Super powers.

My in-laws are in California for an extended vacation, and last weekend we followed them to Lake Tahoe for the weekend. They, of course, have the luxury of being on permanent vacation, so they’re there for the rest of the week, at which point they’ll make their way back to San Francisco for their final weekend with us.

That said, Tahoe was pretty awesome. Despite living 4-5 hours away from the area, we hadn’t been out that way yet, so we were looking forward to our trip not only for spending time with the family, but also to check out a new area that we are sure to revisit.

We did a couple of hikes while we were there (one through Big Meadow and another along Echo Lake, which is part of the Pacific Crest Trail), and these bars would have been perfect to have with us, but sadly I didn’t make them until this week. I’m sure they’ll be put to good use this weekend when we’re out wandering around the city, so we’ll see how filling they are.

Regardless, I like the name of them, “super-power bars”, aptly named because of all the super-nutritous ingredients. Speaking of which, I should warn you that they are loaded with all sorts of weird stuff that you likely don’t have on hand (at least I didn’t). Quinoa flakes, Incan berries, wheat germ, and chia seeds are all a little hard to find depending on where you live, but I was able to locate them all in one place (for the SF-ers, that was Rainbow). I’d suggest buying enough of the ingredients for multiple batches, so these ingredients don’t go to waste.

Incan Super-Power Bars
adapted from Food & Wine, September 2011; makes 2 dozen bars

time commitment: ~1 hour, 15 minutes (including lots of down time)

printable version

ingredients
2 c quinoa flakes (7 ounces)
1 c sliced almonds (3 1/2 ounces)
1/2 c raw roasted sunflower seeds (2 1/2 ounces)
1/2 c toasted wheat germ (2 ounces)
2 T chia seeds
3/4 c golden berries, also known as Incan berries and dried cape gooseberries (4 ounces), coarsely chopped
3/4 c raisins
4 T unsalted butter
1/2 c plus 2 T light brown sugar
1/2 c plus 2 T agave syrup
1 1/2 t pure vanilla extract
1/2 t sea salt

instructions
Preheat the oven to 350 F. On a sturdy rimmed baking sheet, toss the quinoa with the almonds and toast for 15 minutes, until golden and fragrant. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in the sunflower seeds, wheat germ, chia seeds, golden berries and raisins.
In a medium saucepan, combine the 4 tablespoons of butter with the brown sugar and agave syrup and bring to a boil. Cook over moderate heat, stirring, until the sugar is just dissolved, about 2 minutes. Stir in the vanilla and salt. Pour the mixture into the large bowl and stir until the dry ingredients are evenly coated.
Line the baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly spray with cooking spray (or butter). Scrape the mixture onto the baking sheet and form into a 7-by-12-inch rectangle, pressing lightly to compact it; use a straight edge to evenly press the sides. Bake the bar for 10 minutes, until very lightly browned. Let cool slightly, then refrigerate until firm, 20 minutes.
Invert the bar onto a work surface and peel off the paper. Cut the bar into twelve 1-inch-wide strips, then cut each strip in half to form twenty-four 1-by-3 1/2-inch bars.
Advertisements

Makin’ Whoopie

On occasion, and contrary to what I said the other day about moderation, I like to use a stupendous amount of butter. Yeah, that’s right. Stupendous.

Like 4 sticks in 1 recipe. Sure, that’s breakfast for Paula Deen, but over here those four sticks usually last a month or more.

It’s all a ploy to make new friends – that’s all. You won’t catch me making these sorta treats just for the two of us (okay, maybe, but not on the regular), but by golly I’ll fatten up new-found friends any day of the week. They rarely complain. And! I still get to eat some too, so I’m happy (but not “fat and happy” as the saying goes).

And so, these sorta treats come along to days at the bay when we’re shucking oysters and drinking Vino Verde, or Moscofilero, or Blue Moons with orange juice drizzled in (yeah, it sounded strange to me too – but it’s tasty).

They go nicely with other things too – like milk, or water, or coffee, or just plain ol’ saliva! And when I eat them, I get a slight twinge of nostalgia; I think of those oatmeal cream pies (with carrots!) from gramma’s house – soft, oaty, creamy, and yeah – buttery, for sure.

And like I said before – these carrot cake whoopie pies are good for making new friends too. I even traded one in for a barbeque sauce-laden rib that Chris was swooning over. Spreading the love is what these things are all about – yourself, friends, or strangers – pick one, or pick ’em all.

Carrot Cake Whoopie Pies
adapted from Tasting Table, who adapted from Claire Twestern of Talula’s Garden; makes 18-24

time commitment: 1 hour, 15 minutes active time, plus 6 hours inactive time dedicated to letting the dough chill

printable version

ingredients
Cookies
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 c light brown sugar
1 c granulated sugar
2 eggs
¾ t vanilla extract
2 c all purpose flour
1 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
¼ t salt
1 t ground cinnamon
½ t freshly grated nutmeg
½ T crystallized ginger, finely chopped
2 c old-fashioned oats
1½ c of peeled and grated carrots (from about 2 to 3 medium carrots)
1 c raisins, soaked in warm water for 10 minutes and drained

Cream Cheese Icing
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1¼ c powdered sugar
2 T honey
12 oz cream cheese, softened

instructions
Make the cookies: In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat together the butter with the brown sugar and granulated sugar until lightened, about 3 minutes. Slowly add the eggs one at a time, beating the yolk of the first egg until it’s incorporated before adding the second egg. Stir in the vanilla.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. Slowly mix the dry ingredients into the wet, then gently stir in the oats, carrots and raisins. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours.

Preheat the oven to 325 F. Scoop rounded tablespoons of the dough onto a parchment-lined sheet pan and bake for 12 minutes, or until lightly browned and set. Remove from the oven and let cool in pan for a couple of minutes, then carefully move cookies to a wire rack to cool.

Make the icing: In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Slowly beat in the honey and cream cheese until incorporated. Spoon the frosting into a piping bag (or fashion one out of a plastic bag and cut a hole in the corner) and pipe the frosting onto half of the cookies; place the other cookies on top to create sandwiches.

Totally Legal

My pops was the chicken-cooker in our house. My mom made the (horribly dry, sorry mom) meatloaf, the holiday fixin’s, kickass potato salad, and plenty of things that are escaping my memory right now. But pops – he was in charge of poultry (and steak, for that matter. this worked to our advantage since she was the only one who ate leather instead of red juicy meat.).

There must be a genetic alteration linked to having an affinity for cooking fried chicken – my gramma had it, my aunt Faye has it, my pops has it, and by golly, I think I do too. Maybe it’s a Southern thing, but since not all Southerners can cook a can of beans I’d be willing to bet it’s a little of both. Maybe I’ll ask someone who knows a thing or two about genetics :).

But Pops wasn’t just a master of the fried variety; he has a killer barbeque chicken recipe too, and I’ve made it a time or three. Thinking about that dish just made my mouth water (and I finished my over-processed-but-low-calorie lean cuisine an hour ago. i guess that isn’t saying much, eh?). I think I may procure the ingredients for said dish soon; we’ll see.

Above all the cooking of said chickens, it was my pops who first taught me how to wield a knife into the bones and joints of the little birds, cutting them into 8 or 10 or even 6 pieces. I remember him grabbing a chicken from the market a few years ago, not too long after I went away to college (ok, 10 years ago, not a few); I think he felt it was his responsibility to teach his little girl how to cook, and cooking starts with cutting.

Sure, culinary school really helped me nail down the technique, and Thomas Keller’s pictures in Ad Hoc at Home are pretty helpful too, but it all started with Pops. These chicken butchering skills were never quite as helpful as they’ve been this past year though, as I’d guess we’ve gotten a dozen whole chickens from our CSA over the past few months; so as you’d imagine, we’ve eaten a lot of chicken lately. Usually, I butcher them, usually into 8 pieces, and usually it’s a pretty quick process. But sometimes, no matter how quick the process, I like to just toss a chicken, intact, into the oven, or onto the grill and now, almost by habit, into a brine before all of that cooking stuff even happens.

Roasting a whole chicken has to be one of the easiest processes on earth. You toss a few spices or herbs together in some butter or oil, you rub it all over the chicken (underneath the skin, too!), and you toss it into the oven and walk away. As Ina Garten would annoyingly say, “How easy is that?!”. But she’s right, despite her permanently bad hairdo and her fancy house and weird husband.

And while that simple herb rub is sure to win some points, I’m choosing here to go a step further and say that a toasted spice rub and a sweet & sour sauce from none other than my chef-crush Michael Chiarello is perhaps a little more time-consuming, but easy-peasy and probably, no definitely, the best dish I’ve eaten at home in a few weeks – hands down.

We all have our mediocre weeks in the kitchen, and lately the food I’ve been producing hasn’t been ‘knockin’ my socks off’, so to speak, which is probably ok since it’s so damn cold here. But this recipe, this recipe knocked it outta the park Barry Bonds style. Ok, I take that back a degree or two – Barry Bonds style, without the steroids. It still packs a punch, but it’s totally legal, I promise.

Roast Brined Chicken with Raisin and Pine Nut Agrodolce
Adapted from Michael Chiarello via Food & Wine, October 2010; serves 4

time commitment: 24 hours (for brining, dry rub marinating, and roasting); less than 2 hours active time (1 the night & morning before; 1 the night of)

agrodolce is Italian for awesome. Ok, really – it basically means “sweet&sour”. this recipe is definitely that, and I loved the grapes with the nuts. in fact, I could think of lots of other things to do with the agrodolce, so it’s not limited to chicken, that’s for sure!

this is definitely a multi-stepper, so prepare in advance. I brined the chicken and made the spice rub and the agrodolce the night before. in the morning, I removed it from the brine and rubbed the chicken with the, well, rub, and let it sit in the fridge until i got home that night. all that was left was roasting. You can certainly skip the brine if you want, but it’s worth the extra effort, if you’ve got it!

printable version
printable version (basic brine only)

ingredients
brine
10 c water
1 c kosher salt
1/4 c light brown or granulated sugar
5 cloves garlic
2 bay leaves
1 T black peppercorns
4 cups ice
1 3-4 lb pastured chicken

toasted spice rub
2 T fennel seeds
2 t coriander seeds
2 t black peppercorns
3/4 t crushed red pepper
2 T ancho chile powder
1 T kosher salt
1 T cinnamon

chicken
3 T unsalted butter, melted and cooled

agrodolce
1/2 c raisins
1/2 c warm water
1/4 c pine nuts, toasted
1 c Sherry vinegar
1/2 c sugar
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1 t fennel seeds
1/2 c seedless red grapes, halved
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
Salt

instructions
brining the chicken
In a large pot, combine the water with the salt, sugar, garlic, bay leaves, & peppercorns. Bring to a simmer to dissolve the salt. Transfer the brine to a very large bowl and add the ice. Let cool to room temperature. Put the chicken in the brine, breast side down, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

toasted spice rub
In a medium skillet, combine the fennel and coriander seeds with the peppercorns. Cook over moderate heat, shaking the skillet a few times, until the fennel seeds turn light brown, about 2 minutes. Add the crushed red pepper and toss until fragrant, about 20 seconds. Transfer to a plate to cool completely. Put the toasted spices in a spice grinder and grind to a powder. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the chile powder, salt and cinnamon.

agrodolce
In a bowl, cover the raisins with the warm water and let stand until plumped, about 10 minutes. Drain. In a medium saucepan, combine the vinegar, sugar, red onion and fennel seeds. Simmer over moderate heat until thickened, about 20 minutes. Pour into a bowl and let cool to room temperature. Stir the raisins, pine nuts, grapes and olive oil into the syrup. Season lightly with salt and set aside (or refrigerate) until ready for serving.

rubbing the chicken
Remove the chicken from the brine and pat dry with paper towels. Put the chicken on a rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle all over with the spice rub. Be sure to get underneath the skin as well. Set the chicken breast side up and tie the legs together with kitchen twine. Refrigerate the chicken, uncovered, for at least 4 hours. Let chicken sit out at least 30 minutes before roasting.

roasting the chicken
Preheat the oven to 450 (yes, 450 – this is not a typo). Brush the chicken with the melted butter and roast in the upper third of the oven for 25 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 and roast the chicken for 25 minutes longer, or until an instant-read thermometer registers 155 when inserted in the inner thigh. Remove from oven, and let the chicken cool down, or come to room temperature if you want. Carve into 8 pieces, transfer to a plate and serve with the agrodolce.

Cake Boss

As many of you regular readers will attest, I like to think of myself as living a double life: genetic counselor by day, unpaid chef by night. This is no accident, folks. You see, my job is exactly what it sounds like – it’s my job; I work, I like to think I’m pretty good at what I do, but at the end of the day, I go home.

People who talk about their jobs all the time really annoy me, quite frankly. Fortunately, most of the people in my life, Hubs included, are on my side. Most of them.

But today, I’ll talk about work just a tad more, but only because for once there is a direct correlation between work and well, food. Appropriate here, yes?

You see, I have this boss. I like her – a lot. She’s a big-time breast oncologist who throws out the f-bomb more times in a day than I do in a week. There is something to be said for that, at least in my book. And all in all, having her as my boss makes coming to work, and leaving work at work, easy.

I should also add that, while I was baking my ass off (or back on, rather) in culinary school, she was kind enough to take many a leftover croissant or eclair off my hands. That said, I always knew she was a fan of baking. But unfortunately for her, her husband isn’t, and by choice (by choice, people!) he opts for a sugar-free diet. This posed a small issue when trying to find a sugar-free cake baker for his recent birthday, and I was almost, almost, suckered into making one, despite my inexperience with any sort of sugar-lacking baked good.

Instead, I was challenged to a battle – as if I ever enter food competitions that involve a little friendly voting. I think she thought I’d let her win, since you know, she does my evaluations and all. And I think I thought my baking confidence would carry over into Splendaland.

As it turns out, sugar-free baking isn’t all that hard, or all that different, but it does require a little bit of thought, and a little bit of trust in your ability – I thought a little bit, but once the baking was underway, my trust in myself dissipated with a quickness. And while I thought this was supposed to be a cake-only battle, boss lady brought a banana cream pie to the table, a pie that would have certainly gotten my vote, had I had one.

But fortunately for me, I wasn’t voting, because that one vote would have tipped the scale just enough for a tie. Once all the votes were cast, my dessert took the cake, so to speak, but only by a morsel. Boss lady may not have won this time, but I have a feeling there’s a rematch in the near future, and next time I bet she’ll even make her own pie crust ;).

Double Layer Carrot Cake (sugar-free)
Adapted from Splenda.com; serves as few or as many as you like

i’m certainly no sugar-free cook, but if you’re into this sorta thing, this is a great launchpad. this cake doesn’t taste sugar-free (unless, of course, a decadently sugar-laden carrot cake is alongside) and it’s dense, but still moist. Serve at room temperature or warmed.

printable version

ingredients
Cake
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 T baking powder
1 T baking soda
1 t salt
4 t ground cinnamon
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 c canola oil
2/3 c 2% milk
2 T pineapple juice
2 t vanilla extract
2 c SPLENDA® No Calorie Sweetener, Granulated
3 c shredded carrots (about 6 small)
1 c raisins
1/2 c chopped pecans
2 T flaked coconut

Frosting
2 (8 ounce) packages 1/3-less fat cream cheese, softened
½ c butter, softened
1 c SPLENDA® No Calorie Sweetener, Granulated
2 t vanilla extract
1 T pineapple juice

instructions
Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly coat 2 9-inch round cake pans with cooking spray. Set aside.

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a large bowl, stirring until blended. Set aside.

Combine eggs, canola oil, milk, pineapple juice, vanilla, and SPLENDA® Granulated Sweetener. Add to dry ingredients, stirring just until blended. Fold in carrots, raisins, pecans and coconut. Spoon mixture into prepared pan (the mixture will appear much drier than most cakes, and you may have to ‘smooth’ the batter to cover the bottom of the pan since it isn’t very runny).

Bake for 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, beat cream cheese and butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add SPLENDA®Granulated Sweetener, beating until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and pineapple juice, beating until blended.

If cake layers are rounded at the top, use a serrated knife to trim off some of the top. Frost the top of the bottom layer, then add the top layer and frost the remainder of the cake.