn’t want to take the chance of losing any icing, but I got it in my head that I needed to race through everything. Yes, you do need to cover the icing with damp towels, and that will earn you at least seven hours of usable icing, so take your time! (I tested it overnight, and it was still usable in the morning.)

Here’s the part where you should let everything dry completely before adding more details, but it was 11:30 p.m. by the time I got to this step, and I was getting cranky. This resulted in some questionable design work on my part, so next time, I’ll be a bit more careful. At one point, I was handpicking red sprinkles out of a tub of rainbow to make my more-pink-than-red icing the appropriate color, so I think you get where my frustration was coming from.

In the end, though, I was pretty proud of my work and I can’t wait to give this another try — maybe something that’s yellow and/or green, because that’s the only food coloring I have left.

GO GIANTS!

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