Monday, November 22, 2010

Maque Choux

It's officially feeling like November. We haven't had any snow yet, but I'm sure it is coming. I just hope it holds off until after I get to go home for Thanksgiving. At work we've been gearing up for Black Friday- it will be my first Black Friday actually stepping foot in a mall or doing any shopping. I usually avoid the craziness of that shopping day, but it cannot be helped this year.

At home we did some winterizing this afternoon. It hasn't been too cold yet, but I'm sure when old man winter comes knocking we'll be glad. We have had some blustery days and I noticed the vertical blinds swaying after a few of the strong gusts in our living room. Needless to say, our windows are old and very drafty.  So now we have a cozy home and are in need of something to warm our tummies.

Enter Maque Choux. Not only is this dish stomach warming and filling, the colors of the ingredients and cajun flavors warm everything right up.

Maque Choux with chicken and hot Italian sausage
6 ears corn (I used a package of frozen corn instead)
3 lbs chicken thighs with skin and excess fat trimmed
1 tablespoon oil
1/2 lb hot italian sausage links, cut into 1/2 inch slices
3 medium onions, chopped
1 orange or red bell pepper, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 large celery rib, sliced
2 fresh thyme sprigs
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3/4 pound cherry tomatoes (1 1/2 pints) halved
1/4 c chopped fresh basil

1. If using fresh corn, cut kernels off cobs and, working over a large bowl, scrape cobs with knife to extract all juices. Discard cobs.

2. Pat chicken dry and season with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a heavy 8 qt pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then brown sausage, transferring to a plate. Brown chicken in batches, transferring to another plate.

3. Pour off all but 1 tbs fat from pot, then saute onions, bell peppers, celery, thyme, cayenne and salt to taste over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, 4 minutes. Add corn with juices and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and sausage.

4. Nestle chicken into mixture and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until chicken is cooked through, about 40 minutes. If the maque choux is soupier than you like, simmer uncovered until juices are reduced. Stir in basil and season with salt and pepper. Serve with sliced bread to soak up the liquids.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Best Brownies

After the seriously decadent Viennese cake I made last month, I still had a bag of dutch process cocoa in the cupboard. It was only in there so long because I was a little hesitant to use it in a recipe that wasn't going to live up to the amazingness of DUTCH PROCESS cocoa. Seriously, that stuff is almost sinful. The craving for brownies hit last weekend so I searched for a recipe that would do the cocoa justice. I found that a lot of people look down on baking with cocoa. What?! Perhaps I just don't know, perhaps people are basing this opinion on lower grade cocoa, but whatever. I'll admit I wouldn't use it for all purposes, but seriously, brownies? 

I finally found one from Alton Brown that I felt would do the trick. The brownies that resulted are, I must admit, among the best I've ever had. Now, these are a little bit gooey, so if you like your brownies to have a more cake-like consistency, these are not for you. I'm personally a big fan of fudgy brownies, so they were right up my alley. Now, a word on the cocoa (another?! I know.... I'm sort of obsessed), it made these brownies extremely dark and rich. Rich enough that a glass of milk is not simply advised, it is absolutely mandatory. The only improvement I can think of for these brownies is the addition of walnuts. They were spectacular without, so maybe it should just be called a variation rather than an improvement.

As a funny addition: the recipe on the food network site has a bit of a typo that makes it look as though the recipe calls for 11/4 cup of cocoa. Now, most people would look at that and realize that it means a full cup plus a quarter, but some of the reviewers made the brownies with 11 quarter cups of cocoa. And got on the website to complain. Obviously, the recipe didn't work so well in those cases. Gotta love those concrete thinkers! 

Brownies (made with cocoa)

Soft butter, for greasing the pan
Flour, for dusting the buttered pan
4 large eggs
1 cup sugar, sifted
1 cup brown sugar, sifted
8 ounces melted butter
1 1/4 cups cocoa, sifted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup flour, sifted
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Butter and flour an 8-inch square pan.
2. With a mixer, beat the eggs at medium speed until fluffy and light yellow. Add both sugars. Add remaining ingredients, and mix to combine.
3. Pour the batter into a greased and floured 8-inch square pan and bake for 45 minutes (I used a 9x13 rectangular pan just because we don't have a square one, thinner brownies, but still yummmy!). Check for doneness with the tried-and-true toothpick method: a toothpick inserted into the center of the pan should come out clean. When it's done, remove to a rack to cool. Resist the temptation to cut into it until it's mostly cool (the toughest part of the recipe!)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Potato Soup & Bread bowls

I'll admit, this recipe is basically word for word from Southern Living via , but it presented some challenges that I had to remedy on my own. First of all- I was certain that a KitchenAid was going to be on my wedding registry, but I'm doubly sure of it now. I can remember making breads with my grandmother (who had a KitchenAid herself) and doing tons of kneading, which was a fun "old-fashioned" experience for me. But I found my little hand mixer just wouldn't get all 7 cups of flour into the dough and ended up doing a lot of it by hand. Also, the bread bowls seemed really small. I may just be used to Panera's gigantic sourdough bread bowls, but it didn't seem like you could get a whole serving of soup in there.

Luckily the soup was pretty low maintenance. Just throw a bunch of stuff in the crockpot, set the timer and forget about it. I think the recipe is a good basic potato soup but I think it could be much better if you played around with different ingredients and maybe some additional spices. Overall, a good recipe for a fall day.

Italian Bread Bowls
2 1/2 cups warm water
2 (1/4 oz) envelopes active dry yeast
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
7 cups all- purpose flour
1 tablespoon cornmeal
1 egg white
1 tablespoon water

1. Stir together 2 1/2 cups water and yeast in a large bowl. Let stand 5 minutes. Stir in salt and oil.

2. Add flour gradually, beating at medium speed with an electric mixer until soft dough forms.

3. Turn dough out onto a floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic (4-6 minutes). Place in a lightly greased bowl, turning to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place, free from drafts, 35 minutes or until doubled in bulk.

4. Punch dough down and divide into 8 equal portions. Shape each portion into a 4 inch round loaf. Place loaves on lightly greased baking sheets sprinkled with cornmeal.

5. Cover and let rise in a warm place, free from drafts, 35 minutes or until doubled in bulk.

6. Stir together egg white and 1 tablespoon water, brush over loaves.

7. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Brush with remaining egg mixture, and bake 10-15 minutes more or until golden. Cool on wire racks. Freeze up to 1 month if desired.

8. Cut a 1/2 inch thick slice from top of each loaf; scoop out centers, leaving 3/4 inch thick shells. Reserve centers for other uses. Fill bread bowls with hot soup and serve immediately.

Potato Soup
6 potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 medium onions, diced
2 carrots thinly sliced
2 celery ribs thinly sliced
2 (14 1/2 oz) cans reduced sodium chicken broth
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 cup half and half

1. Combine first 8 ingredients in 4 1/2 quart slow cooker.

2. Cook, covered at HIGH for 3 hours or until vegetables are tender.

3. Stir together flour and half and half; stir into soup. Cover and cook 30 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Serve in bread bowls.