Thursday, March 19, 2015

Southwestern Braised Chicken Thighs


When it comes to chicken, I've always grilled, fried or roasted it. Braising was something I hadn't done that often. With bone-in thighs on sale recently, I decided that it was time to get my braise-on and throw together a platter of Southwestern-style chicken.

The main reason I don't opt for cooking chicken in braises or steam, is the skin. I love it crispy! There is so much flavor there. I've been guilty of picking the skin off entire pieces of chicken and leaving what's rest for someone else to finish. A habit that would give me a great shot at employee of the month if I worked at Kentucky Fried Chicken!

What I found after preparing this dish was searing the chicken in a hot pan to start with was the secret. The brown crust provided texture on the skin and the fond on the bottom of the pan added yummy-goodness to the tomato-poblano sauce the chicken was braised in.

The braising liquid featured poblano pepper, tomatoes and cumin. This complimented the chicken, gave the rice plenty of flavor to absorb and was the real binder to the recipe's overall flavor.

In the end, I was really surprised by the absolute decadence of this dish. I would make it again for just about any occasion. And here is the best part: The cost of the entire dish – less than $7! (That's with the thighs on sale for 98¢ a pound.)

BEHIND THIS BITE
I haven't been posting as much since I moved last fall, but I have been cooking more than any other time in my life. Now that I'm starting to settle into my new location, I'm finding more time not only to cook but also prepare posts. In an effort to share more, I'm going to be doing a lot more posts that feature just a nice artsy picture or two of the dish. I'm still going to be doing my signature-style recipe graphics, but I want to share more of what I'm doing in the kitchen and I can do a post like this in less than an hour, a recipe graphic takes between 6 and 10!

Eat well, cook often ...

THE RECIPE
Serves 4, 1 hour
3 lbs Chicken Thighs
2 Poblano peppers, diced
1 Red Onion, diced
4 Garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbs Cumin
2 tsp Oregano
1 tsp Red Pepper flakes
1 Can Diced Tomatoes (14.5 oz)
1 C Chicken broth
1 1/2 Rice
3 C water

Brown Chicken
Season chicken with salt and pepper to taste. Heat a little oil in a large skillet over medium high heat, brown chicken on both sides. 4 to 6 minutes per side. Remove to paper-towel lined plate.

Make sauce
In hot drippings, saute onion and poblano pepper until soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Add cumin, oregano, red pepper flakes and garlic. Stir and cook until fragrant. 1 to 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and chicken broth, scrape browned bits from bottom of pan and bring to a simmer.

Braise chicken, cook rice
Add chicken to pan, once mixture returns to simmer, cover, reduce heat to medium and let cook 30 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Stir occasionally. Add rice and water to sauce pan or pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer 15 minutes. Turn off heat, keep covered for 10 minutes more. Remove lid and fluff

Serve
Make a bed of rice on a large platter, spoon half of sauce on rice. Arrange chicken thighs on top. Spoon other half of sauce onto chicken, then serve.


Friday, March 6, 2015

Guilty Pleasures: Chili Dogs!


Chili dogs!

I love them.

Every greasy, salty unhealthy crumb.

They used to be my hangover cure. Now they're just my dirty little culinary secret.

I was at Meijer searching for the ingredients of a braised chicken dish when it hit – A craving from deep in my belly. It felt like a need greater than that of oxygen in my very lungs.

I had to have a chili dog - or four.

Not some fancy frank with a special homemade blend of sauce and fresh-made bun. I wanted a regular hot dog smothered in canned chili and delivered on wonder-bread. The kind of chili dog that will increase the chance of a heart attack by 37,000 times if eaten to often.

This dog isn't what you want to make if trying to impress a date or ingest for energy to run a 5K. A vegetarian would have an instant nervous breakdown at the sight of one of these dogs being devoured.

Yes indeed. A cheap package of hot dogs and a 10.5 oz can of no-bean, Hormel chili are essential to this sensational feast. I prefer diced red onion and shredded cheese as a garnish, and I always toast the buns.

Together these sinful treasures culminate in pure culinary bliss.

I probably eat chili dogs like this once every three or four months, I don't know if it's some pychological disorder or what, but I really do have a craving for these things, and I think they taste amazing!

Eat well, cook often ...

THE RECIPE
1 10.5 oz can of Hormel chili
8 hot dogs
8 hot dog buns
1/4 C diced onion
1/2 C shredded cheese (cheddar or jack)

Heat chili in a sauce pan on the stove or microwave in a micrwoave safe bowl. Cook dogs on a grill or on the stove. Toast buns. Place dog on bun, slather with chili, sprinkle with onion and cheese. Devour! 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Homemade Chicken Stock


Printable version
To take soup or other broth based dishes to a different level on the flavor scale, it should should feature a homemade broth or stock, like the recipe featured in this post. The end results can be restaurant quality recipes sure to warm the soul.

I recently found leg quarters on sale for 99 cents a pound. At first I thought of roasting them but by the time they hit the bottom of the shopping cart, I knew a batch of my own chicken stock was in order.

I spent my next day off cooking the quarters down into a yummy liquid then dividing and storing the results. I was left with a gallon of goodness that I portioned into four 1-quart containers. Three of which I froze for use later and the other I used to make a batch classic Mexican red chili sauce.

BEHIND THIS BITE
Mounting the TV


This broth was a great project for a cool winter day and a nice break from the customizing and renovating I have been doing in my new place over the last few months. As much as I have talked about the home improvements in my last few posts, I thought I should share more of them here.

Immediately upon entering my apartment, a focal point jumps out in the living room - a black slate fire place.  Once I started putting the room together I was trying to find the best place for my flat screen TV. After hours of contemplation, one logical place seemed to jump out - right over the fireplace. Otherwise, I would have competing focal points.

I started by building a hollow shelf that would hold my TV components and hide all the wiring inside. Before mounting the shelf, I taped off the area above the slate and painted it flat black to carry the slate color up the wall. I placed the TV over the shelf, then hid all the wiring.

This was my first big project and the end result is an eye catching focal point for my living room.

More on the renovation later, until then, make some yummy broth!

Eat well, cook often ...


THE RECIPE
Makes 4 quarts; 4 to 5 hours
5 lbs Chicken leg, quarters
1 large Onion, quartered
3 stalks Celery, chopped
3 Carrots, chopped
1 turnip, quartered
6 cloves Garlic
4 sprigs Thyme
2 Bay leaves
2 Tbs Salt
1 Tbs Peppercorns

Make stock
In a 12 quart pot, place leg quarters, onion, celery, carrot, turnip, garlic, thyme, bay leaves, salt and peppercorns. Fill pot with water covering ingredients by an inch or two. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 3 hours. Stir occasionally.

Reduce
Strain liquid and discard solids. Return liquid to pot and simmer for another hour reducing liquid even further. Skim fat off top with a spoon.

Divide and use or store

Remove pot from heat and let liquid cool for a few minutes. Portion into quart containers, let cool a little more. Skim fat off top with a spoon. Use in a recipe or cover and freeze for up to six months.



Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Multiple papers publish Super Bowl recipes!


I'm happy to say that 11 Newspapers out of the 17 put together at the Design Center in Munster for Lee Enterprises have used my Super Bowl snacks project. I put it together from recipes that have originally appeared here!

It has been my goal from day 1 at my new job to find a way to get my recipes published at the center. I saw the opportunity with the Super Bowl. Hey, it's where Steve Jobs launched Apple, so I said what the heck, maybe this is the opportunity I've been looking for to take what I do here to a different level.

As a bonus, I got a VIP award from the management, but more important, there are editors at Lee Enterprises that are now well aware of my skill for recipe development and food presentation. I can't wait for the next opportunity to arise.

Eat well, cook often ...

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Crunchy American Tacos


Printable version
Since I was a young boy my favorite food has been tacos. I would go crazy when I saw that boxed taco kit sitting on the counter as Mom began to prepare dinner. I would gorge myself on them – most kids experience binge eating for the first time with sweets – not me, my first binges were crunchy tacos and fried shrimp!

My taco pallete has been refined over the years but I still have a soft spot for crunchy tacos prepared the “American” way.

Most U.S born eaters know tacos as having a crunchy shell, seasoned meat and garnished with lettuce, tomato, onion, cheese and a taco sauce. The main flavor is contained in the meat. While this kind of taco is delicious, it is far from authentic.

I first learned this taco lesson from the manager at LaBambas, while attending Ball State University. I literally ate there everyday and I think he felt obligated to share some secrets of Mexican cooking with me. Much like a parent would with a child that they are feeding on a daily basis. He told me that authentic Mexican taco’s signature flavor comes from the salsa that it’s garnished with. I came to love this type of taco over the years and have to admit that making a rock star sauce for simple soft corn tortilla tacos is my favorite thing to do in the kitchen.

But today, it is about those boyhood taco feasts my mom used to serve up.

My American taco starts with a crunchy blue corn tortilla which in this case, is a little lighter than the yellow corn tortillas found in kits at most supper markets. For the seasoned meat, I skip the traditional packets found at the store and make a homemade meat mixture complete with a flavorful and fresh mirepoix and a tasty seasoning mix of my own.

When it was all said and done I binged on these like I did as 12 year-old – and it didn’t take long to inhale half the batch!

BEHIND THIS BITE
Crunchy American Tacos

As 2015 begins I can’t help but think about the year that has just passed. It has been a year of great change for me, with my move to the Chicago area – something I never imagined myself doing even six months ago. I haven’t blogged as much since my move, much of that has to do to with the transition of settling into a new place and finding the right kind of time to produce these post. My motivation seems to be more toward creating a kick-ass living space with everything custom built rather than custom built recipe-blog posts.

There is a great irony here though.

I haven’t produced as many post since starting my new job, but I have been cooking far more than I was before I started it. I’m still documenting my creations, I have just found it hard to put in the time that it takes to created a recipe infographic. In my free time, I’m still opting to work on a building project rather than tinker on my computer. Soon though, I will run out of major construction and will inevitably turn my attention here again. I already have a back-log of several creations that I have documented since I have had my photography studio up and running.

I can’t wait to see what 2015 brings, with my cooking, new job and new place to live. I feel as though this new adventure is really starting to take off and I hope to be blessed with the things necessary to keep it moving forward.

Happy New Year.

Eat well, cook often ...


THE RECIPE
Crunchy American Tacos

Serves 4; 30 minutes
1 lb Ground chicken
1/2 C Onion diced
1/2 C Poblano pepper diced
1 Tbs Chili powder
1 tsp Mexican oregano
2 tsp Garlic minced
12 Crunchy blue corn tortillas
1 C Lettuce shredded
1/2 C Taco sauce

Brown chicken
In a skillet over medium high heat sear chicken until just cooked through in a little oil. 7 to 8 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Remove to a paper towel lined plate.

Saute and toast
Add onions and poblano pepper to skillet, season with salt and pepper, chili podwer, cumin and mexican oragano. Let mixture cook 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add garlic, cook one minute more or until fragrant.

Finish
Return chickech to skillet and mix in thouroughly, cook until heated through. Take meat mixture and spoon into crunchy blue corn tortillas, top with cheese, lettuce and taco sauce, then serve.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Smoky Chipotle Turkey Chili

Printable version
For the past three Thanksgivings, I have cooked a turkey or turkey breast and traditional sides with my culinary twist applied to publish here. This year, I’m doing something different for the more progressive culinary crowd.

For a main course I have created a smoky chipotle turkey chili!

To enhance the smokiness of the dish I start with diced bacon so that the flavorful renderings can be used to saute the aromatics. I removed the bacon after its cooked and use it as a garnish for the final dish.

Turkey is the star but it really just acts as a canvas for the flavors to stand upon in this recipe. I use a whole can of chipotle chiles in adobe, that I deseed and mince, with cumin and Mexican oregano for the main spice, but to enhance the smoke even further and compliment the chipotle, I add smoked ham hocks to the pot. After a long simmer that reduces the liquid and melds the flavors  – a silky, smoky and meaty chili emerges that can stand tall in any Thanksgiving spread.

BEHIND THIS BITE
My new blog work station.

I’m Back!!!!!!!

After relocating my life 120 miles to the west, I’m finally settled enough to start bloggin' again. I still have a man cave to build and a couple of other projects that will take time away that would other wise be applied here, but I’m finally settled enough to document some of my culinary creations.

I had to convert half of my dinning room into a kitchen work space and food photography studio to do it. I’ve also had to get used to a new place of employment and just move into a new home in general. In the process, I confirmed what I had thought five years ago.

Moving sucks.

Whether it’s across the street or across the country. Having to physically move every thing you own form couches to paper clips is a massive pain in the ass. But, it’s also a new beginning once all of the boxes are in place, which for me has been pretty exciting.

I had to down size significantly when I left New York, so there has been lots of stuff that had to be built or purchased in general just to have a spot to come home to watch TV without a mess in front of me. Now, I can finally do that as well as create a post like this.

I’m happy to have the blogging stuff checked off the list, but what I’m looking forward to most as part of the move is unpacking and displaying my ridiculous Star Wars collection. I just have to build the shelving to house the collectibles as well as the 80 some boxes of books that fill half my bed room!

Yep. I’m a pack rat. Which makes moving even worse!

Eat well, cook often ...

THE RECIPE
Just a small part of the Star Wars collection!

Serves 4 to 6; 3 hours
4 strips Bacon, diced
3 lbs Turkey ground
2 C Red onion, diced
2 JalapeƱos, diced, seeded
2 Tbs Cumin
1 Tbs Mexican oregano
2 Tbs Garlic, minced
1 can Chipoltes in adobe, minced (7.5 oz)
1 can Crushed tomatoes (28 oz)
4 C Water
1 lb Smoked ham hocks

Render bacon, brown turkey
In a 6-quart dutch oven over medium-high heat cook bacon until crispy, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add turkey to pot, sear until just cooked through stirring occasionally, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove to a bowl.

Create flavor base
Add onions and jalapeƱo to pot, saute until soft, 4 to 6 minutes. Add chipotle, cumin, Mexican oregano and garlic, let cook 1 to 2 minutes or until fragrant.

Make chili
Stir in crushed tomato, water and browned turkey. Add ham hocks. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, reducing mixture by one-third. If necessary add more water. Stir occasionally. Remove from heat, discard ham hocks and serve. Garnish with reserved bacon bits.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Getting settled in a New Place

The view from the balcony at my new apartment.

I have relocated to Merrillville, Indiana, just outside of Chicago!

I started a new full-time job as a designer for Lee Enterprises at their newspaper design hub located in the building that houses The Times of Munster, a Lee publication. After 218 weekly-visual-food-columns and more than 300 recipes documented, I felt that it was time to return to a full-time journalism gig. I wasn't planning on it, in fact, I had thought that my days in a newsroom were over. But, as the details of the job emerged, so did my interest. After much thought, I decided to give it a shot.

I hope to use my food talents at my new place of employment and I'm sure that will happen in some way, shape or form once I've built good relationships with editors and find the right opportunities to showcase my skills. As I get up to speed with the new job I find myself pretty excited about having to get my hands dirty assembling news and information on a daily basis again.

My food creations have re-ignited my passion for news design and information graphics. To me, the last four years was like getting a masters or phd in visual storytelling and I'm looking forward to see how I can apply some of what I have learned to my new job.

I'm happy to finally be settling into my new place and finding other things to do besides stuff related to moving in.

I've been cooking a lot in my new kitchen and I'm in the process of turning my dinning room into a food photography studio like the one at my old place – only this one will be much nicer and better organized. (Not to mention the new studio has running water! No more filling a tub with dirty dishes and hauling them down a flight of steps to be cleaned. Wahooo!)

Also, I have a gorgeous balcony that faces North (the view from which is pictured above, and will be the perfect place for using natural sunlight to illuminate my styled food shots and hopefully add another dimension to my photography in general.

Thought it was time for an update, look for more recipes here in the very near future.

Eat well, cook often ...