Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Best Homemade Trail Mix Ever!

Occasionally I will tune in to the Food Network at an odd time of day and come away very pleasantly surprised. This time it was a show I had never heard of, it was called Five Ingredient Fix. The host is a pretty young lady named Claire Robinson, and not only did she have me glued to the TV for the full 30 minutes, but I came away from just one show with 3 different recipes that I couldn't wait to try. One of them was a whole wheat penne pasta dish with turkey and asparagus made with garlic infused oil and white balsamic - it was so delicious my husband even liked it. Screw Rachael Ray, this chick is hot! She's on at 4:30 Central if you would like to take a peek. This trail mix is one of her recipes from that same show.

This recipe is so, so easy, even a... okay, that's not even funny anymore... was it ever? Seriously though, this is super easy, and it only has 5 ingredients - 6 if you count the light sprinkling of salt. This is a wonderful snack because the combination of these nuts, seeds and cherries packs a nutritional powerhouse of antioxidants, protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals, plus there is no added fat except for what is naturally found in the ingredients. The pumpkin seeds even have cholesterol-lowering phytosterols. I don't want to shock you, but I do know some big words.

The cherries I used are Montmorency dried cherries which are tart pie cherries. This is some added sugar in these, otherwise you wouldn't be able to eat them because your face would shrivel up and fall off from the tartness - 1/4 cup of these has 34 grams of carbs. If you don't like cherries you can always substitute raisins or dried cranberries, or any other dried fruit you like. Go wild.

I got the cherries at Costco, but just so you know, I was in there the other day and the packaging is a little different now. I got this cute jug of Grade B maple syrup along with the rest of the seeds and nuts at Whole Foods.

Grade B maple syrup is darker and has a sharper maple flavor than the lighter Grade A syrups, and is used primarily in cooking and baking. I just want to tip up the jug and drink it. Maple syrup makes everything better. The name of the recipe is Pumpkin Seed Dried Cherry Trail Mix, and here's what you will need to buy:

2 cups raw pumpkin seeds (also called pepitas)
3/4 cup raw sunflower seeds
1 cup slivered blanched almonds
6 Tbsp pure Grade B maple syrup
1 cup dried cherries
Coarse salt (I use Kosher salt for everything)

First, heat your oven to 300 degrees F. Next, line 2 large jelly roll pans with parchment paper. I refuse to be without parchment paper in my kitchen, it saves so much time and makes both baking and cleanup so much easier. Just roll it in the opposite direction to flatten it out because it has a mind of it's own and likes to curl up when you try to lay it down on the pans. Measure your seeds and nuts and dump into a big bowl. The package of pumpkin seeds I had was a little less than 2 cups, but I overfilled the bag with sunflower seeds, so I just made up the difference with those. I always do that when I'm scooping out of those huge bulk containers. I swear it looks like I hardly have any in my bag and it always ends up being enough to feed a large army.

Add 6 Tablespoons of maple syrup and mix until everything is evenly coated. Spread the seed and nut mixture in a single even layer, divided so half goes on each pan. Sprinkle lightly with coarse salt to taste. Don't skip this step, the light saltiness along with the deep flavor of the maple syrup is pure bliss.

Bake for 20 minutes, stirring several times with spatula or wooden spoon, until just golden.

Confessional time - I went rogue and used a stainless steel spoon. I tried to do the stirring thing, and the first time I did it I inadvertantly shut the oven off when I thought I was turning off the timer. Good thing I went back to stir again 5 minutes later! I ended up leaving it in the oven for a full 15 minutes after that without stirring, and it really made no difference. It wasn't sticking together and it wasn't sticking to the parchment paper, so I wouldn't worry too much about stirring. Just check on it periodically during the 20 minute baking time.

Doesn't this look good? Nice and lightly golden brown, and it smells wonderful!

Leave the pans alone and let this cool completely. Go do something else for awhile. When it's cool, the stickiness of the syrup is gone and you are left with clusters of lightly sweet & salty, crunchy, nutty goodness. I carefully lifted up the parchment paper and let it all slide into a clean bowl, but I can see where this could be just asking for trouble. Fortunately, it all landed in the bowl and not on the floor, much to the bitter disappointment of my dogs. Stick your hands in it and break up the chunks - this is so easy, it breaks apart perfectly so not one single seed is stuck together. Mix in the cherries and toss to combine.

This makes 4 cups. Store it in an airtight container at room temperature, but I think I'll have to bag it up into individual servings, because it's really hard to stop once you've tasted it. Enjoy!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Ultimate Comfort Food... Chicken & Dumplings

I never thought dumplings sounded good at all until my sis-in-law Sara made this yummy Food Network recipe when they were back for a visit. Credit goes to Tyler Florence for this one. These dumplings were light, and fluffy, and so, so good... it was hard not to bend over and stick my whole face in the bowl. I'm a little late with publishing this because it was super cold and wintery when I made it back in January, but it's snowing today - on April 15 - my car is in the shop so I can't go anywhere, so I kind of wish we were having this for dinner tonight.

There are 4 parts to this recipe, so plan to make it when you have nothing else to do all day. If you find it too labor intensive you can cut some corners by using a store-bought rotisserie chicken and you can buy cartons of chicken stock in the store, but trust me when I say the effort of making everything from scratch is so, so worth it.

I will list the ingredients and instructions for each part, and then give you a complete shopping list at the end.

Roasted Chicken

1 (3 pound) whole chicken
4 ounces unsalted butter, softened (I only had salted butter and it was fine.)
1 lemon halved and juiced, halves reserved
1/4 cup fresh chopped herbs, such as rosemary, thyme and parsley
1 onion, halved
4 garlic cloves, smashed
Fresh whole herbs, such as rosemary, thyme and parsley sprigs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375F. Remove the neck and giblets from the cavity of the chicken and discard. (Really? I saved them and threw them in the pot when I made the stock.) Rinse the chicken under cold water, inside and out. Pat dry thoroughly with paper towels.

In a small bowl, mash together the softened butter, lemon juice, and chopped herbs. I had a hard time getting the juice to mix with the butter, so make sure your butter is really soft and the juice is slightly warm.

Rub the herbed butter all over the chicken, as well as under the skin. Stuff the lemon halves, onion, garlic, and whole herbs inside the chicken cavity.

Tie the legs together with kitchen twine. (I skipped this step because after I stuffed everything inside I couldn't get the legs together, so don't worry if you can't do it either.) Okay, those of you with vivid imaginations - stop it. Place the chicken, breast side up, in a roasting pan fitted with a rack. I didn't have a rack, so don't worry about that either, it doesn't make that much difference in the end. Here's what mine looked like before I put it in the oven:

Roast for 1 hour until the meat is no longer pink. Try your best to resist diging in to this gorgeous, delicious bird at this point, because it will be really tempting. Don't do it.

When cool enough to handle, shred the meat, discarding the skin and set aside. (Again, I don't know why you would throw the skin away when you could use it in the stock.. I did.) Reserve the bones for the stock.

Chicken Stock

2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 carrots, cut in large chunks
2 celery stalks, cut in large chunks
1 onion, halved
1 garlic bulb, halved (cut it in half horizontally across the center)
Reserved chicken bones (throw in the skin and giblets)
2 quarts cold water
4 sprigs fresh parsley
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves

Coat a large stockpot with the olive oil and place over medium heat. Add the carrots, celery, onion and garlic halves and saute for 3 minutes.

Add the reserved chicken bones, water, and herbs; simmer for 1 hour.

Strain the stock to remove the solids and set aside.


2 cups flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder (that isn't a typo, you really do need a full Tablespoon)
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
3/4 - 1 cup buttermilk

Sift dry ingredients together in a large bowl. In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs and buttermilk together; pour the liquid into the dry ingredients and gently fold. I did this wrong - I put everything into the bowl and then mixed it. I've done it both ways, and the dumplings turned out just as good either way.

Mix just until the dough comes together, the batter should be thick and cake-like.

Supreme Sauce

2 Tablespoons butter
1 Tablespoon oil
1 Tablespoon salt
1/4 cup + 1 Tablespoon flour
1/2 cup diced carrots
1/2 cup diced celery
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
6 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup heavy cream
Freshly ground black pepper for garnish
Chopped flat-leaf parsley for garnish

This is where the whole dish comes together.

In a Dutch oven, melt the butter and oil over medium heat. Add the celery, carrots, garlic and bay leaves.

Saute until the veggies are soft, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the flour to make a roux. Continue to stir and cook for 2 minutes to coat the flour and remove the starchy taste.

Slowly pour in the chicken stock, 1 cup at a time, stirring well after each addition.
Let simmer until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 15 minutes. Stir in heavy cream. Don't panic if your sauce seems runny, it is not supposed to be very thick.

Fold in the shredded chicken into the sauce and bring up to a simmer. Using 2 spoons, carefully drop heaping tablespoonfuls of the dumpling batter into the hot mixture. The dumplings should cover the top of the sauce, but should not be touching or crowded. Mine are a little crowded because there was more dough than there was room in my very large Dutch oven, and I didn't want to throw it out.

Let the dumplings poach for 10-15 minutes until they are firm and puffy. This is why you don't want to crowd the dumplings. They really do puff up and turn out really light and fluffy.

Season with the pepper if you like and garnish with chopped parsley before serving. If you are not a fan of black pepper like me, stop by Penzey's and pick up some of their 4-color peppercorns. They have great flavor but don't burn your mouth. This serves 6 people, and the leftovers are still good heated up the next day.


Shopping List

1 3-lb whole chicken
1 lemon
2 whole bulbs garlic
olive oil
vegetable/canola oil
2 onions
4 bay leaves
2 eggs
1 c. buttermilk
1/4 cup heavy cream

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Lobster Salad... Not!

Today I was going to make a lobster salad a'la Barefoot Contessa. It didn't happen, but I thought my short journey into lobster hell would be entertaining, so I'm going to tell you about it anyway. I was feeling pretty feisty this morning after a long, drama-filled weekend. My facebook friends will know what I'm talking about. I was driving down the street and noticed the sign at our local Kroeger affiliate said; "Cooked Lobster $3.99 each". I immediately had a vision of myself as Ina's thinner, prettier, culinary goddess-like little sister... now stop it, I am not responsible for what you just spit on your keyboard... and immediately drove around the block and headed for the store. The reality is, the $3.99 should have been my first clue to run.

Once inside, I checked out the cooler up front where they usually put the specials. I found fish sandwiches wrapped in cellophane. Yuck. Then I eyeballed the Easter candy, managed to walk away from that, and made my way through the entire store, but found no cooked lobster. Maybe they were sold out? Really, who could pass up a bargain like that? My second clue to run was the two gentlemen I encountered near the meat counter. They were dressed in white coats and looked very butcher-like, so I approached them to ask where I might find the $3.99 cooked lobster. They both looked at me as if I had just dropped down from the moon, their faces completely expressionless. Speaking not a word to me, one of them turned around and walked away. The other one said "He will show you where it is." Wow. Could we kick up the people skills just a notch? I dutifully followed the first man as he led me past the processed meats toward the freezers. He looked around, then he walked in a full circle. Don't worry, I didn't follow him around his circle. Finally, he opened the door of one of the freezers and pulled out 2 packages of bright red, frozen lobster. I grabbed a third package and followed him while he went behind the meat counter to print up corrected price labels for the sale price. Take home lesson here... if you can't find something, look for someone with a glimmer of facial expression that doesn't look like he probably lives in his mother's basement, and most of all... don't buy frozen lobster.

I was excited though, this was going to be fun! I planned to print a recipe when I got home, but in my mind I was thinking of what would be good in the salad. I picked up a pretty red bell pepper, celery, and some green onions. Barefoot Contessa actually has an easy recipe for Lobster Salad. She uses (food snob alert!) "good" mayonnaise, celery, capers, fresh dill, salt & pepper, and stuffs it into Belgian Endive leaves. My vision for the dressing was more along the lines of something lighter like Greek yogurt and lemon juice.

I left my frozen little buddies out to thaw. Three hours later they were still frosty and hard as rocks, so I took them out of the package, picked off the ice chunks, and put them in some warm water to speed up the thawing. This was probably not a good idea. I took pictures of them thinking I would blog about it later, but my camera for some reason dumped the pictures. I wish I had them to show you. First of all, in the process of removing the plastic netting I ripped off two of the poor thing's front legs. Why did this make me feel bad? I waited for the PETA protesters to arrive in my front yard. I positioned the legs where they were supposed to be for the picture, and immediately thought of several snarky comments I could make about those three pairs of frozen little eyeballs. Ew.

Once the little guys were thawed enough, I got out my nut cracker and got busy dismembering my new little friends. Doing the claws wasn't bad, but when I got to the bodies I was beginning to think we might not want to eat this. Ripping the little legs off the underbelly reminded me of a giant bug, and I was lucky I maintained my composure long enough to finish the job without dropping the thing like a hot potato and squealing. Once that was done I discovered that I had forgotten about the greenage inside their little bellies. How can such small lobsters have that much poop inside them? Not wanting to touch it, I scraped it out with one of the broken claws, then rinsed it out in the sink. There was nothing I could do about the green stains on the meat, and all this happened while the latest "poop tax" commercial played on the radio. It was pure Karma. Yes, you heard me, I said poop tax. It seems the the city government in Omaha has been talking about taxing toilet paper to help pay for a big federal government mandated sewer overhaul, or something like that, so one of the area plumbers has a commercial where this guy is singing about how he is so fed up he's only going to stand up and pee because they want to tax his poo, and when he gets stopped up he'll just call this plumber. You guys, I can't make this stuff up!

So, now I'm pretty grossed out by this mess, but it's not over yet. When I ripped apart the second and third lobsters, they were filled with some kind of bright red mushy stuff on top of the greenage. As I watched the tiny little red bead-like thingys run down the sink I realized they were probably EGGS. What?? Ew. Again. By this time I know with undeniable certainty that I am not making lobster salad today. I put the meat into a small colander to drain because I could literally squeeze water out of it. I don't know if it was because I put the little crustacean bastards in water or if it was because they had been frozen. I left it in the sink where they drained for awhile, and then when I couldn't take it any more I gave the whole 1/2 cup of water-logged-greenage-stained lobster meat a dignified burial in my garbage can. There wasn't enough meat there to even feed a third grader anyway, and after I cut away the green stained part it just wasn't worth it. *Sigh* At least I am only out 12 dollars. Mock lobster here I come!