Monday, May 4, 2009

Stupidly easy balsamic chicken

As far as recipes go, it doesn't get easier than this. I was once told that this dish is Mexican in origin, but to me it represents the fusion of cultures that comes of the Romance Languages Department that I've called home for the past 6 years.

8 chicken thighs (it's perfectly OK to leave the bones in and the skin on)
1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and Pepper
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 large sweet onion, sliced
3 dried ancho chiles, rehydrated and some of the seeds removed

1. In a dutch oven or large wide bottomed pot, heat 2 Tbsp of olive oil
2. Season the chicken liberally with salt and pepper.
3. Being sure not to crowd the pot, brown the chicken on both sides. (You may need to do this in batches.)
4. Add the remaining ingredients and allow to stew, covered, over medium heat for 30 minutes.

Serve over rice.
Serves 4

Crab Enchiladas with Black Bean Sauce

These enchiladas just came together in my kitchen this evening. They were very much the product of what I had on hand so feel free to experiment with the contents of your own kitchen. The guiding rule is to keep the flavors fresh.


2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained--divided
1/2 large sweet onion, chopped--divided
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped--divided
1 tsp cumin
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro or parsley (substitute 1 1/2 tsp dried herbs if needed)--divided
juice of 2 limes--divided
3 Tbsp tomato paste
2 Tbsp rum or tequila
1 jalapeno pepper, some seeds removed, diced
1/4 cup vegetable stock or water
2 small cans (or one large can) of crab meat
1 poblano pepper, some seeds removed, chopped
2 Tbsp canola oil
2 cups shredded jack cheese
10 corn tortillas
Salt and Pepper
Sour cream

1. In a medium sauce pot, combine 1 1/2 cans of black beans, 1/2 the onion, 1/2 the bell pepper, cumin, 2 Tbsp of cilantro, the juice of one lime, tomato paste, rum, jalapeno pepper, and stock. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat while assembling the enchiladas. Stir occasionally.
2. In a mixing bowl, combine the remaining black beans, cilantro, lime juice, crab, and poblano pepper. Set aside.
3. In a saute pan, heat the canola oil. Add the remaining onion and bell pepper. Saute for 5 minutes over medium high heat. Add onions and peppers to the crab mixture.
4. Add the cheese to the crab mixture and season to taste with salt and pepper.
5. Grease a rectangular baking dish and set oven to 350 degrees.
6. Begin stuffing the tortillas with crab mixture. Roll each tortilla around the filling and place the enchilada into the baking dish, open side down. Arrange the enchiladas in row, filling in the sides of the dish with extra enchiladas placed perpendicularly to the row.
7. Remove the black beans from the heat and either blend the sauce with a hand blender or puree it in a food processor. Pour the sauce over the enchiladas, covering the entire pan.
8. Bake the enchiladas for 20 minutes. If desired, sprinkle additional cheese on top of the sauce.
9. Serve with sour cream.

Serves 4

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Pot Roast

So it seems as though I'm steering the Kitchen Empress into carnivorous territory, but at Ms. Heather's request, I'm sharing my recipe for pot roast. This is an amazingly simple recipe suitable for even kitchen novices.


2 Tbsp canola oil
2.5-3 lb beef chuck roast
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp fresh cracked pepper
1/2 of a large sweet onion, thinly sliced
1 can of Baxter's French Onion soup
3/4 cup red wine or water


1. Heat the canola oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.
2. Sprinkle the salt and pepper evenly over the roast before placing it into the hot oil. Brown the roast on both sides.
3. Transfer the roast to a roasting pan with a lid.
4. Set oven to 350 degrees.
5. Sautee the onions in the skillet with any drippings from the beef. Cook until the onions begin to soften.
6. Layer the onions onto the roast in the roasting pan.
7. Pour the soup on top of the roast and onions and add the wine or water.
8. Place roasting pan into the oven and allow to cook, covered for 3 to 3.5 hours, turning the roast every hour.

The meat should be fork tender once it is done and the sauce should have formed a very thick, sweet oniony gravy. I served this with some fresh steamed green beans and an apple parmesean risotto, but mashed potatoes would go equally well.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Humble introductions and a modest (shepherd's) pie

Ms Heather, a dear friend, kindly invited me to share some of my recipes and the joy that I find in creating tasty food on her blog. While I make no claims to being able to live up to live up to the status of a veritable Kitchen Empress, I'm willing to share my ideas and recipes as a lesser kitchen noble. I thus thought it only fitting to assay my status as a kitchen notable with a recipe of truly humble origins. This shepherd's pie was the perfect meal for a cold and rainy spring night in Michigan and was just the dish to share among friends. This recipe should feed you and three of your nearest and dearest.


1 lb. of ground lamb
1 medium onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
Pepper to taste (four turns of my pepper mill normally does the trick)
1 bottle of flavorful beer (I happened to have Bell's Oberon on hand)
3 cups beef stock (If you're using a no/very low sodium stock, you may need to add some salt)
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp dried thyme or 3 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped or 1 1/2 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 medium carrots, chopped
2/3 cup green peas (fresh or frozen)
1 Tbsp semolina
Mashed potatoes (about 5 medium potatoes worth. I usually just go with the plain butter and milk variety that might remind you of the ones your grandmother might make.)

  1. Over medium-high heat, brown the lamb, onions, garlic, and pepper in a large sauce pan.
  2. Add the beer, stock, bay leaves, thyme, parsley, paprika, and Worcestershire sauce. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and allow the meat to stew for about 4 hours. Check it occasionally and give it a stir, but by and large you can trust the lamb, liquid, and seasonings to play nicely with each other. If you find that the liquid is evaporating too quickly simply add some water and/or stock. (The cooking time for this step can easily be cut by 2 or even 3 hours. The flavor and tenderness of the meat simply build the longer you let it simmer. And besides, shepherd's pie is best served on days that could benefit from the gentle heat coming from a slowly simmering pot.)
  3. Stir in the carrots and peas and remove the lid. Turn the heat up to medium to get the liquid to start evaporating.
  4. Allow the mixture to reduce for roughly half an hour before sprinkling in the semolina to thicken it. When adding the semolina, it's best to do so very slowly and while dusting it into a thin layer on the surface of the liquid. That way you can stir it in easily without any danger of starchy lumps. This would also be a good time to preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
  5. Let the mixture continue to cook down until it's a thick, rich broth that only just seems to keep all the goodness in the pot in suspension.
  6. Transfer the content of the pot into an ovenproof casserole dish. I typically go for a 9x9x2.5 pan. (Alternately, you could begin the whole process in a dutch oven or other stove-top-to-oven vessel. Just keep in mind that having a large surface area will call for more mashed potatoes to "crust" the pie.)
  7. Use a piping bag or a steady hand and a spatula to pipe/spread an even layer of mashed potatoes onto the lamb mixture.
  8. Put the casserole into the over and allow to bake for 35 minutes or until the potatoes start to turn brown. Using your broiler for the last 3-4 minutes of the cooking time will create a lovely golden potato crust.
It may not be much to look at, this pie was praise-worthy in it's humbleness.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Saturday, February 28, 2009

This is an inspiring little article from the New York Times about pears, distilling, and the local food revolution.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Making jam without a recipe -- spiced berry jam with honey

Since I just arrived home from winter break, I'm trying to clean things up in the cottage a bit before the semester becomes truly insanely busy. One thing I'd been putting off for a while is cleaning the freezer. I had a new motivation when I saw that the power had been out during the three weeks I was away, and recently for long enough that my homemade stock in a mason jar in the freezer was mostly liquid. Sadly, many things went right into the garbage, but the butter and fruit looked okay.

But what was I going to do with two pints of organic cranberries I'd intended to make Grandma's cranberry nutloaf with, and with several huge bags of slightly frost-bitten fruit I'd bought at COSTCO for smoothie-making? Make an experimental entree into the world of jam-making, that's what. After poking around on the web a bit, with particular interest in finding out what I could about sugar-free jam, I decided to do it, but my own way, without a recipe.

I was inspired by some of the combinations I saw here, so I dumped the two bags of wild blueberries, some strawberries, and the cranberries into a big pot with a couple sticks of cinnamon, some cloves, and a piece of nutmeg. The fruit was defrosted and quite liquidy, so I didn't even need to add water. Skipping sugar for now, I just started cooking it, and spooned in about a cup's worth of honey that was pretty well crystallized and needed to be used in something baked or cooked or just get tossed out. I simmered it for a long time, probably a couple of hours, until it had cooked down quite a bit and had also thickened a lot. Then I left it for a while with the cover on it and the heat off while I went to the store to buy pectin.

I looked at the various types of pectin that were available here. I was attracted to the low-sugar pectin, but when I saw that dextrose was the first ingredient, I shied away from that, too -- I had a bad reaction once to dextrose candy they eat in Hungary, so I think it's yet another food allergy. I opted for the regular pectin, and figured I'd risk it with a limited sugar allowance, treat it as freezer jam, even though it's cooked, and re-cook it with more pectin and sugar if it doesn't set right.

So, when I came back, I started cooking the fruit mixture again, and I added the two packets of liquid pectin and just one cup of granulated sugar. I cooked it a while longer, continuing to stir, until it had thickened some more, then I ladled it into my newly cleaned, newly purchased jam jars.

So, right now the jam is cooling in the sweet little jars, and I'll check in the morning to see if it's set. I can't wait to eat it on homemade bread and in homemade yogurt. It's lovely, tart and a little sweet, tasting mostly of spiced blueberry with bursts of cranberry here and there.

Everybody says you're supposed to follow the recipe if you want good results with jam, and that it needs to be mostly sugar. Well, we'll see how this works out!!

Photos and update to come tomorrow. :)

Monday, January 5, 2009

Filled date cookies with walnuts, cinnamon, and spiced rum - easy step-by-step recipe with photos

I have updated another family classic from the old town in Minnesota where my ancestors lived and baked. Mom remembers Adeline, the lovely woman who used to play the organ in the community, and whose Date Filled Cookies recipe appeared in the Zion Lutheran cookbook. Unfortunately, the original baker didn't give too many details about preparation, so I winged it and have ended up with a lovely variation that comes out a bit like a jazzed-up snickerdoodle, which I have to hope she would approve of! The addition of spiced rum would probably have raised the eyebrows of many of the Zion ladies . . . even though the alcohol naturally bakes off in the oven. Can we keep this our little secret? :)

1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1 cup butter, room temperature
3 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup hot water
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking soda

Date filling
1 pound dates
water to cover the dates
splash of dark spiced rum (about 1/2 cup)
ground ginger
1 cup chopped walnuts

large walnut pieces, preferably halves (approximately 3 dozen)
ground cinnamon

  1. Cook the pitted dates over medium heat in a little water in a medium saucepan, stirring frequently. When dates have a fairly smooth consistency, cool, then stir in a splash of spiced rum and a little ground cinnamon and ground ginger (to taste), and chopped walnuts. Set aside filling mixture to continue to cool. (You can make this ahead and refrigerate for a couple days until you're ready to make the cookies.)
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  3. In large bowl, cream the butter with the sugars.
  4. Add the beaten eggs and mix well.
  5. Add the hot water and vanilla.
  6. In a separate bowl, sift together dry ingredients (flour, salt, and soda).
  7. Add dry ingredients to the wet mixture and stir well.
  8. Prepare a lightly greased cookie sheet.
  9. Remove dough by the teaspoonful from the bowl, and gently roll into small balls in your hand, placing on cookie sheet with plenty of space (about an inch or so) between the balls.
  10. When you have filled the sheet with cookie dough balls, wash your hands, and using a clean, wet finger, make a small depression in each ball. It's okay if the ball gets a little flattened in the process.
  11. Fill each depression with a small amount of date filling.
  12. Take a walnut half (or large piece of walnut) and press into the date filling in the center of each cookie dough ball. Finish by dusting lightly with ground cinnamon.
  13. Bake for approximately 13 minutes, or until cookies are firm and golden.
  14. Cool for a minute on the cookie sheet, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.
This recipe seems to make about 2-3 dozen cookies (depending on their size). The cookies are nicely symmetrical and would be pretty on a holiday cookie & candy plate.
Variations: consider adding raisins, chocolate chips, or shredded coconut to the mixture.