Thursday, February 27, 2014

Celebrate Mardi Gras with Etouffee

According to the good people at Wikipedia....”Mardi Gras is French for Fat Tuesday, referring to the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season, which begins on Ash Wednesday.”

Tuesday, March 4th is Fat Tuesday….the biggest day during Mardi Gras.  I think it’s as good of a reason as any to celebrate.  Why not?  At least you can get some good food out of it, and Cajun/Creole cuisine is some of the best in the world.  Today I am going to show you a dinner that you can make, pretty easily, to eat this Tuesday.  

Today, I am making Chicken Étouffée….or rather, my version of it.  Étouffée just means that whatever you are cooking, whether it is chicken, shrimp, crawfish, etc. is smothered in gravy.  The gravy is made of a roux.  I think we have discussed this before, but in case you mentally blocked it….a roux is a mixture of fat and flour that is cooked together.  This mixture will thicken a sauce, and give it a nutty flavor.  I have a cool trick for making a roux that I will show you in a bit.  My other cool trick is that I cook my étouffée in my slow cooker.  Hello easy!


I start the recipe by browning big bone-in chicken breasts.  They are usually called “split breasts” at the grocery store.  I liberally season the breasts with cajun (or creole) seasoning, then brown each side in oil on the stove top.  This will help give the chicken a really good flavor.  I always brown meat before it goes into the slow cooker.  This keeps it from getting mushy.


Next, I make my roux.  I melt some butter and oil in a large, over-proof skillet.  Once the butter is melted, I whisk in some flour.  Once the mixture is smooth, I pop the pan in the oven to cook for about twenty minutes.  I don’t touch it all during this time.  The roux will come out dark brown.  It will give the étouffée a wonderful nutty flavor that seriously can’t be matched.


Once the chicken was browned and the roux baked, I tossed the onion, bell pepper, celery, garlic, bay leaves, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and concentrated chicken stock into the slow cooker.


I chose concentrated chicken broth because I want the broth flavor, but I don’t want this to get to soupy as it cooks all day in the slow cooker.  The concentrated broth gives all the flavor in a convenient little blob.


I also added the crushed tomatoes and chicken to the pot.  Then, I poured in the beer and roux.  I popped the lid and let this go for about 4 and ½ hours on low.  Your house will smell amazing!


Before serving, I take chicken out of the slow cooker.  Once it cools enough to touch it,  I remove the skin and bones and shred the chicken.  Then, I add it back into the slow cooker to let the flavors all meld back together.


I served my étouffée over rice, which is pretty typical.  This chicken ends up so moist, and almost has a nutty flavor from the roux.  The sauce is thick and delicious too.  I served mine with bread to sop up the extra sauce.  I also licked the plate but you don’t have to do that.


FYI-You can season this up with as much hot sauce as you like.  I am feeding children so I kept it mild.  And yes, I am pretending that is for the benefit of the kids, not myself who is a wuss with spice.


So yea, this takes a few steps, but none of them are hard.  And it is so worth it…..especially if you want to celebrate Mardi Gras like a New Orleanian.  New Orleaner?  New Orleanite?  Whatever.  Party like you are from Louisiana.


Chicken Étouffée


4 Tablespoons butter


4 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil, divided


½ cup flour


2 Chicken “Half Breasts” with skin and bones


2 Tablespoons Creole Seasoning (Tony Cachere’s)


1 teaspoon salt


½ teaspoon black pepper


1 small onion, chopped


1 bell pepper, chopped


¾ cup celery, chopped


2 cloves garlic, minced


1 pouch concentrated chicken stock (Knorr’s)


3 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce


Hot sauce to taste


12 ounces beer


1 cup crushed tomatoes


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.


In an oven proof pan, melt butter with 2 tablespoons oil.  Whisk in flour.  Stir until smooth.  Place pan in the oven and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.  Roux will be the color of peanut butter.  Set aside.


In a large pot, heat remaining oil over medium high heat.  Sprinkle chicken with creole seasoning, salt and pepper.  Brown chicken on all sides, about 2 minutes per side.


Place chicken in slow cooker with remaining ingredients.  Add roux and stir.  Cook on low heat for about 4 to 6 hours.


Remove chicken from pot.  Remove skin and bones and shred chicken.  Return shredded chicken to slow cooker.


Serve over rice.


Serves 4 to 6 people. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

DIY Mayonnaise...With Yummy Mix-Ins!

Eighty percent of Americans like mayonnaise.  I’m kidding.  I totally made up that number.  I have no idea how many people like mayo.  I do, however, know that mayonnaise is very polarizing.  It really isn’t a food that people think is just Ok.  People either love it or hate it….like cilantro.  I am one of those people that love it.  On anything.  Mayonnaise is one of my favorite things in the whole world.

Did you know that it is really easy to make your own mayo?  You can make it with stuff you might already have in your fridge and pantry.  It is kind of a cool thing to make, especially if you have kids.  It is almost like a science experiment.  You start with eggs (pasteurized and we will get to that in a bit), add an acid such as vinegar and oil….and blend.  Those three things blended all together give you mayo.  How simple is that?

Normally, mayonnaise made at home would be made with raw egg yolks.  I have done this before, and the end result is a rich, thick mayo unlike what you get at the grocery store.  The problem is the raw eggs.  That freaks me out.  I have avoided raw eggs by making my mayo with pasteurized egg product (Egg Beaters).

When I make mayo, I use my super powered blender.  You can also use a food processor.  You can use whatever will blend, as long as it has a hole at the top, in the lid, so you can stream oil in the top. 

I start by adding my pasteurized eggs and vinegar to the blender.  I usually use champagne vinegar, but you can use white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, lemon or even lime juice.  You just need an acid.  I blend the eggs and vinegar together with some salt to get the process going.  Then, I slowly stream in oil.  I like to use a combination of olive oil and vegetable oil.  I like the olive flavor, but I find using all olive oil produces too strong a flavor.

BTW-you could totally use coconut oil, grape seed oil or avocado oil!

This blends for a couple of minutes as the oil is streamed in.  The mixture comes together and thickens before your very eyes.  It is pretty much amazing.  Don’t let it get too far though…it will get a weird chunky texture if you do.

The end result is creamy, rich and delicious.  It is nothing like what you get in a jar at the grocery store.  The best part?  You can personalize your mayo and add whatever you want to it!  The possibilities are endless!


¾ cup chopped crisp bacon with ½ cup chopped chives for Bacon Chive Mayo

½ cup chopped sundried tomatoes and ¼ cup chopped basil for Sundried Tomato Basil Mayo

One packet dry Ranch dressing mix for Ranch Mayo

3 tablespoons BBQ dry rub for BBQ Mayo

2 diced chipotle peppers in adobo sauce for Chipotle Mayo

1 or 2 tablespoons horseradish for Horseradish Mayo

4 ounces chopped green chilis and ¾ cup sharp cheddar cheese for Green Chili Cheddar Mayo (Pictured-My Favorite!)

Easy DIY Mayonnaise

¼ cup Pasteurized Egg Product

2 teaspoons champagne vinegar

½ teaspoon salt

¾ cup olive oil

¾ cup vegetable oil

Add egg, vinegar and salt to a blender.  Blend until smooth.  Slowly stream in oil while blending, should take about 1 minute.  Blend until thick and creamy.

Keep in tightly sealed container in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Makes about 2 cups.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Creamy Chicken and Artichoke Soup

Hallelujah, the snow came back today.  So I made soup.  I’ve been waiting.  I was seriously getting ready to just start grilling burgers and making potato salad in anticipation of summer, but winter came back today, thankfully.

Did you know January was National Soup Month?  I didn’t until the end of the month.  I am usually a day late and a dollar short with things like that.  I have got to get some sort of food calendar.  Is that a thing?

Anyway, like I was saying, I made soup.  I am a fan of soup, as long as it is a somewhat creamy soup.  Broth based soups remind me of being sick.  The soup I am going to show you today is my Creamy Chicken and Artichoke Soup.  It is broth based, but don’t worry, I still find a way to make it creamy.  It is the perfect soup for a cold winter’s day.

Since 2014 is the year of the vegetable for me, I start this soup with a few of them.  Actually, I always have, but this fits right in with my New Year’s Resolution, so I’m bragging.  I soften onion, garlic, carrots and celery in a little bit of butter and oil.

Once the veggies are a little soft and sweaty (but not browned!), I add in some salt and pepper, a bay leaf, chopped artichoke hearts and chopped leftover chicken.  Then, I pour in some really good chicken stock.

I like to use artichoke hearts that are packed in water.  They are still salty, buttery and delicious, but they don’t have that oily heaviness that hearts packed in oil have.  I chop mine up a bit just to make them more bite sized, and to make sure they spread throughout the soup.

I like to use leftover chicken or a rotisserie chicken that I have bought at the grocery store.  If you don’t have leftover chicken, either baked, grilled or even sautéed, you can totally just grill a few breasts just for the soup.  I like to keep it easy, so I use leftover or store bought.

Are you wondering what I mean by good chicken stock?  I just mean that I look for a box that says “stock” as opposed to “broth”.  I think that stock has a richer flavor.

I let the soup simmer for about 20 minutes with the lid on.  This gives all the veggies, especially the carrots, a chance to become tender.  It also lets all the flavors meld together.  Once the soup has simmered sufficiently, I add in some orzo.  I let the orzo boil in the soup for about nine minutes.

Finally, after the orzo is al dente in the soup, I add about four ounces of cream cheese.  See?  I told you I would make it creamy!  The cream cheese melts in and thickens the soup, but it also makes it creamy and just a bit tangy.  The flavor of the cream cheese is amazing with the chicken and artichoke hearts.  This isn’t any ordinary chicken soup!

This soup is best eaten right away as the orzo will soak up the broth in any leftovers.  But you know what you are left with?  Creamy chicken pasta….and that ain’t half bad…..

I garnish with crunchy bread sticks and scallions, but I’ll leave the garnishes up to you.  Happy belated National Soup Month!

Creamy Chicken and Artichoke Soup

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup carrots, diced

1 large onion, diced

1 cup celery, diced

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 teaspoons salt

1 ½ teaspoons black pepper

1 or 2 bay leaves

14 ounces artichoke heart quarters (water packed), chopped

12 ounces chicken breast, cooked and chopped

8 cups chicken stock

1 ½ cups orzo

4 ounces cream cheese

In a large stock pot, sauté carrots, onion, celery, garlic and butter and olive oil.  Cook vegetables over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes.

Add salt, pepper, bay leaves, artichoke hearts, chicken and chicken stock.  Simmer soup over medium heat for 20 minutes, covered.

Bring soup to rolling boil.  Add orzo and return to boil.  Continue cooking soup over medium heat for 9 minutes. 

Once orzo is cooked, add cream cheese and stir until melted.

Serves 8