Saturday, March 28, 2015

Chicken twofer redux

Is it time for coffee break yet?

I didn't manage to take a single picture of anything food-related this week. Probably because I didn't do much cooking. Unlike last week, I didn't have to host or prep any special meals or anything. D was even out a couple of nights, so Miss B and I concentrated on taking care of the leftovers amassed earlier.
My favorite of these was a concoction involving the leftovers from the dinner I had hosted for three rather distinguished visitors. (Definitely teapot people!) For the dinner, I had prepared a recipe from Mark and Bruce's Great American Slow Cooker Book, which involved shredding a bunch of carrots and onions, mixing them with seasonings, balsamic, and worcestershire sauce (I think), and then making them into a sort of chicken bed in the bottom of a slow cooker. On top go multiple chicken breasts, topped with sage leaves and then wrapped in prosciutto, to cook for about 4 hours.

This made for a tasty and, dare I say, elegant main course - very streamlined but still flavorful. I served it with roasted potatoes, a green salad, and homemade bread. We started with some kind of creamy dip and finished with a peach-blueberry galette, and everyone went home happy (as well as, in at least one case, reeling with jet lag).

Where the chicken dish really outdid itself, however, was as leftovers. A couple of days later, I had a packed schedule, and (unusually for me) knew I'd be out of the house from before 9 until after 5. First thing in the morning, while I was doing breakfast and lunch prep, I also chopped up the leftover chicken breasts and put them back in the slow cooker, along with the carrot/onion mix and a bottle of tomato passata. I stirred everything together and left it to cook on low for the day. When we were nearly ready for dinner that night, I went in there with a potato masher to make sure the chicken was falling apart and mixed in (it was); then threw in a package of gnocchi and a handful of grated parmigiano-reggiano. I left that to heat through for about 15 minutes, topped it with a generous dusting of grated pecorino romano, and dinner was served.

This was a smash hit - starchy and comforting but also very savory and hearty. Miss B, who has mixed feelings about gnocchi (mainly due to my habit of toasting them in the oven until crispy for certain dishes), ate this with gusto and took the leftovers to school for lunch more than once. This is another chicken slow cooker dish that I'll be cooking at least as much for the leftovers as for the main event (coming a close second to this one).

Unfortunately I didn't remember to take a picture of it, so instead you get a goofy picture of a t-rex trying to fold a pair of jeans. (Why? Enquiring minds want to know.) However, I am doing some cooking today, of which I promise to take pictures for an update in the near future.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Visitors galore



Despite being the national capital of Australia, Canberra is a little off the beaten path. It’s unusual that we get visitors passing through because they’re here for a conference or are on their way to somewhere else, and even less likely that they come because of a burning desire to visit the city itself. (The very idea would make most Australians snort with derisive laughter.) Since DP and I aren’t even Australian to start with, family members or old friends make only semi-occasional appearances. And most of the colleagues with whom I work most closely are, geographically speaking, a very long way away.

All of that is to say that I am used to feeling far away from a lot of the key people in my life a lot of the time. Which made this past week feel like even more of an anomaly, when I was juggling my regular schedule to accommodate four sets of visitors to Canberra in the same five-day period – three of them from overseas. Four! To be fair, none of them were here to see me specifically, or staying with us, which made the pressure less than it could have been; but I did host dinners on two successive nights (and school nights, at that!). I also tentatively volunteered to host a third night – not, as you might think, because I’m a) a masochist or b) insane, but because I thought a restaurant outing with six kids ranging in age from 1-10 didn’t sound fun for anyone – but luckily another family stepped up and did the honors for a Friday-night barbeque. I was so happy to have a social engagement that I wasn’t hosting that I brought a jug of sangria and whipped up this cake.

smitten kitchen’s ‘I want chocolate cake’ cake
copied slavishly (and doubled) from smitten kitchen, right down to the sprinkles
This is a one-bowl recipe; just remember to scrape the sides of the bowl down between each step. (You can even wash the bowl once the cake batter is in the oven and use it again to make the frosting!)

cake
12 Tbsp/170 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups/290 g firmly packed brown sugar
4 Tbsp/50 g granulated sugar (I used raw sugar)
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 1/2 cups/350 ml buttermilk (I subbed plain Greek yogurt thinned with whole milk)
2 tsp/5 ml vanilla extract
1 cup/82 g Dutch cocoa powder
2 cups/250 g all-purpose/plain flour
1/2 tsp/3 g baking soda
1 tsp/5 g baking powder
1 tsp/5 g table or fine sea salt

frosting
4 oz/110 g unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled (I used Lindt 95% dark chocolate as the closest replacement – I can’t find unsweetened chocolate in Australia)
3 cups/360 g powdered sugar (sifted if lumpy)
1 cup/8 oz/230 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
pinch of fine sea salt (optional)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp cream or whole milk

to make cake
Heat oven to 350F/180C. Line a 9- x 13-inch (22x33 cm?) cake pan with parchment paper, then butter or spray the parchment and pan.

Beat butter and sugars until fluffy in a large bowl. Add the eggs, the yolks, and the vanilla, and beat again until combined. Add the buttermilk and mix again.

Sift flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the batter and stir on low until just combined; scrape down bowl (preferably with a rubber spatula) a final time and give the batter a final stir.

Scrape/pour batter into prepared pan and smoothe flat. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool for 5 to 10 minutes in cake pan on cooling rack, then flip out onto rack or serving plate to finish cooling before frosting.

to make frosting
Place all frosting ingredients except cream/milk in a large bowl, then beat with a hand mixer until combined and fluffy. Add cream as necessary to achieve desired texture and fluffiness – you may not need all of it.

Scoop frosting onto the cooled chocolate cake and spread to cover evenly. Make swirls as tools and capabilities permit. Finish with rainbow sprinkles in obedience to Deb Perelman’s baking authority.


Saturday, February 28, 2015

February round-up

Whoosh! There goes another month. Items of note, as recorded on my phone photo album:

My boss sent me flowers! To say thank you for my hard work on the giant project I mentioned a couple of posts back. They brightened up my kitchen for the better part of two weeks and made me happy every time I looked at them. It was such a nice feeling to know why they were there.

Peach-blackberry crumble! I made this for dinner guests early in the month, with some stellar fruit from the farmer's market. I used this crumble topping recipe and topped it with homemade vanilla ice cream (have I mentioned that I got an ice cream maker for Christmas? More on this later, I expect). Although I suspect the shot above might actually be Greek yogurt, which is my preferred crumble topping these days, just FYI in case you're inclined that way.

Birthday cake! Three people on DP's team have February birthdays, and so he asked me to provide a cake for the birthday lunch. You can't see my favorite part: I always end up with extra colored frosting, no matter how lavishly I decorate, so this time I put some of it between the layers as a surprise. Next time I'll do it on a home cake and get a picture.

Scones! Which are actually a vehicle for what's in the jar - spiced pear-blueberry butter. Backstory: I have coffee every Wednesday morning with a group of parents from Miss B's school. Attendance varies, but there is a core group of about a half-dozen of us who are almost always there. For the last couple of weeks, one regular, J, has been bringing bags of pears from his tree to give to all of us, and the cooks among us have been experimenting with them - one of them a fellow food blogger who just posted her second pear creation.

For my contribution, I cooked down about 1 kg/2 lb of pears in the slow cooker until soft, then pureed them in a food mill and returned to the slow cooker to thicken further, along with a generous handful of blueberries. Once the butter had thickened enough that a spoon left a trail across the bottom of the slow cooker, I seasoned with some lime zest and juice, a large pinch of salt, lavish shakes of cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and nutmeg, and finished with a good slug of maple syrup. (Fruit butters don't usually need much extra sugar, as the natural sugars are concentrated through the cooking process.) I decanted into sterilized 120 g/4oz canning jars, which I hot water bath canned, making sure I had enough to share, as well as one to serve with scones I made first thing last Wednesday. I used this recipe, omitting the berries and adding half a lime's worth of zest instead.

I didn't get a picture of my favorite dinner of the month, which was last Sunday, when we had a small bunch of friends over. I was in the mood for American food, so I made this kickass honey barbecued chicken, along with potato salad, coleslaw, and rolls. I finished off with a chocolate icebox cake topped with salted caramel sauce, and we ate outside on a perfect late summer evening. It may well have been the high point of this summer for me.

And that wraps up February - first day of autumn tomorrow here in Australia (though temperatures tomorrow are scheduled to be over 30C/90F). What's in store for March?
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