Tuesday, November 9, 2010

El Paso Lime and Chicken Soup

Two years ago, I hosted a soup kitchen night for neighbors and friends -- a variety of soups and breads to bring friends together before the craziness of the holidays begins. If I'm honest with myself, it was really an excuse to procrastinate my annual November novel-writing process (learn more that at www.nanowrimo.org). It was also for research since I was writing about food for the novel I wrote that year. Last year, I also wrote a food-based novel, so having another soup kitchen night was "research." This year, I'm not writing about food, but since I've started this tradition, I can't let it go now, right?
The following recipe is one that I found for last year's soup night. One of my favorite Southern California restaurants is El Torito, which is the originator of this recipe. I've never ordered this from their menu, but I made it in about 10 minutes for last year's soup night and it was an absolute hit! No leftovers. In fact, it was gone in the first half of the evening. And to think that this soup was an afterthought. I was in luck that I had all the ingredients on hand. It packs a flavorful punch, but can be toned down for those who can't handle the spice.

El Paso Lime and Chicken Soup

1 qt chicken stock
Juice from 2 limes
1 tsp dried Mexican oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp pureed chipotle chile
1 bay leaf
Salt and white pepper
2 Chicken breast halves, cooked and shredded
1 cup julienne-cut tomatoes
1/2 cup julienne-cut red onion
1 tbsp Minced cilantro
4 oz Jalapeno Jack cheese; cubed
2 corn tortillas; cut in strips
1 avocado, sliced

Lime slices

1. Combine stock, lime juice, oregano, basil, pureed chipotle and bay leaf in stockpot. Season to taste with salt and white pepper. Bring to boil. Simmer 15 minutes.
2. Add shredded chicken, tomatoes, red onion and cilantro. Bring to boil. Simmer 5 minutes. Adjust seasonings to taste.
3. Ladle very hot soup into warm soup bowls. Drop in cheese cubes. Garnish each serving with a few tortilla strips, avocado slices, lime slice and cilantro sprig.

Substitution Suggestions: I can my own chicken, so I just used my own chicken for this instead of cooking chicken breast and then shredding it. Since the canned chicken comes in its own juices, I dumped that into the pot for additional flavor. I think you're supposed to use fresh tomatoes, but I used the jarred sun-dried variety. I like the extra sweetness that comes from it.
Don't substitute black pepper for the white. The look of little black specks floating around in a transparent broth is offputting. If you don't have white pepper, omit it entirely. There's enough heat from the chipotle.
I admit I cheated with the limes. I used bottled lime juice. It's what I had.

Lessons Learned: It really only requires 10 minutes of hands-on time. There's no reason why you couldn't assemble some of the ingredients a day ahead. I'd wait until the end to add the chicken and garnishes, though. Otherwise, it'll go to mush.
Aside from precise knife skills (which I admit isn't my strong point, pun intended), this recipe requires very little skill. And, it's an affordable dish. I think even a non-culinary college student on a budget could put this together and have a successful dish.

The recipe as presented serves four.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Spicy Barbecue Meatloaf

Meatloaf -- it's the quintessential 1950s American comfort food. I had my fair share of meatloaf growing up. Most of it was pretty bland -- ground beef, tomato sauce, egg, onion, and bread crumbs (or oats) with a subtle nod to flavor in the form of garlic (maybe), salt, pepper and oregano. Yep, it's boring stuff. Truth be told, I'd rather have a hamburger patty than meatloaf. But, my husband loves the stuff (his mom's version, anyhow). I had some use-or-lose ground sausage in the fridge, so it meant either rice and sausage casserole (of which I was missing a variety of ingredients) or meatloaf. I opted for meatloaf. And boy am I glad I did. This stuff was crazy good. And, it's entirely my own creation.

Spicy Barbecue Meatloaf

3/4 cup onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp olive oil
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork sausage
1 1/2 cups bread crumbs
1 tbsp dried parsley1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/2 cup spicy barbecue sauce

1. Combine first three ingredients in saute pan and cook until onion softens. Remove from heat.
2. In medium bowl, combine onion mixture, beef, sausage, bread crumbs, parsley, salt, pepper and egg. Mix gently until thoroughly incorporated. Add barbecue sauce and mix until incorporated. Pour into glass pie dish and spread around.
3. Bake at 375 for 45 to 50 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. Serve immediately.

Substitution Suggestions: You can switch around the ratio of beef and pork you use. And, you can add in other flavors as well, but I wouldn't change a thing in this recipe.
For the bread crumbs, I used a loaf of stale Pane Italian that we never got around to eating before it went hard. Thank goodness for a food processor, which made quick work of the bread. I liked that the crumbs weren't uniform and that they were bigger than grains of sand (like the boxed stuff).

Lessons Learned: Note to self -- make more homemade barbecue sauce. I used poblanos, jalapenos and tomatoes from my garden (with some extras from the Farmers Market) to make a spicy barbecue sauce about a month ago, which I then canned. On its own, the barbecue sauce is pretty spicy. Mixed in with the other ingredients, it added the perfect amount of heat and sweetness. I'll post that recipe at some point.
Don't overmix the meat or it'll go tough. I used my hands since it takes less effort than trying to use a fork or spoon.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Cherry Tomato Sauce

I planted a garden for the first time ... and with one exception (the zucchini), everything actually grew ... and grew ... and grew. It's mid-October and I'm still picking poblanos and tomatoes. Since I'm the only one in the family who likes fresh tomatoes, I needed to come up with something to do with all the extra cherry tomatoes that came from the two plants in the garden. Enter cherry tomato sauce. I love this recipe because you don't need to peel or seed the tomatoes (which can be a real pain when you are in a hurry). I paired this sauce with the Parmesan gnocchi and I thought I'd died and gone to food heaven. So, so, so good!

Cherry Tomato Sauce

1 sweet onion
1 tbsp garlic, minced
1 tbsp olive oil
2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
Sugar to taste (optional)

1. Mince garlic and onion (a food process works well for the onion). Heat oil in skillet over medium high heat. Add garlic and onion. Saute for five minutes or until onion is soft.
2. In batches, puree cherry tomatoes in food processor until chunky. Add to onion mixture.
3. Add salt, pepper and sugar to taste. Simmer over low heat for 15 to 20 minutes.

Substitution Suggestions: I've used other types of tomatoes with the same excellent results. I've also added basil leaves and a splash of balsamic vinegar during the simmering process. Both worked very well. I've also added butter to the olive oil. Again, delicious. Browned sausage (the Hillshire Farms type) also works in it if you want to add protein.

Lessons Learned: These measurements are all suggestions. This recipe does not require a lot of measurement, which is one of the reasons why I love making it. As quoted, it will feed at least four adults with an entree portion.
I cry every time I try to chop an onion despite trying every wives' tale in the book. I'm just sensitive, I guess. So for me, the food processor is a must!
And, the tomatoes really do need to stay chunky, not smooth. Don't leave them whole unless you like hot cherry tomato juice squirting up at you when they burst from the heat.
The sugar is optional. I like a little sweetness with the savory dish, so the sugar adds just the right amount since my tomatoes weren't overly sweet. The key is to taste as you go. Start with just a little, then work your way up to the desired sweetness. (The sweetness will build as the sauce simmers and reduces.) I got too much in it once and while it was still good, it was a little too sweet.
I like a lot of onion, so I use a whole onion in my sauce. You can absolutely cut the onion back, but it will change the texture of the sauce. The goal is not to have a smooth sauce (like the slop you pour out of a glass jar from the grocery store). Having created my own sauces from fresh, homegrown tomatoes, I may never willingly resort to store-bought sauce again! I'll be planting more tomatoes next year. Two cherries and two big boys are just not enough! As it is, I've raided my friend's garden twice!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Parmesan Gnocchi

One of foods on my list of recipes to try is gnocchi. But, I haven't set aside the hours needed to make it. With boiling potatoes, mashing said potatoes, then making the dough, shaping it, freezing it, etc., that's just a lot of work for someone who doesn't have a lot of time. So, when I read about a flour-based version  in the book Ratio by Michael Ruhlman, I couldn't wait to try it. I was on a plane when I read about this version or else I would have tried it that very night. (By the way, Ratio totally rocks my culinary universe!)
The concept of Ratio is that most successful cooking (be it baking, sauces, soups, etc.) happens in weighted ratios. Master the ratios and you'll never need to depend on a recipe again. It really is quite liberating. The gnocchi recipe below is my adaptation using that theory. It pairs exquisitely with cherry tomato sauce recipe I created to use up all the extra tomatoes from my home garden.
If only my math teachers had made numbers, weights, ratios and fractions about food, I would have enjoyed math a whole lot more!

Parmesan Gnocchi
6 oz liquid (water, milk, stock, etc.)
4 oz butter (1 stick)
1 tsp salt
5-6 oz flour (a little more than a cup)
4 eggs
1/2 cup Parmesan Reggiano, grated
1/2 tsp mustard powder
1 tsp garlic powder
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup white wine (optional)

1. Combine liquid, butter and salt in sauce pan. Bring to boil. Quickly stir in flour. The flour will quickly absorb the flour and form a ball. Keep stirring over medium heat to cook off more of the liquid. Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes.
2. While mixture is still very warm, stir in eggs, one at a time. Each egg needs to be fully incorporated before the next one is added. It will be slippery at first, but with enough stirring, each egg will mix into the dough.
3. Once the eggs have been added, stir in Parmesan, mustard and garlic.
4. Boil a large pot of lightly salted water.
5. Spoon dough into a large piping with a tip or zip-top bag. If using zip-top bag, cut small corner from one corner.
6. Pipe dough into boiling water, cutting it every inch. When the gnocchi floats, it's done. Remove to a baking sheet lined with a towel to drain. Gnocchi should be soft but hold its shape.
7. Once the gnocchi is cooked, heat olive oil and butter in saute pan. Add garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add gnocchi and toss to coat. Allow gnocchi to brown lightly. Optional: Add white wine to deglace the pan. Serve hot with cherry tomato sauce.

Substitution Suggestions: If you don't have Parmesan, no worries. The author suggested Comte cheese, which is equally delicious. And, you can add finely chopped fresh herbs to the dough without compromising the structure. I usually use milk since it adds more flavor and body than water. Cream will also work, as will broth and stock. You could probably puree spinach, basil or squash with broth or water for the liquid as well.
This dough is pretty soft, even after the dough is poached. If you like a stiffer dumpling, increase the flour or cheese. Or, decrease the liquid. Don't increase the cheese too much or the dough will be gummy.

Lessons Learned: If this recipe looks similar to the recipe for cream puffs, you're right. It's the same recipe, except the water has been decreased by 25% and I've added savory flavors into the dough.
The ratios above are enough to feed four adults. I've successfully halved and doubled it. It really helps to have a kitchen scale since not all cups of flour are created equal. The gnocchi is delicious with the white wine added in at the end of the sauteing process. When sauteed, the gnocchi forms a light brown crust that adds interest to the texture and flavor of the dumplings. I dare you to not pop them into your mouth like potato chips. They are addicting!
The dough can be piped into long strips on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, then frozen. Once the gnocchi are frozen, they can be cut into 1-inch pieces, then stored in a freezer bag and refrozen. You can cook them straight from the freezer to the pot of boiling water. Like above, when they float, they're done. You must work quickly when cutting the frozen gnocchi. They will thaw quickly and you'll end up with a gummy mess. So, work in batches and get them back in the freezer as fast as you can.
The beauty of this recipe is that in the time it takes to boil the pot of water, you can make the dough and have it ready to go.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Pork Tacos with Grilled Corn and Peach Salsa

It's been way too hot to cook these past several weeks in northern Virginia. With temperatures hitting 100, plus the humidity on top of that, who wants to turn on an oven or stand in front of a hot grill? Not me! But, the temps dropped to the 80s this week and it was time to fire up the grill and play with some iconic summer flavors (that don't involve hot dogs or hamburgers).
What was on the menu? Pork tacos with grilled corn and peach salsa. The inspiration came from July 2010 issue of Cooking Light, but I figured if I was going to turn on the grill, I was going to go whole hog with it (no pun intended). So, I changed up the inspiration recipe. The results were packed with flavor. Not only is this meal delicious, it is also affordable ($2.49/serving) and incredibly healthy.

Pork Tacos with Grilled Corn and Peach Salsa

Juice of one lime, divided
1 tbsp olive oil
1 1-pound pork tenderloin
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
1 garlic clove, minced
1 ear corn, shucked
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded
1 jalapeno, halved and seeded
1 peach, diced
Zest of 1 lime
Cooking spray
Flour tortillas
Feta cheese or queso fresco or queso blanco

1. Preheat grill to medium-high heat.
2. Combine 1 tbsp lime juice with olive oil in zip-top bag. Slice pork tenderloin into inch-thick slices and add to bag. Marinade for 10 minutes. Discard marinade. Season both sides of pork with salt, pepper, cumin and garlic.
3. Grill for 3-4 minutes per side or until desired doneness. Remove from grill, cover with foil and let rest for at least 5 minutes. Slice pork into thin strips.
4. While pork is grilling and resting, spray corn, red pepper and jalapeno with cooking spray. Grill until each item is moderately charred. Let corn rest for 5 minutes. Remove outer skin from jalapeno. Mince jalapeno and dice red pepper. Cut kernels from corn and add to pepper mixture. Add diced peach. Add lime zest and remaining juice from lime. Toss to coat.
5. Serve pork and salsa with tortillas and preferred cheese.

Substitution Suggestions: I confess, I cheated. Instead of starting from scratch with my pork, I used a pepper and garlici-marinated pork tenderloin. And, I'd do it again in a heartbeat. I washed off some of the peppery marinade before I sliced the loin and put it in the lime marinade. And, because I knew the pre-fab marinade had plenty of salt, pepper and garlic, I didn't add any extra. If you start with a blank slate, add the requisite spices. If you use a pre-marinated cut of meat (regardless of the flavor), whatever you do, omit the salt and rinse the meat before you marinade it! Pre-packaged marinates, especially in pork tenderloins, are loaded with salt.
The inspiration recipe called for nectarine, not peach. Either will work just fine. In fact, I'm sure strawberries would work well, too. The original recipe didn't call for grilling the salsa ingredients (except for the corn). As long as the grill was on, I thought, why not? It worked very well. The inspiration recipe also called for pork chops instead of tenderloin. I don't like chops -- never have -- so the loin suits me just fine.

Lessons Learned: The recipe really is straight-forward. Want more fiber? Add some shredded cabbage (like the original recipe recommended). Toss it in a little lime juice to meld the flavors. Want less fat? Swap out the flour tortillas for corn tortillas (also like the original recipe recommended). Want more texture in the salsa? Forgo grilling the red pepper and jalapeno. Don't eat pork? Use chicken or beef. It is highly adaptable.
I love the fresh taste of this meal. It epitomizes the tastes of summer without resorting to the plain ol' grilled burgers and dogs. I served it with grilled corn on the cob and smoky chipotle rice. For the rice, I prepared 1 cup of rice in a rice cooker (I added 2 cups of chicken stock instead of water for extra flavor). Then, I crumbled several strips of crispy bacon into it, added 1/2 tsp powdered chipotle (which was perhaps a tad too much), two splashes of lime juice and a 1/2 tbsp of bacon renderings. Talk about flavor!!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Harry Potter's Butter Beer Float

My family is consumed with Harry Potter. We own and have all read all the books. We own all the movies. We even have most of the books on CD. We are anxiously awaiting the final movie (part 1) later this year.
During one of our many Harry discussion, the question arose, "What is butter beer?" Rowling doesn't fully explain it aside from mentioning it multiple times, which leads me to think that it's a popular drink among Hogwarts students. I set out on an internet search to find a recipe. The recipe variations I found were quite varied and many contained alcohol, which just isn't appropriate for children (or me). Aside from that, there are two main categories of butter beer: hot and cold. I took the general idea of the cold version and created butter beer floats. Let's just say that my (almost) 10-year-old was in Harry Potter heaven. Next winter, I'll have to try hot butter beer.

Harry Potter's Butter Beer Float

1 bottle IBC creme soda
2 scoops vanilla or butterscotch ice cream
2 tbsp butterscotch ice cream topping
Whipped cream
Crushed toffee bits

1. Put ice cream in bottom of glass. Add butterscotch topping.
2. Slowly pour soda over ice cream. Wait for fizz to subside, then add more soda.
3. Top with whipped cream and toffee bits, then serve with a straw and long-handled spoon.

Substitution Suggestions: You can obviously vary the ice cream flavor. For a more buttery flavor, add a few drops of butter extract. Diet soda will also work, but if you're going to indulge, why not fully indulge?!

Lessons Learned: The soda fizzes a lot when it hits the ice cream. Either spoon it off or stir it in before adding the rest of the soda. Or, as a friend suggests, reverse the order: soda, then ice cream, though that will limit how much ice cream will fit in the glass. I used three bottles of soda to make four floats.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Vanilla Shortbread Cookies

I clipped this recipe from the May 2009 Cooking Light magazine and it sat in my dessert recipe binder with the best of intentions. Last night, I needed a quick recipe to throw together for a finger food potluck. I was out the door, with this tasty little morsels in hand (still warm), in just under an hour. I followed the recipe exactly (with one minor substitution) and received the expected results and an unexpected compliment.
This is the tag that went with the cookie recipe: "This half-oil, half-butter version yields a crisper, more delicate cookie," says Cooking Light Advisory Panelist Greg Drescher of the Culinary Institute of America.

Vanilla Shortbread Cookies

Cooking spray
9 oz. all-purpose flour (about 2 c.)
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Line bottom and sides of a 13 x 9–inch baking pan with foil; coat foil with cooking spray, and set aside.

3. Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, cornstarch, and salt in a large bowl; stir with a whisk.

4. Place butter in a medium bowl or bowl of a stand mixer; beat with a mixer at medium speed 2 minutes or until light and fluffy. Add oil; beat with a mixer at medium speed 3 minutes or until well blended. Gradually add sugar, beating well. Scrape seeds from vanilla bean, and add seeds to butter mixture; discard bean. Add flour mixture, beating at low speed just until blended. Spoon dough into prepared pan. Place a sheet of heavy-duty plastic wrap over dough; press to an even thickness. Discard plastic wrap. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Cool in pan 5 minutes on a wire rack; cut into 32 pieces. Carefully lift foil from pan; cool squares completely on a wire rack.

Substitution Suggestions: I didn't have canola oil, so I used vegetable oil instead. I'd probably stick to canola in the future, but vegetable will work just fine. If you really want more butter flavor, add a little butter extract -- flavor without the guilt. Don't use margarine or vanilla extract! Only the real thing will do for this recipe and I love seeing the tiny vanilla bean flecks in the cookie.

Lessons Learned: Don't soften your butter too much. I think mine was a little too soft, so it took extra time to get the butter and oil to combine.
The cornstarch may throw you for a loop, but that's part of what makes this cookie dissolve in your mouth so well. You will not taste the chalky flavor of the starch, I promise!
I measured my flour on the scale, not with a cup measure, for better accuracy. I am developing a new appreciation for my kitchen scale thanks to a fabulous book recently recommended to me: Ratio by Michael Ruhlman. (The book is totally rocking my cooking world!)

Chocolate Chip Cookies

I am not a huge cookie fan. Perhaps it's because my dad made cookies on a very regular basis when I was a kid ... and they always came out hard. (I hate hard cookies ... except for Oreos.) Perhaps it's because I prefer to enjoy something more interesting and flavorful and texturally interesting when I consume empty calories. At any rate, I've never been a big cookie fan and I've never been a great cookie baker ... until a few weeks ago when the clouds parted and a cookie goddess condescended to share her secrets with me. Now, not only do I like cookies, I can make really good ones -- the beautifully puffy kind that stay soft overnight. So long to those anemic, flatter-than-Kansas cookies that I get every time I try following the recipe on the back of the Nestle chocolate chip bag.
This recipe is not for those who have a CCC craving that needs immediate satisfaction. Nope. For that, I suggest you go to the store and buy a bag of SoftBatch cookies. No, this recipe requires advance planning, but that forethought definitely pays off. The recipe is supposed to be secret, but I just can't keep a food secret this good. So, with apologies to the cookie goddess, here's the ultimate fail-proof, stay-soft-for-days (if they last that long) chocolate chip cookie recipe.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 sticks butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar, slightly packed
2 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla (note, not tsp)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 to 2 1/2 cups chocolate chips

1. Whip butter until fluffy. Add each sugar slowly and mix until thoroughly creamed. Add eggs, one at a time, until each is fully incorporated. Add vanilla.
2. In separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, soda and salt. Whisk until thoroughly combined. Dump entire amount into creamed mixture and mix until thoroughly combined. Add chocolate chips.
3. Cover mixture with plastic wrap (pressed onto dough) and refrigerate for 4 to 5 hours. Remove from fridge and form dough into evenly-sized balls. Place rows of balls in a freezable container (with a sealable lid) between sheets of waxed paper and freeze for several hours or up to a month.
4. To bake, heat oven to 375. Place frozen balls on ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let pan cool for 20 minutes before removing cookies to a wire rack for final cooling.

Substitution Suggestions: One word ... don't! OK, a few more words. You can add nuts, but I wouldn't mess with the ratios of this recipe in any other way. And, I wouldn't increase the chocolate content beyond 2 1/2 cups. (A regular-sized bag holds 2 cups, but I buy mine in bulk.) In this case, too much chocolate is not a good thing.  

Lessons Learned: This recipe calls for more sugar and flour than the recipe on the back of the Nestle bag. It also calls for a lot more vanilla. The vanilla really sings in these cookies. It's not offensively strong, but the perfect balance with the chocolate.
I read once upon a time (I think it was in Cooks Illustrated) that eggs added one at a time incorporate into a batter or dough faster than adding them all at once. The one-at-a-time process also creates a better rise. It has something to do with the science, which I don't understand, but it does work. So, only add eggs one at a time.
By mixing the dry ingredients separately before adding them to the creamed mixture, you ensure that the baking soda and powder are thoroughly integrated. Otherwise, you could get pockets of powder or soda and who wants to taste that? Not me.
I think the biggest key to this recipe's success is that the dough is frozen before it's baked, and then its baked from its frozen state and it finishes baking on a hot, but cooling sheet once you pull it out of the oven. In short, the cookie bakes very slowly throughout the entire process. The cookies will still look somewhat raw after 10 minutes. The cookie goddess (CG) says you can leave them in the oven for 12 minutes at most, but I pulled mine out after 10. I also dialed my oven down to 350 since my oven runs 25 degrees hot. Make sure you know your oven's true temperature, not the temperature you set it to.
The CG measures each ball of dough before it's frozen. Because she sells them, she has to make sure each one is 2 ounces. I used a one-ounce scoop for mine and kept the cooking time to 10 minutes. If you make bigger balls, you may need to increase the time slightly.
I baked mine on one rack with a pizza stone underneath (to help regulate the heat). The CG bakes two rows at a time.
One final note: CG said that she's shared this recipe with others, but they can't manage to duplicate it. She may have shared it with me, expecting that I too would fail and thus leave her safely in her role as the cookie goddess. As long as I don't try to sell these cookies, I don't think she'll mind that I can now make them as well as she can. If you don't get super-soft cookies, leave me a comment and I'll troubleshoot the problem with you. And, let me know what you think of the recipe!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Fake Donuts

I eat donuts maybe once a year. And even then, the donuts must be yeasted donuts -- no cake donuts for me, thank you very much. I figure if I'm going to inject myself with wasteful calories, I want something more interesting than rainbow sprinkles, bad icing and crumbly, dried-out cake. I found this recipe a few years ago in an issue of Real Simple and was intrigued. Could this recipe satisfy my kids' desire for donuts? I finally tried it several weeks ago. It hit the spot for all of us and I've actually had two donuts this year ... so far. The middles were perfectly doughy without being undercooked. The outsides had the perfect amount of crispness and flake (thanks to all the butter in the canned biscuits that I used). It's a two-thumbs up recipe for a last-minute dessert.

Fake Donuts
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 8-count package large refrigerated biscuits (such as Pillsbury Grands)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Heat 1/2 cup of the oil in a medium skillet over medium-low heat.
2. Place the biscuits on a cutting board. Using a 1-inch round cookie cutter or shot glass, cut a hole in the center of each biscuit, reserving the extra dough for "holes."
3. Test the heat of the oil by dipping the edge of a doughnut in the pan. When the oil is hot enough, the edge will bubble. Place 4 of the doughnuts and holes in the skillet and cook until golden brown, 1 to 1½ minutes per side. Transfer to a wire rack or paper towel–lined plate to drain. Add the remaining oil to the skillet, reheat, and cook the remaining doughnuts and holes.
4. In a large bowl, combine the sugar and cinnamon. Gently toss the warm doughnuts in the mixture a few at a time. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Substitution Suggestions: Honestly, this recipe is as straight forward as they come. I've only used Pillsbury Flaky Grands and been happy with the results. If you want donut holes instead of the larger donuts, just press down on the biscuit slightly, then use your cookie cutter to cut lots of holes. The holes cook much faster than the full biscuits.

Lessons Learned: I've made this recipe twice now. The trick is to keep the oil hot enough to fry the donuts, but not so hot that the outsides burn before the insides are thoroughly cooked. (Yes, I made that mistake the first time around.) And, they do burn easily. I flipped the donuts several times each and that seemed to help.
I didn't have a cookie cutter small enough, but the plastic storage tube that came with my Pampered Chef grapefruit slicer is the perfect size for punching out the center hole.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Bacon and Blue Dip

I love dips. That's the best part about eating chips and crackers. And maybe veggies, too. I recently attended two finger food potlucks. The question always is: What should I take? I want to take something I haven't done before because that's part of the joy of cooking ... trying something new. I love bacon. I love blue cheese. So, I figured this recipe that I clipped from Southern Living magazine had to be good. It was really similar to my stuffed pork chop recipe, so I went with it. One word: YUM! OK, a few more words. I love the smoothness of the cream and blue cheeses melted together. And, the crunch of the toasted nuts is a very nice juxtaposition to that creaminess. And, what's not to love about bacon? Add some sweet apples as the dippers and you approach sweet-savory perfection. I mixed the recipe up a little for a quicker prep. This is what I did.

Hot Bacon and Blue Dip

2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup half-and-half
4 ounces crumbled blue cheese
1 1/2 jars real bacon bits
1/4 tsp liquid smoke
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp olive oil
3 tbsp chopped green onions
3 tbsp chopped pecans, toasted
Apples, crackers and flatbread

1. Beat the cream cheese and half-and-half with mixer until smooth. Add bacon, onions and liquid smoke. Mix until combined.
2. Heat olive oil in small skillet. Add garlic and saute. Add to bacon and cheese mixture.
3. Spoon into 4 (1-cup) baking dishes (ramekins work really well) or into 1 quart casserole dish.
4. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes or until golden and bubbly. Sprinkle evening with chopped pecans. Serve with apples wedges, crackers or flatbread.

Substitution Suggestions: The original recipe called for walnuts and chives instead of pecans and green onions. I like my version better, but the other will obviously work.
The original also called for real bacon. If you have the time for that, here is the alternate cooking direction. For this, omit the olive oil and use the bacon renderings instead. It requires seven pieces of bacon (though knowing me, I'd double it!).
Cook chopped bacon in a skillet over medium-high heat 10 minutes or until crisp. Drain bacon, and set aside. Add minced garlic to skillet, and sauté 1 minute.

Lessons Learned: This dip is definitely best served hot (or warm) and it does reheat well if you remove the nuts (which went a little soggy in the fridge). You could probably also use this as the stuffing for the aforementioned pork chop recipe, but I'd add chopped apples to the mix before stuffing the meat. I really liked the sweetness of the Fuji apples with the saltiness of the dip. I received compliments on this dip both times I served it, so it earns a place in my permanent cooking annals.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Alton Brown's Crepes

There's a wonderful little restaurant called La Creperie Cafe in the Belmont Shores district of Long Beach, Calif. This place has wonderful crepes -- sweet crepes, savory crepes, appetizer crepes, plain crepes, fancy crepes, you name it. They are delectable in every way, shape and form. Made from whole wheat (without the dry whole wheat mouth-feel), these crepes are the epitome of comfort food. My dear friend Jacky and his beautiful wife, Anne Marie, introduced my family to this restaurant. And, every time I go back to California, I insist on a visit. The atmosphere is great, too -- Bohemian French bistro (I wrote a restaurant review of it for Hungry? Family Edition -- Los Angeles.)
After my introduction to crepes, I searched for a recipe to try them at home. Alton Brown's aren't quite as good as La Creperie's, but they are still pretty good. And, I can't quite re-create the crepe carbonara to match the restaurant's, but whenever I make my version, I get compliments.
This recipe is great for savory and sweet crepes. I like to make a full batch, then split it and add the sweetness to half and the savory to the other half to feed my family of four.

Alton Brown's Crepes

2 large eggs
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1 cup flour
3 tbsp butter, melted
Butter for the pan

1. Combine all ingredients in a blender and pulse for 10 seconds (you may need to scrape down the sides partway through).
2. Refrigerate for 1 hour to allow air bubbles to release (if the batter has too many bubbles, the crepe will tear when you cook it).
3. Heat small non-stick pan. Add butter to coat. Pour 1 ounce of batter into the center of the pan and swirl to spread evenly. Cook for 30 seconds and flip. Cook for another 10 seconds and remove to the cutting board. Lay them out flat so they can cool. Continue until all batter is gone.
4. After they have cooled you can stack them and store in sealable plastic bags in the refrigerator for several days or in the freezer for up to two months. When using frozen crepes, thaw on a rack before gently peeling apart.

Substitution Suggestions: For sweet crepes, add 2 1/2 tbsp sugar, 1 tsp vanilla and 2 tbsp liqueur of choice (I use a few drops of almond extract instead of the liqueur). For savory crepes, add 1/4 tsp salt and 1/4 cup herbs of choice (or sun-dried tomatoes or spinach).
I fill my savory crepes with a cheese sauce (made from a roux with added onion and garlic), grilled chicken and bacon. If I'm feeling ambitious, I'll also add mushrooms and olives.
For my sweet crepes, I'll use cinnamon sugar or bananas and Nutella and strawberries. The French usually eat them with a little jam. For more ideas and inspiration, visit lacreperiecafe.net and look at the menu.

Lessons Learned: Letting the batter sit for an hour really does make a difference.  I've tried it both ways, and letting the batter de-bubble really does affect how well the crepe holds together.
When you pour the batter and swirl it in the pan, let it sit over medium-high heat until the edges start to pull up. I jiggle the pan back and forth until it moves on its own. Once it does that, I flip it. You could use tongs or a fork, but you risk tearing the crepe. With a little practice, flipping becomes easy. (I was actually so aggressive with my flip on the most recent crepe night that I flipped it 360 instead of just 180!)
The sky is the limit when filling these. My kids like them with peanut butter. I like the carbonara. Next time, I might try taking inspiration from California Pizza Kitchen's menu to come up with a Thai crepe or something equally exotic.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Sweet and Spicy Mustard Sauce

In my early years, mustard meant one of two things: Saturday morning weed pulling on the back hill or the nasty bright yellow stuff that ruins a perfectly good hotdog. As an adult, I have acquired a tolerated taste for mustard, but I prefer the more expensive crunchy, whole seed version to the French's stuff. However, I still refuse to put it on a hotdog.
Easter dinner this year included honey-baked ham. I had fond memories of a little restaurant in San Pedro, Calif., that served a delicious mustard-based sauce with its potatoes and salmon dish. I thought the sauce would work well with the ham. My online search came up empty, but I found a another recipe that sounded pretty good. Using my typical tweaks to compensate for missing ingredients, I threw this together in five minutes. The results were divine. My husband, who doesn't like mustard, wasn't a fan, but my daughter loved it. Here's my version of it.

Sweet and Spicy Mustard Sauce

2 tsp flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp mustard powder
1 tsp dried tarragon
1/2 cup milk
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup cider vinegar

1. In small bowl, combine flour, sugar, mustard powder and tarragon.
2. In small saucepan, whisk together milk and egg yolk. Slowly whisk in the dry ingredients. Add vinegar.
3. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens. Reduce heat to low and continue cooking until desired consistency is reached.
4. Serve with ham, fish, summer sausage or chicken.

Substitution Suggestions: If you actually have tarragon vinegar, use that instead of the cider vinegar and dried tarragon. I liked the cider flavor.

Lessons Learned: The original recipe said the mixture would boil. I never got to that point. Perhaps it's because I eye-balled my ingredients and probably added too much flour. It thickened to the right consistency without so much as a single bubble. Regardless, it was delicious and I had more than enough for our small family. Note, this recipe is cut in half from the one I found online and is said to serve 8.
The sauce was spicier than I anticipated, but it was also very sweet. It reminds me of the sweet and spicy mustard that Hickory Farms sells, only it's a lot cheaper and goes together in five minutes.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Dominican Pastelon

For the past several weeks, I have been longing for Dominican foods: frito verde (fried green plantains), mangu (boiled and mashed plantains with fried onions and salami on top), sancocho (vegetable and various meats stew), and after my son asked for it, habichuelas con dulce (a bean drink served at Easter). One of my favorite treats from the 18 months I lived in the DR was pastelon. Some call it Dominican lasagna. I think it's more like shepherd's pie. Either way, it's savory and sweet and oh so good. The saltiness of the meat, coupled with the sweetness of the ripe plantain make for a delightfully flavorful party in the mouth. I dug up a recipe last week and tweaked it for my ingredients. This is roughly what I did.

Dominican Pastelon
6 very ripe plantains
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/4 cup of butter
1 lb. of ground beef or sausage
2 tbsp. oil
1 tbsp. tomato paste
1 tsp. salt
1 small red onion diced into small cubes
1 green pepper
1 tsp. crushed garlic
Black ground pepper

1. Mix meat with pepper, onion, a pinch of salt, a pinch of pepper and garlic. In a shallow pan heat a tablespoon of oil. Add the meat and stir, breaking it into small pieces. Cook until completely cooked. Add two tablespoons of water and the tomato paste. Simmer to blend flavors. When the meat is ready to use, cook to evaporate excess liquid.
2. Peel and boil plantains in salted water. When the plantains are very tender, remove from the water and puree with a hand mixer. Add butter and keep mashing until it is very smooth.
3. Put half of the plantains mixture in 9x9 baking pan. Cover with 1/3 of the cheese and add the meat. Add another third of the cheese, cover with the remaining plantain mixture. Cover with the rest of the cheese. Bake at 350 oven until the top is golden brown (approx. 15 minutes).
4. Serve with a few slices of avocados.

Substitution Suggestions: Green plantains will NOT work with this dish unless you want mangu instead of pastelon. I used a few tablespoons of a Latin spice blend (Goya brand) instead of some of the spices. It was a little saltier than I would have liked, but it was still good.  If tomato paste is unavailable, use tomato sauce and reduce the amount of water in the meat mixture. I omitted the green pepper (since I didn't have any on hand).

Lessons Learned: I remember that the trabajadoras who cooked for us in the DR would mash the plantains by hand. If you have electricity, use the hand mixer. (We often didn't have electricity and we definitely didn't have a hand mixer.)
I cut the butter amount down by using some of the water used to boil the plantains. When you mash the plantains and it gets really stiff (and trust me, it will get stiff), add some hot salted plantain water to the mix until it loosens up. For six plantains, I ultimately added almost two cups of water (in addition to almost a half cube of butter). If the calories don't matter to you, stick with butter.

How to pick a ripe plantain: Unlike the green ones, which are very hard to touch and even harder to peel, ripe plantains are yellow with lots of black striations. They are also soft (but not squishy). Don't let the black color fool you -- it is not bad. I'm sure plantains are edible in their raw state, but I don't know anyone who eats them raw. Ripe plantains, like their green counterparts can be fried, but I much prefer the green variety, which are the preferred "French fry" of the Dominican Republic. We would salt them and eat them with ketchup. It was a little piece of fried heaven.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Party Cheese Bread

I firmly believe that bread has a genealogy. In fact, I wrote a (yet unpublished) novel about it last November. When someone shares a recipe, or in the case of my book, a bread starter, with someone, that lineage should be documented. Perhaps that's why I always cite where I find a recipe, be it a magazine, a friend, a relative or a truly original creation.
With that in mind, I want to share this delectable recipe. It comes courtesy of my friend Alanna, who received it from Shellie Brown, who received it from Nancy Brown of Las Vegas, Nev. Alanna brought this pull-apart bread to a movie night at my house the other night (and yes, I totally get a kick out of us both turning around whenever someone calls either of our names. In an even funnier twist, we have the same maiden last name!). The bread was the edible hit of the evening (and it had to compete with a chocolate fountain for the top spot!). I have yet to make it, but it sounds incredibly easy and it really is incredibly tasty! Alanna said it might become her party tradition whenever she needs to take food someplace. I wholeheartedly agree!

Party Cheese Bread

1 round loaf of bread
1 lb. Monterey Jack cheese, sliced
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup green onions, sliced
2 tsp. poppy seeds

1. Place bread onto foil. The foil should be large enough to completely cover the bread in multiple directions..
2. Slice the bread at one-inch intervals, but do not cut all the way through the bottom crust. Repeat the process in the opposite direction so that a grid is formed. (Think tic-tac-toe, but with more squares than nine.)
3. Insert cheese into all slices in both directions.
4. Add green onions and poppy seeds.
5. Wrap foil around the bread into a bowl shape. Pour butter over the bread and seal in foil.
6. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes. Unwrap top and continue baking for an additional 10 minutes. Serve warm.

Substitution Suggestions: I don't see why Pepper Jack or another meltable cheese wouldn't work with this bread. Alanna said she used mountain bread. When I try it, I will get the Marco Polo bread at Wegman's. I will probably also add some garlic and onion powders to the melted butter, too, but that's a personal preference.

Lessons Learned: Since I have yet to make it, I haven't learned any lessons yet, but I can imagine that it is really important to cut almost to the bottom of each slice. Since it is a pull-apart bread, you want to make it as easy as possible to pull apart. It won't pull apart into neat little cubes, but if you cut all the way to (but not through) the crust, it will be fairly easy to pull apart. Enjoy!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Goat Cheese-Stuffed Chicken with Strawberry Gastrique

Cleaning out the refrigerator ranks right up there with scrubbing toilets and cleaning grout. I hate doing it. It usually means digging into the inner depths of the fridge and extracting some moldy cheese that was long since forgotten, a potato that is softer than a Nerf ball (yeah, I know I shouldn't store potatoes in the fridge), remnants of a cucumber I forgot I had and a sauce that can no longer be identified. Sometimes, though, cleaning out the fridge can yield some tasty results. That's how this recipe came into being.
The original recipe inspiration came from Cooking Light. And like usual, I didn't have everything I needed, so I substituted ingredients. This is what I came up with. The syrup was absolutely divine!

Goat Cheese-Stuffed Chicken with Strawberry Gastrique
1 cup chopped strawberries
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup sherry
2 tbsp vinegar
1/3 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 cup goat cheese
1/8 cup crumbled Gorgonzola or bleu cheese
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves (or 1/2 tsp dried)
2 ounces prosciutto or bacon, chopped
4 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
Cooking spray
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Place strawberries in a small, heavy saucepan; partially mash with a fork. Stir in sugar, sherry, vinegar, broth, and coriander; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer until reduced to 2/3 cup (about 30 minutes), stirring occasionally. Strain mixture through a sieve over a bowl; discard solids.

2. In separate bowl, combine cheeses, thyme, and prosciutto/bacon. Pat chicken dry. Cut a horizontal slit through thickest portion of each breast to form a pocket; spoon 3 tablespoons cheese mixture into each pocket.

3. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Sprinkle both sides of chicken evenly with salt and pepper. Add chicken to pan; cook 6 minutes or until browned. Turn chicken over; cook 5 minutes or until done. Serve with sauce.

Substitution Suggestions: The original recipe called for 1/2 cup sherry vinegar. I didn't have any so I used sherry and white vinegar to equal the 1/2 cup. It tasted just fine. The original recipe also did not call for goat cheese. That is my addition since I needed to use or lose it. If goat cheese is unavailable, go with 1/4 cup gorgonzola and it'll be just fine.
If your clean-out-the-fridge chore doesn't include any use-or-lose strawberries, try the recipe with raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, etc.

Lessons Learned: The chicken required more cooking time than the recipe indicated. Perhaps if the chicken were pounded to a more even thickness before it was slit and stuffed, that would have helped. At any rate, make sure the chicken is cooked through before spooning the sauce over it because microwaving chicken is disgusting!
Instead of tossing the solids from the sauce, serve rolls with the meal and use the solids as as a savory jam.
The sauce really is what makes this recipe so good. The thick syrup is a beautiful blend of sweet and savory happiness. It could easily be poured over pork chops or fish.

Chile Rellenos in Tomato Broth

My family loves to watch the Food Network. We don't do reality TV on other stations -- just the Food Network. We love watching Iron Chef America, especially Bobby Flay and Michael Simon (although Simon's laugh is really annoying!). My son and I also enjoyed watching the first season of Worst Cooks in America. Talk about funny! The cake cook-offs don't do much for me. There's just too many of them.

When the network launched a magazine, I was one of its first subscribers. The magazine started off strong, but in recent months, more pages have been dedicated to reality TV stars and useless gadgets than to the recipes and actual cooking. It's somewhat disappointing. I care more about food than what band Duff plays in when he's not at Charm City Cakes or what Bryan Boitano's kitchen remodel looks like. Regardless, there are some recipe gems in the magazine. The recipe below is one of them. My mother made chile rellenos a few times when I was a child. They were good enough to create a pleasant memory, but not enough to try them on my own ... until last week. Like usual, I had to tweak the recipe to accommodate the ingredients I had on hand since we were snowed in and the grocery stores were closed! Thank goodness I got the last few poblanos at the grocery store in anticipation of this recipe. Though somewhat time intensive, the results were stellar ... even with my substitutions.

Chile Rellenos in Tomato Broth

8 poblano chile peppers (4 1/2 to 5 inches long)
12 ounces muenster cheese, cut into 8 sticks (about 3 1/2 by 1 inch)
2 14.6 ounce cans of diced tomatoes
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 whole cloves
7 black peppercorns
2 small bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
1 sprig fresh cilantro, plus leaves for garnish
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
Kosher salt
Vegetable oil, for frying
6 large eggs, separated
All-purpose flour, for dredging

1. Preheat the broiler. Place the chiles on a foil-lined broiler pan; broil, turning, until the skins char, about 8-10 minutes. Place in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let cool, about 10 minutes.

2. While chiles are cooling, puree tomatoes, onion and garlic in blender until smooth. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over high heat until almost smoking.  Add the tomato puree, cloves, peppercorns, bay leaves, cinnamon stick and cilantro sprig and fry, stirring, until thick, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the broth, reduce the heat and simmer until thickened but still brothy, 25 to 30 minutes.

3. Peel the chiles. Slice each open lengthwise, about 1/2 inch from the top to 1 inch from the bottom. Remove the seedpod, then rinse to flush out any remaining seeds. Blot dry, inside and out, with paper towels. Carefully stuff each chile with a stick of cheese.

4. Season the tomato broth with salt. Strain, discarding solids, and keep warm.

5. Preheat oven to 350. Line a baking sheet with paper towels. Heat 1 to 1 1/2 inches of vegetable oil in a large pot over medium-high heat until a deep-fry thermometer registers 360. Beat the egg whites, 2 tablespoons water and 1 teaspoon salt with a mixer until stiff but not dry. Beat the yolks in a separate bowl until combined, then gently fold them into the whites.

6. Overlap the sides of the slit in the chiles to enclose the cheese, then dredge in flour. (Coat any tears with flour.) Using tongs, dip and roll the chiles in the egg mixture to coat. Fry in the hot oil until golden, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer with a large skimmer or 2 spatulas to the paper-towel-lined baking sheet, letting the excess oil drip back into the pot. Repeat with the remaining chiles and egg mixture. Place in the oven on the lined baking sheet to cook off any excess oil, about 5 minutes.

7. Ladle the tomato broth into 4 shallow bowls; place 2 chiles in each. Garnish with cilantro.

Substitution Suggestions: The original recipe called for fresh tomatoes. I think the canned ones worked just as well. For a veggie version, use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth. The cheese can be substituted as well. Traditional rellenos call for Monterey Jack. I would not use cheddar. It doesn't melt the same as Monterey Jack or Muenster. I actually used sliced Muenster instead of the bricked version. It's what I had in the fridge so I went with it.

Lessons Learned: The chiles take longer to roast than the originally suggested 8 minutes. Make sure you turn them ever few minutes or else you'll set off your smoke alarm! They tore easily as I seeded them. Perhaps they would have seeded better if I had cut into the skin to extract the seed pod before I roasted and peeled them. I'll try that next time. I worried that they would split open when I fried them. They didn't.

I only had five poblanos (remember, I bought everything the store had), so I halved the amount of tomatoes and broth. And, I only used three eggs instead of five and had plenty of that left over, too. So, I think you can safely cut down on the number of eggs used, even if you make the full recipe.

The rellenos have a nice heat -- strong enough to taste it but mild enough that the flavors still come through nicely over the heat. The egg coating remained surprisingly crisp even after it was placed in the tomato broth, which, by the way, is worth the time necessary to make it. I definitely look forward to making this recipe again in the very near future.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Crock Pot Cassoulet

I am a sucker for a good story, so it was with great enthusiasm that I began reading Julie and Julia by Julie Powell. What a complete let-down. Aside from the fact that this author has the vocabulary of a sailor, I found her whiny, annoying and very uninteresting. Julia Child, however, was everything Julie Powell was not: witty, sympathetic, engaging. I found My Life in France by Child a much more interesting read. Powell's book was given away. Child's book earned a place on my bookshelf. Another book I'd like to add is Child's first book: Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I've been reading it (yes, cover to cover) and have thoroughly enjoyed the foray into the French take on culinary mastery. What does that have to do with recipe in this post? Well, it's French, I suppose. And, with the temperature outside dipping to a very brisk -2 degrees (after factoring in the wind chill), I wanted my family to eat something that would warm them through and through. (So what if my chicken-nugget-loving kids turned their noses up at it. My husband and I loved it.) This is not Julia's recipe. It's actually my use-what-you-got take on a recipe I found online. It's altered enough that I can safely call it my own.

Crock Pot Cassoulet

3 strips bacon, diced
1 tsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1-2 cloves garlic
2 carrots, peeled and sliced into medallions
16 oz. sausage, such as kielbasa or Polish sausage
1-2 chicken breasts, trimmed
1 cup chicken broth1/2 cup red wine
1 can diced tomatoes
1 tsp. sugar
3 bay leaves
3 tbsp parsley, fresh or dried
1/2 thyme, dried
1 can cannellini or navy beans
1/3 cup bread crumbs
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Dice bacon and brown in large skillet until almost crisp. Add onion, garlic and carrots. Cook until onions are soft and begin to color. Empty contents (conserving bacon grease in pan) into crock pot. Turn crock pot on low to medium setting.
2. In same pan, brown sausage. (Add a little olive oil, if necessary, to prevent sticking.) Transfer to crock pot.
3. Pat chicken dry and season with a scant amount of salt and pepper. Cut chicken into large pieces (2-3 inches). Over high heat, sear chicken until just browned. Transfer to pot.
4. Combine chicken broth, wine, sugar, tomatoes, bay leaves, parsley and thyme in pan. Bring to boil. (It will boil quickly.) Pour over contents of crock pot. Stir.
5. Add drained beans to crock pot. Stir.
6. Cover with bread crumbs and cover the pot. Cook covered for 6-8 hours on low to medium heat.
7. Serve over rice or mashed potatoes.

Serves 4.

Substitution Suggestions: I was so excited to try this recipe that I didn't check to see that I had all the ingredients before I started. I was completely out of any kind of white bean. And, black beans would have been wrong on so many levels. So, I used chick peas. They were so tender and flavorful that I may not ever make this recipe with beans.
Don't feel limited to chicken and sausage. Though sausage really is a staple for this dish, you can swap out the chicken for pork chops or duck. Or, go whole hog and use all of it.
Baby carrots work just fine, though as a rule, I think they don't soften quite as much as regular carrots even when cooked for long periods of time.

Lessons Learned: The only really important lesson I re-learned while making this recipe is to make sure the knife is sharp before dicing onions. I had a slight mishap with the chef's knife and my fingertip (but nothing that a small bandage couldn't fix).
The recipe I worked from suggested using sausage with an 85% meat content. I used a light kielbasa sausage, which definitely cut down on the calories. And, I didn't add any extra salt. The sausage had enough that the dish was not noticeably lacking in sodium. I may use a spicy sausage next time for a little extra zing. However, it was not in any way bland the way it was originally prepared. And, the chicken was so tender that it literally fell apart as I scooped it from the pot.
The bread crumbs are meant to thicken the sauce. So, they can be stirred in if you simply must peek under the lid during cooking.
For a more authentic version, it can be cooked in a Dutch oven/le cresuet at 300 degrees for approximately three hours. Remove the lid during the last half hour of cooking to brown the bread crumbs.