Saturday, February 23, 2013

Chicken Biscuits-- Comfort Food Central

My friend had knee surgery last Tuesday and came home from the hospital yesterday.  In Texas, we know that almost any calamity can be made better with a good meal, so I wanted to take something yummy over to welcome her home.  Cooking for someone that doesn't feel that good is tricky.  It has to be appetizing, but not too complex.  It's not the time for experiments!  So, I decided to go for pure comfort food-- Chicken Biscuits.  A lot of recipes call this "Chicken and Biscuits", but that sounds like you're making chicken and serving biscuits on the side.  Chicken Biscuits is a whole different story!  The chicken and biscuits become one-- a marriage of tender chicken in a tasty sauce all cooked together with flaky browned biscuits and served as one happy dish!  
This can be a very time consuming thing to make totally from scratch, but by using a rotisserie chicken from the store and boxed chicken stock, you save a time.  You can't really get away with boxed stock for some things, but there are a lot of added flavors to this dish, so I think it tastes great with boxed stock!  
"How about the biscuits?", you might ask, "can they be store bought?"  Well, yes, but finally, I've found the most wonderful recipe for homemade biscuits!  If you try them, I think you will definitely think they are worth making.  Also, you make them while the chicken part is baking, so what else were you going to be doing? :)

Chicken Biscuits (serves 4-5)
Meat from one rotisserie chicken (skin and bones removed), torn into large chunks
6 Tbl. unsalted butter
6 Tbl. flour
1 small onion, sliced
1 large carrot, sliced 
1 large stalk celery, sliced
3 cups chicken broth
Juice of 1/2 small lemon
1/2 tsp. garlic granules
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. sugar (makes a difference-- I tried it without)
1 tsp. Lawry's seasoned salt 
1/2 lb. fresh mushrooms, sliced and sauteed in 1 Tbl. unsalted butter
6 buttermilk biscuits (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 300F.
In a skillet, melt the butter and put in the sliced onion, carrots, and celery.  Allow to saute slowly until the onion is translucent.  Add the flour and stir around to mix well.  Add the chicken broth and stir until thickened.  Add the lemon juice, garlic, thyme, sugar, sauteed mushrooms, and seasoned salt.  Allow to simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring once in awhile.  Taste and adjust seasonings.  You might want to add plain salt and some pepper at this point.  
Put the chicken meat in the bottom of a square casserole dish (like 9x9-inch).  An oval one is pretty too if you have it.  Pour the sauce over the chicken; it should cover the meat completely.
Bake the dish for 45 minutes. 
Turn the oven to 450F.  When it is reaches the temperature, arrange the biscuits over the casserole.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the biscuits are well browned.  

Buttermilk Biscuits (makes about 10)
2.5 cups self-rising flour*
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into chunks
2 tsp. sugar (again, makes a difference, helps biscuits to brown)
1.25 cups buttermilk

In a food processor, blend the flour and sugar together.  Add the chunks of butter and process until the mixture looks like crumbs with some bits of butter still visible.  Add the buttermilk and pulse just a few times, until the mixture barely comes together into a soft dough.  DON'T OVERMIX!
Plop it out onto a floured tea towel.  Sprinkle the dough with a little flour and gently pat down to about 1.5-inches thickness.  Using the towel as a help, fold the dough over onto itself.  Turn and repeat folding and turning the dough gently, using the towel to help you, 5 times, total.  Pat the dough into a circle about 1-inch thick.  Cut with a biscuit cutter or super sharp knife.  

*Self-rising flour makes a lighter biscuit than adding the leavening yourself to regular flour.  I never thought it would make a difference, but when I finally gave in and bought some, it made all the difference!  Since my background is in chemistry, I went into way more research about this than a normal person would.  You don't want to hear it, but there ARE reasons!  For now, just buy the flour.  You can store it in the freezer to keep it fresh, so it won't go to waste and once you've tried it, you'll use it a lot!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Low Country Valentine's Day Dinner

As I mentioned yesterday, I wanted to make a shrimp pie for our Valentine's dinner.  I'd never tasted one or made one before, but the recipe was very intriguing!  This is another recipe from "Mrs. Whaley Entertains" because currently I'm obsessed with her "story"!  Also, when Marie and I visited Charleston a couple years ago, I became crazy about low country cuisine and love learning all about it.  
So, okay, this is a fantastic recipe!!!  It is SO EASY!  You make it ahead of time so that it sits in your refrigerator all day or overnight.  I love those kinds of recipes because they help so much on busy days.  The real beauty of this dish though is that it is that-- beautiful!  It bakes up puffy and golden, almost like a souffle, but not so fragile.  It tastes marvelous:  creamy, buttery, cheesy, and shrimpy, but not too rich because it's also very airy and light.  
I think this is my new "go to" dish when I want something special, but I'm pressed for time.  This recipe serves 3 people easily, and probably could serve four as a luncheon dish.  
If you like shrimp, please try this!  It's practically mistake proof and really delicious!!  I served mine with low country red rice (another terrific recipe-- I'll add it later!), and green peas with chives.  I think a green salad might be a nice, crisp accompaniment, but Ben had to go to the dentist that day, so I didn't know if he'd be up to anything too crunchy!  Cooks must be adaptable-- married ones at least :)

Shrimp Pie (serves 3)
1 lb. shrimp, cleaned and de-veined
ice cubes
1 cup half and half cream
2 eggs
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/8 tsp. nutmeg (freshly grated if possible)
1/4 tsp. black pepper
Dash cayenne or few drops Tabasco (optional)
4 slices white bread, crusts removed (use a good quality bakery bread), torn into pieces
4 oz. grated sharp Cheddar cheese

Spray a 1 qt. casserole dish with PAM.  I used a souffle dish.  It should be more deep than shallow.
Boil the shrimp in enough salted water to cover them until opaque and pink.  I usually drop them in, cover, let the water come to a boil again and check.  They will probably be cooked through.  Drain them in a colander, and put ice cubes over them to cool them down quickly.
Beat the eggs with the cream, salt, mustard, nutmeg, Worcestershire sauce, black pepper and cayenne if using.  Set aside.
Put 1/2 torn bread pieces on the bottom on the dish.  Cover with 1/2 of the shrimp.  Cover shrimp with 1/2 of the cheese.  Make another layer of bread, shrimp, and cheese.  Pour the melted butter over all.  Then pour the cream mixture over all.
Cover and refrigerate all day or overnight (at least 8 hours).
*Take the dish out of the fridge and let sit at room temperature for 30-45 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 350F.  Bake the shrimp pie for 50-60 minutes, until set, puffed, and browned.  Yay!

*If you don't have time to do this part, microwave the casserole on high for 1-2 minutes-- just until it doesn't feel ice cold-- DO NOT LET IT BEGIN COOKING.  It bakes more evenly if it doesn't start out super cold.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Fudgey or Chewy? Brownie Controversy!

Happy Valentine's Day!  Whether your day is hearts and flowers, laundry and diapers, or clients and co-workers, may it be LOVE-ly! :)
Ben took me to the most wonderful restaurant last night!  We like to go either a day early or a day later for Valentine's Day because it's not quite so crowded!  Plus, I like to cook for us on Valentine's Day!  Anyway, the restaurant was called "Bliss" and if you live in San Antonio or ever visit, I highly recommend it!  Ben had the venison with huckleberries (He's still obsessed with huckleberries since the Montana trip!) and I had the grilled branzino (delicious Mediterranean fish).  It was all super yummy with great service and atmosphere!
Anyway,  I'm making something called "Shrimp Pie" for our dinner tonight.  I'll let you know how it goes!
But for now, everyone thinks about chocolate on Valentine's Day!  I wanted to make something to take into the office today, so I thought about brownies because everyone likes brownies!  BUT, the thing about brownies is everyone has an opinion-- chewy, fudgey, nuts, no nuts-- and they are very opinionated about their opinion!  Okay, but I should call these "Diplomatic Brownies" because to me, they are the best combination of all brownie options.  They're chewy and fudgey at the same time!  You can add the nuts or not (I like them!).  Now, you might wonder why to go to all the "trouble" to make brownies from scratch when the box mixes are perfectly acceptable, which they are, I think.  Well, for one thing, your scratch brownies will have only your most wholesome ingredients in them-- no preservatives.  Another reason is they don't take anymore time then running to the store because you don't have the brownie mix!  Of course, the best reason is because they taste LOVE-ly, made with LOVE, and isn't that what Valentine's Day is all about? :)

P.S.  If you keep unsweetened chocolate in your pantry, then you'll probably always have the ingredients to whip up a batch of these when your child informs you at her bed-time that she needs to take something for the class party-- tomorrow!

Brownies (makes 16, 2-inch brownies)
1 stick unsalted butter
3 squares unsweetened chocolate, each broken in two 
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs (room temperature)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup chopped pecans
Preheat the oven to 350F.  Line a 9x9 inch square pan with aluminum foil and spray with PAM (makes it easier to remove and cut the brownies).
Put the butter and chocolate into a large bowl and microwave on high for 1 minute.  Take a look at it and stir a bit.  Continue microwaving until the chocolate and butter are melted.  Stir to mix.  Add the sugar and mix well with a wooden spoon.  Add the eggs and mix well.  Then add all the rest of the ingredients and stir until combined.
Spread in the prepared pan.  Bake 25-30 minutes until a toothpick in the center comes out ALMOST clean.  Don't over bake.  Allow to cool, then lift the brownie cake out with the foil and remove to a cutting board.  Cut the brownies with a sharp knife and serve!  
See, I told you it was quicker than going to the store!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Pecan Pie Bars

Do you like those tiny, bite-sized pecan pies that some very patient people make for teas and ladies' parties?  I do!  And I SO admire whoever takes the time to make them!  Somehow, they manage to line these itty-bitty cups with pie dough, then they must carefully pour just the right amount of filling into each one, and bake until just set-- not overdone or underdone!  These are skillful cooks, people!
Well, for the rest of us that LOVE anything pecan, but have neither the time nor the patience (and maybe even the talent! :) ) to make those cute little things, there are Pecan Pie Bars!  These are quick to put together, cut beautifully into sharp bars, and taste positively yummy!!!  Although I love the delicate miniature pecan pie, I cut these into rather large bars.  That way, you can tell yourself you'll eat only one :)
This is a recipe I adapted from "The Pastry Queen", a talented Texas chef!  She added coconut, and that's probably good, but it didn't seem "pecan pie-ish" to me.  Ha!  Everybody has their "hang-ups"!

Pecan Pie Bars (makes about 2 dozen big bars)
2.25 sticks unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
3 cups flour
1 tsp. salt

6 large eggs
3.5 cups brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1 Tbl. brandy or bourbon (optional)
4.5 Tbl. melted unsalted butter
3/4 cup flour
4.5 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. salt
1.5 cups pecans very coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Spray 9x15-inch jelly roll pan (or a 13x9 pan) with PAM.  
For the crust, mix the butter and sugar together in a stand mixer.  Add the flour and salt and mix until it forms a soft smooth dough.  Press the dough into the pan evenly and bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.  Don't underbake.
Meanwhile, make the filling.  Mix the eggs and sugar together (you can use the same mixing bowl).  Stir in the rest of the ingredients.  
As soon as you take out the crust, pour the filling evenly over it.  Spread the pecans evenly if they don't behave.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, until set.
Cool at least 30 minutes before cutting into squares or bars.
Very good with vanilla ice cream also!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Anything Fried Rice--Another "No Recipe" Recipe

Chicken Fried Rice
One of the fun things about going to an Asian restaurant is that there are so many yummy things to choose from that you would never dream of making at home.  Too many exotic ingredients and/or complicated processes cause me to really appreciate eating the many delicious dishes out when it comes to Thai or Chinese food!  
But one dish that you can absolutely make at home is fried rice!  It's one of those Asian style comfort foods that traditionally is made from leftovers-- leftover rice, whatever little bits of leftover veggies you have and any leftover meats or odds and ends left in the freezer-- makes for perfect fried rice!  If you haven't ever made it, here's the basic method.  You can make a lot or a little and the amounts of "add-ins" are completely up to you and what is available to you, amounts and proportions are completely "free form".  This list is just a combination that I like.
The tastefully small portion pictured above is a little misleading because really, when I make fried rice, I like to serve it as the main dish for a weekend lunch or quick weeknight dinner.  Who wants to chop up all that stuff just for a side dish? :)  If you don't have any kind of meat, or want to go vegetarian, adding a fried egg over each person's portion really completes the dish!  

Anything Fried Rice
Protein of some sort: chicken, seafood, pork, beef, tofu, or nothing!  Pre-cooked or not, chopped
finely minced ginger
chopped onion or green onion
peas (frozen)
grated carrot
celery, sliced on the bias
black pepper
soy sauce
hot pepper sauce (optional)
(other good veggies include green or red pepper, small broccoli florets, mushrooms)
cold rice (brown or white)
vegetable oil

In a non-stick pan, put in enough oil to film the bottom.  Heat the oil over medium heat.  Put in the veggies and the protein of choice.  Saute, but don't stir too much.  You don't want everything to break up.  Add the cold rice, sprinkle with black pepper and stir around gently.  A spatula works well for this.  Break up any clumps of rice, but again, don't stir too vigorously.  Add soy sauce to taste.  I just like a couple turns over the top of the rice because each person can add more.  You can add the pepper sauce now or again, each person can add their own.  Cook for a few more minutes.  If things are sticking or browning too much, you can add a few tablespoons of water to slow things down a bit, but good fried rice has a few crunchy bits mixed in with the mostly tender, flavorful rice.
Note:  Besides adding the fried egg over each portion, you can also stir in some beaten eggs.  This will coat your rice and produce a heartier, moister style fried rice.  You can also cook the beaten eggs into a flat omelet, cut it up and add to the rice.  A lot of Chinese restaurants do that.
Anyway, that's all there is to it, but I think you'll like this and you might be cooking extra rice like I do just so you'll have leftovers!