Monday, May 30, 2011

Chopped Basket!

I learned via Facebook that the store Zzest in Rochester was having a Chopped challenge. If you've never seen the show Chopped on Food Network, the basic premise is a group of chefs are given "mystery baskets" with three surprise ingredients. They have to make a certain course using all three ingredients (and can also use basic "pantry" items.) Their dishes are judged and the loser of each round is "chopped", leaving the remaining contestants to move on to the next round.

Zzest kicked off their Chopped challenge with an entree basket that contained sardines, dried beans, and pepper sherry. That seemed a bit off of my motivational scale, being a weeknight cook and all. But when I heard they were doing dessert baskets, I jumped at the chance. The recipes and pictures were due on Saturday, May 28, and as I write this they have yet to post the competitors' pictures. I'm waiting on edge--I'm sure mine won't win, but I'm fascinated to see what other people did with the mystery ingredients.

So, without further ado, here were the ingredients in my mystery Chopped basket:

Hibiscus flower vinegar

Wine crackers

Zzang! Wowza bar

Interesting, no? I thought and thought about what to make, and finally decided to go with a modified version of my Fabulous Fudge Brownies, made with ground-up wine crackers instead of flour and part of the Wowza bar instead of chocolate chips. I'd use the rest of the candy bar and mix it with ice cream, and top it all off with a reduced balsamic vinegar sauce.

The first thing I did was start the brownies. Like I said earlier, it's basically my Fabulous Fudge Brownie recipe, but with wine crackers instead of flour, dark chocolate instead of semiseweet, and chopped-up candy bar instead of chocolate chips. Oh, and I added a little extra cocoa powder.

Here's what the candy bar looks like on the inside. It's a raspberry-spiked nougat with a layer of raspberry jam and then covered in chocolate.

I melted the chocolate and the butter together in the microwave and then stirred until they were combined.

Then I added brown and white sugars.

And two eggs.

I threw some of the wine crackers in my food processor.

They got a very, very thorough blending until they were ground to a flourlike consistancy.

Six tablespoons of the cracker flour went into my brownie mixture.

Cocoa powder. Can't ever have too much cocoa.

A little vanilla will help bring out the chocolate flavors.
Then in went the candy bar. It was hard to cut--nougat sticks to everything!

Into a pregreased 8x8 or 9x9 brownie pan it goes.

I also decided to snazz things up a bit by adding fresh raspberries. This increased my baking time by 10-15 minutes, but it was worth it.

Brownies went in the oven. So next is the balsamic sauce.

Here's what the vinegar looked like. Basically it's just white balsamic vinegar with hibiscus flowers in it. It had a very fruity, yet tangy smell. Balsamic vinegar and vanilla actually work quite well together, and when they're combined the vinegar takes on some chocolatey qualities. I was banking on this to make my sauce work.

I poured a cup of the vinegar into a small, nonreactive (not copper!) pot. Hibiscus always makes me think of tea, so I sweetened it with a little honey.

To deepen the flavors, I cut a vanilla bean in half.

I scraped the "caviar" from the inside of the bean and added it to the pot. I also threw in the scraped bean.

I scraped the other half of the bean and put that in my sugar bowl for my coffee in the morning.

I turned the pot on low and let the vinegar reduce. You don't want to let the vinegar boil--you want it to reduce slowly and easily. I reduced the vinegar by half.

Oh, um, also. It's going to smell really good, and you're going to want to get a better smell, but don't hold your face over the pot and breathe in deeply. Your sinuses will not like it. Believe me. I did it three times. Be smarter than me.

Now that the vinegar is reducing and the brownies are in the oven, you can work on the ice cream! I cheated and used already-made ice cream.

I left it out on the counter for 5-10 minutes to soften it. I used about half a pint.

Then I chopped up the rest of the candy bar. Super messy. But yummy.

Yeah, that's right. I totally licked my fingers. Nobody else but me and Mr. Kim Chee were going to be eating it. So there.

I had a few raspberries left over from the brownies, so I added them, too. I gave them a good smush while mixing them in.

Then it got popped back into the freezer to re-freeze.

So at this point, my brownies are done.

My vinegar is reduced.

My ice cream was, uh, sort of re-frozen. Okay, I was totally impatient to try this. So here it is: the results of my Chopped challenge basket!

Raspberry Fudge Brownies with Wowza Ice Cream and Vanilla Vinegar Sauce
For the Raspberry Fudge Brownies:

½ c. butter
3 oz. bittersweet chocolate
½ c. packed brown sugar
½ c. white sugar
2 eggs
scant ½ c. OTC wine crackers
2 tbsp. cocoa powder
½ Zzang Wowza bar (reserve remaining candy bar for ice cream)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2/3 c. fresh or frozen raspberries (about ¾ of a pint. Reserve remaining raspberries for ice cream)

Preheat oven to 375F.

In a microwave-safe bowl (or double boiler), melt butter and chocolate and stir until smooth. Add brown and white sugar and stir until incorporated. Add eggs and mix well.

In a food processor, pulse wine crackers until very finely ground. Measure and add 6 tbsp. of ground crackers to brownie mix.

Add cocoa powder to brownie mix and stir until just combined.

Chop Zzang Wowza bar into rough chunks and gently fold into the brownie mixture. Add vanilla extract and stir until just combined.

Grease an 8x8 cake pan. Pour in brownie mix. Top brownie mix with raspberries.

Bake for 30-35 minutes until toothpick inserted into center of brownies comes out clean. Cool completely before slicing.

For the Wowza Ice Cream

½ pint high-quality vanilla ice cream
¼ pint fresh or frozen raspberries
½ Zzang Wowza bar

Let ice cream sit at room temperature until softened. Lightly mash raspberries. Roughly chop the Wowza bar. Fold both raspberries and candy bar into ice cream.

Re-freeze ice cream until it reaches the desired firmness.

For the Vanilla Vinegar sauce:

1 c. hibiscus flower vinegar
½ vanilla bean
1 tsp. honey

Pour vinegar into small, nonreactive pot. Halve vanilla bean and scrape out caviar. Add vanilla bean, vanilla caviar, and honey to the vinegar.

Let vinegar mixture reduce over low heat until reduced by half. Let cool completely. Drizzle cooled sauce over brownies and ice cream.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Honey-Orange Roasted Chicken

I never had a problem with trying to think up new ways to roast a chicken before I joined Painted Hill's CSA. It seems like we've gotten a whole chicken in our monthly packages for at least the last few months. Not that I'm complaining! It's incredible chicken. But it does get boring, doing the same (delicious!) roast chicken every time.

But I've found yet another way to roast! This chicken is fabulous. It's slightly sweet, slightly citrus-y, a little garlicky, and has lots of flavor. It's also easy to make and is something a little different from the ordinary roasted chicken.

All the flavor for the chicken comes from what goes inside it. Garlic, orange, ginger, honey, thyme, red pepper, and just a bit of nutmeg.

Take half an orange and cut it into wedges.

Use the flat side of your knife to crush the garlic, and throw it in with the oranges.

Add the thyme, crushed red pepper flakes, and ginger. I used dried ginger slices, but an inch-long knob of ginger cut into similarly shaped slices would be fine too.

And don't forget to add a little salt, and maybe some black pepper.

Drizzle some honey over the top of everything.

Can't go wrong with honey.

Be sure to give everything a good stir.

Now it's time for the chicken. Remove any giblets. Rinse it well under cool water, and then pat it dry.

Fold the wing tips underneath the chicken's body. This will keep them from getting too dark and/or burning.

Stuff the inside of the chicken with the honey-orange mixture. Be sure to get all the honey and herbs in!

Use kitchen twine or a silicone band (or any other method you can think of to truss your chicken) to join the legs together. You don't want them to be tightly together. Just enough to close the chicken cavity.

Grab the other half of the orange and squeeze the juice over the top of the chicken.

Don't forget to salt and pepper the outside of the chicken too.

Pop the chicken into a 425F oven for about 60 minutes (for a 3-4 lb. chicken. If yours is bigger, add about 20 minutes per pound). Be sure to check on it once in a while.

This is about halfway through. See how it's starting to get dark?

To keep the outside from getting too dark before the chicken has cooked, I took a large piece of aluminum foil and made a little foil tent to cover the chicken (shiny side out!) You may or may not have to do this to your chicken.

Then back in the oven it went.

If you start to smell burning, that means the little bit of orange juice at the bottom of the pan is burning. Just add a little bit of water to prevent that.

Here's what it looked like after roasting!

Let it rest for 10-15 minutes before cutting into it. That'll give you enough time to work out some side dishes (how about some Balsamic Grilled Asparagus, Easy Green Beans, or Sweet Roasted Squash?)

With just a few minutes of prep and then an hour or two of oven time, you've made your family a chicken they won't forget!

Recipe: Honey-Orange Roasted Chicken

1/2 orange, cut into 8 pieces
3 garlic cloves, smashed
1/2 tsp. thyme
pinch crushed red pepper flakes
3 1-inch long slices of dried ginger (or a sliced 1-inch long piece of fresh)
1/4 c. honey

1 3-4 lb. chicken
1/2 orange
salt and pepper

In a bowl, combine orange pieces, garlic, thyme, red pepper flakes, ginger, and honey.

Wash chicken and pat dry.

Stuff  chicken cavity with orange mixture. Truss chicken (tie legs and tuck wings underneath the body). Squeeze the remaining orange half over the chicken. Season with salt and pepper.

Roast chicken in the oven until done. ~60 minutes for a 3-4 lb. chicken, ~75-105 minutes for anything up to 6.5 lbs.

Let chicken rest 10-15 minutes before cutting.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Cheddar-Jalapeno Biscuits

I needed a side to go with a big ol' bowl of Crab and Corn Chowder, and also wanted something a little spicy. So I jazzed things up a bit and created these Cheddar-Jalapeno Biscuits. They are sooo good. They're light and fluffy, but the cheddar cheese gets nice and toasty, giving them a pleasant crunch.

Like all biscuits, they start with a bowl of flour. The flour gets blended with baking powder and salt.

Next is some cold butter. It's important for flaky biscuits that the butter be cold, like right-out-of-the-fridge cold.

Cut the butter into the flour. You could use a fork or a pair of knives, or use a pastry cutter, like I've got. You could also give the flour and butter a few whirrs in a food processor. Or you could use a grating tool and grate the stick of butter right into the bowl of flour.

Once the butter is in small pieces and the flour mixture resembles coarse crumbs, you can add your flavors to the biscuits.

I used a small can of diced jalapenos (you could use fresh if you had them), lots and lots of freshly ground black pepper, and shredded cheddar cheese.

Mix the cheese, pepper, and jalapenos into the flour mixture. Then use your spoon to make a well in the center of the mixture.

Pour your buttermilk in, and stir just enough to make sure everything is nice and moist.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured surface.

Pat (or roll) your dough about an inch thick.

Dip a biscuit cutter (or, if you don't have a biscuit cutter, a drinking glass) in flour and then press it into the dough. Do not twist when you cut! Twisting will prevent your biscuits from rising to their full potential.

Place the biscuits on a greased cookie sheet. If you like biscuits with crisp outsides, make sure you keep your biscuits at least an inch apart from one another. If you like softer biscuits, put them right up next to each other.

I used a smaller, 2" biscuit cutter, rather than the larger 3" one. That's why it looks like I've got so many biscuits.

Brush the tops of the biscuits with more buttermilk. If you don't have any more buttermilk, melted butter, milk, or a beaten egg will do the job too.

Grind a little more pepper over the tops of the biscuits.

Pop the biscuits in the oven for 15-20 minutes (add another 5 minutes if your biscuits are spaced close together or are larger.)

Serve these biscuits with Chunky Minnesotan Chili, Crab and Corn Chowder, or Tortilla Soup. Fill them with ham, turkey, or even BBQ beans. You and your family will love them!

Recipe: Cheddar-Jalapeno Biscuits

2 c. flour
3 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
4 tablespoons cold butter
1 small can (4 oz.) chopped jalapenos
lots of freshly ground black pepper
1 c. shredded cheddar cheese
1 c. buttermilk

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix well.

Add butter; using knives or pastry cutter, cut butter into flour. Continue cutting until the flour mixture appears crumbly.

Add jalapenos, black pepper, and cheese. Mix well.

Use a spoon to dig a well into the middle of the dry ingredients. Add buttermilk. Stir to combine.

Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and pat to about a 1" thickness. Cut the dough into biscuits. Place on a greased cookie sheet. For biscuits that are crisp all the way around, leave about 1" between each biscuit. For fluffier, softer biscuits, leave the edges of the biscuits touching.

Brush the tops of the biscuits with more buttermilk. Grind more black pepper over the tops.

Bake at 425F for 15-20 minutes if biscuits are evenly spaced; add about 5 minutes more if biscuits are touching.