Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Steak and Bean Chili

Steak and Bean Chili - made January 4, 2017 from Penzey's recipe archive
There was a time when I didn't really care for chili. I always thought it would be too spicy for me, there was too much "stuff" in it and it just wasn't my thing. Then I think I was on some "diet" (4-letter word) and it was one of the permissible foods so I tried it and from then on, I don't know why I didn't eat it more often.
I'm not dieting anymore (more or less) but I still like chili. It's a great winter-time meal and relatively healthy. I found this recipe on Penzey's site again because I was trolling for a way to use up the spices I had. This one is a twist on traditional chili in that it uses beef sirloin cubes rather than ground beef. But the hearty aspect remains.

I really liked this version. Although I'm not a fan of green pepper or big chunky onion pieces so I would go easy on those. But otherwise, this made for an excellent dinner.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 pounds beef sirloin, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
1 medium green pepper, chopped
1 15.5-ounce can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 15.5-ounce can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 15.5-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons regular chili powder
1-3 tablespoons ground cumin
2 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes, undrained
  1. In a large Dutch oven or stockpot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add half of the beef and cook, stirring occasionally, until nicely browned. 
  2. Place the browned beef in a bowl and repeat with the rest of the beef. Add the onion and bell pepper to the pot and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the beans, chili powder, cumin and diced tomatoes.
  3. Cover and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes. Add the beef and cook, uncovered, until the beef is tender and heated through, about 5-8 minutes or longer if needed. Serve in large bowls with the toppings of your choice.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Levain Bakery Chocolate Chip Cookies, copycat #11 - Brown-Eyed Baker

Levain Bakery Chocolate Chip Cookies Copycat #11 - made dough December 17, 2016 from Brown-Eyed Baker
It's probably unfair that I tried this recipe so soon after my new favorite from Bustle. It's billed as a Levain copycat and I've had good luck with those, most of the time.
This turned out pretty well too but I would probably have rated it higher had I not just made the Bustle one first. But I did so this one came up a tad short. It was still good but not as good as the Bustle one.

It stayed thick, it tasted great but I wasn't an enamored of the texture. I had to bake this one long enough that the middle wasn't raw dough but by the time that happened, the edges had become fully baked. And we know I don't do fully baked. So it seemed a bit more dense-cakey than I would like as opposed to moist-chewy.

I wish I could explain it better but if you look at the picture of the inside below, you can see the cookie is baked more than I usually bake my cookies. Still a good cookie so I'm probably just being picky. But honest.
3 1/2 cups (13.5 ounces) bread flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
3/4 cup + 4 teaspoons (6 ounces) dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips
1 cup walnuts, toasted, optional (I left them out)
  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together bread flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; set aside.
  2. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. Add brown sugar and granulated sugar; beat for another 1 to 2 minutes, until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla, beating until just combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  3. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the dry ingredients, mixing until just combined. Do not overmix. Fold in the chocolate chips and walnuts, if using.
  4. Portion the dough into slightly larger than golf-ball size. Cover and chill or freeze for several hours or overnight.
  5. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Space cookies evenly on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake for 18 to 24 minutes or until edges are golden and middles are no longer raw or shiny. Cool for 5 minutes on baking sheets then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Baked General Tso's Chicken

Baked General Tso's Chicken - made December 15, 2016 from Pickled Plum
This is probably relatively the healthiest of the three chicken dishes I made since it's baked, not fried. Just a light coating of breading (why is breading chicken pieces such a messy pain?) then lay in a single layer in a shallow baking pan and bake.
It doesn't get as crispy, of course, as it would if you fried it, but sacrifices must be made if calories need to be cut. Taste-wise, I don't know how authentic this is to the real deal of General Tso's Chicken since I'm not an expert but it was pretty good. Same basic equation: bread chicken, cook chicken, toss with easy-to-put-together sauce. Dinner.
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 2-inch chunks
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs, beaten
2 cups panko crumbs

3/4 cup chicken broth
1/2 tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons sriracha sauce
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch mixed with 2 tablespoons water
Sesame seeds for garnish, optional
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Cover a large cooking tray with aluminum foil or parchment paper.
  2. Arrange three large bowls and fill the first with flour, the second with beaten eggs and the last with the panko crumbs.
  3. Dip each piece of chicken in flour, then egg then panko crumbs, gently pressing to coat. Place on cooking tray in single layer.
  4. Bake in the oven for about 113-15 minutes, until chicken is cooked through and outside is golden brown.
  5. Sauce: combine all sauce ingredients, except the cornstarch and water, in a medium saucepan and bring to a gentle boil. Whisk together the cornstarch and water and slowly add to the bubbling sauce; stirring constantly. Cook for a minute until sauce thickens; remove from heat.
  6.  Toss sauce with warm chicken, coating each piece evenly. Garnish with sesame seeds if desired; serve immediately.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Chinese Orange Chicken

Chinese Orange Chicken - made December 16, 2016 from Damn Delicious
This is another easy chicken dish. Well, easy in terms of putting the marinade together. The biggest pain with these types of recipes is the breading and frying of the chicken. I admit I have no patience for it.
If you want it somewhat healthier, you can either bread and bake it instead of frying it or leave off the breading altogether, stir fry the chicken then add the marinade. I did it as the recipe instructed and it was a pain with all the breading and frying. Not the recipe's fault, my patience just doesn't stretch that far. I don't think my efforts would make Panda Express' Orange Chicken lose any sleep about competition but for an "easy" orange chicken dish, this was pretty tasty. I like to zest the oranges before I squeeze them for the juice then garnish with orange zest instead of sesame seeds and green onion but you can do either or both.

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons cornstarch, divided
2 large eggs, beaten
1 cup vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds
1 green onion, thinly sliced

1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup distilled white vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 teaspoon Sriracha, or more, to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
  1. Marinade: whisk together chicken broth, orange juice, sugar, vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, orange zest, Sriracha, ginger and white pepper in a large bowl.
  2. In a gallon-size Ziploc bag, combine chicken and 2/3 cup of the marinade. Marinate for at least 30 minutes, turning the bag occasionally. Drain the chicken from the marinade; discard the marinade.
  3. Heat remaining marinade in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and stir in 2 tablespoons cornstarch combined with 2 tablespoons water. Cook, stirring frequently, until thickened about 1-2 minutes; keep warm.
  4. Working one piece at a time, dip the chicken into the eggs then dredge in remaining 1 cup cornstarch, pressing to coat.
  5. Heat vegetable oil in a large saucepan. Working in batches, add the chicken and dry until golden brown and cooked through, about 1-2 minutes. Transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel to drain. Discard excess oil.
  6. Toss chicken with the marinade, garnish with sesame seeds and green onion, if desired. Serve immediately.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Chinese Lemon Chicken

Chinese Lemon Chicken - made December 13, 2016 from Thirty Handmade Days
You're going to see three chicken recipes one after the other on my blog. I made them at the end of last year but, given my NYC posts, had put off putting them up until now.
All three are pretty similar. You cut up boneless chicken into chunks, bread them, fry (or bake) them and toss them with some kind of sauce. Real cooks would probably wince at my description but that's what I did so I'm telling it like it is.
This lemon chicken is up first because my lemon tree is insistently pushing lemons at me and I had baked enough lemon bars for holiday gifts. In desperation, I turned to lemon chicken. This recipe was pretty good (although remember I have a low bar when it comes to making savory food), albeit the sauce was a bit tart.

It isn't quite the lemon chicken of a good Chinese restaurant. The fried chicken pieces were nice and crisp when they were first out of the hot oil but once you drain them and add the lemon sauce, they soften considerably, to the point that there might as well not have been any breading. The breading is fairly light and not the heavy hand in bad Chinese restaurants so from that standpoint, at least there was more chicken than breading.
1 pound chicken thighs, cut into cubes
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/3 cup lemon juice
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
oil for frying
  1. Whisk together soy sauce and 2 tablespoons cornstarch; pour over chicken in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Marinate for 30 minutes.
  2. While chicken is marinating, add lemon juice, sugar, water, 2 teaspoons cornstarch and lemon zest to a small bowl and mix. 
  3. Add the 1/4 cup flour and 1/2 cup cornstarch to the bowl of chicken and toss to coat.
  4. In a pot with oil about 3 inches deep, heat on medium high to 350 degrees.
  5. Add the chicken in batches and fry until golden brown. When cooked, transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to drain slightly.
  6. When chicken is all cooked, place a skillet on medium high heat, add chicken and pour sauce over it. Coat the chicken pieces in the sauce and cook briefly until thickened. Serve immediately.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

NYC: Bakery Review - Levain Bakery

Levain Bakery - visited November 18 and 20, 2016
After all my posts about the various Levain Bakery copycat recipes I've been trying out, it's a given I'd go to the real Levain Bakery on my New York trip. Matter of fact, I went twice. So I'll end this NYC series with the post about the real thing.
I went twice because the first time was a practice run, so to speak, to make sure I knew where it was. I mapped it from our hotel and since it was only 2.5 miles away, that was eminently doable on foot so while Shawn took a break (euphemism for she probably thought I was crazy to do a 5-mile round trip for a cookie), I set out for my cookie mecca, I mean, Levain Bakery.
This is another one where you have to follow them on Instagram. Be warned you may find yourself drooling more often but such lapses are forgivable when you see their posts.
It wasn't hard to find the bakery even though they were in much smaller premises than I expected. It's slightly below street level so you have to go down a few steps to get into the bakery. Don't rely on finding the bakery via their signage though because the line of people outside will block your view. But look for the line and you'll know you're in the right place. Not only is there a line because their products are in high demand but there's literally not much room for customers inside so a line outside forms by default. More than 6 people inside and you'd be standing in sin. Okay, that's a wee bit of an exaggeration but not by much.
The kitchen behind the counter had bigger space and that's what you want because you want all the hard workers back there with enough space to keep cranking out those amazing behemoth cookies.
For my first foray, I got the Levain classic of the chocolate chip walnut cookie. Yes, my lifelong prejudice not just against nuts in cookies but walnuts in particular (I don't care for walnuts - too bitter) was held in check. It was New York, it was Levain Bakery and I had a fresh cookie in my hand.
Just look at that goodness. Need I say more? Actually, what I will say is, as I suspected, all the earlier copycat recipes I've done were mere pale shadows to the real thing. I've been able to duplicate the inside of the cookie with its moist chewy goodness. But the outside crisp-crunch? Nope, haven't even come close. This is a cookie worth my 3000-mile trip, even if it did have walnuts in it.

My second visit was on the morning of our last day in New York. I'd promised my nieces I would bring them back some Levain cookies. And let's be real, it's not like I was going home empty-handed myself. I presumed they would freeze nicely so what's an extra cookie or three to take home? Plus I needed a snack for the plane ride, 'kay?

The bakery opened at 9 am on Sunday morning. I got there 10 minutes before 9 and this line above was already happening. I was #14 in line. But it was a good thing I got there when I did because by the time the bakery opened 10 minutes later, there were a good 2 dozen people behind me. Apparently, I'm not the only one who knows my cookies.

I do think it worthwhile to mention that Levain Bakery doesn't just do cookies. As you can see from some of the pictures below, they offer other baked goods as well. I was tempted to try at least one non-cookie item, particularly the Valrhona chocolate roll, but we had plans to go to Shake Shack for lunch, I was only doing 5 miles of walking that day and I didn't think I'd have room for a Levain cookie and a chocolate roll. Regretfully, I passed. Maybe next time.

I will save you my (further) rhapsodizing about the cookies, especially since technically I didn't try all the different flavors I bought, but I will call out the chocolate chocolate chip. This is the one my friend Caroline had sent me long ago and I had even made a copycat recipe of it which I thought turned out pretty well.
Chocolate Chocolate Chip - $4
I still like that copycat recipe but I have to admit, that too pales in comparison to the real thing. Look at the inside of that cookie. That's pretty much perfection when it comes to a chocolate cookie. It's set, it looks and tastes like baked fudge that's just barely in the cookie category and it was rich decadence. I could only eat a half cookie at a time since it was so rich but you better believe I went back for that second half later once my sweet tooth came down from its sugar high.

Seriously, if I could only have one Levain cookie, I'd probably get the chocolate chocolate chip one. Then run a marathon.

Alas, that ends this series and the 20,000 calories I consumed in New York (it was probably more than that but let's not quibble). My 3 days were up - until next time, New York.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip Cookie - $4

Oatmeal Raisin Cookie - $4