cafela: (Default)
I know, it's been a couple of weeks between postings. Not that I wasn't cooking, it's just that with the holidays, I didn't get on the computer as much. I was too busy visiting family and making delicious foods!

I first tasted this amazing dip two years ago, at my friend Janet's Boxing Day (aka: the day after Christmas) Party. The great thing about Buffalo Chicken Dip is that you get the flavor without too much spice (though you can keep a bottle of hot sauce nearby for those that want to add it to theirs). This isn't quite the same recipe as Janet's; there are a lot of variants, and they're all good. All you'll need to go with it are some kind of chip or cracker. Tostitos Scoops are good, as are Ritz and Clubhouse crackers.

Now, some people insist that if you're using ranch instead of blue cheese, you're wrong. Well, they're wrong. You can use either. I prefer ranch because blue cheese is a little overpowering, especially for this dip. You could even use both. But this is my recipe, so I'm just going to tell you how to make it the way I do. Experiment with your own approach--odds are it will still be awesome. This makes a lot of dip, but it keeps in the fridge and reheats easily; you can also always halve the recipe.

I only have the one picture because I didn't originally intend to post this, but everyone was asking for the recipe, so I snapped the pic you see below so there would at least be a picture of the final product. It's an easy recipe, though, so step-by-step photos aren't necessary anyway.



Buffalo Chicken Dip

Ingredients:

3 10 oz cans chicken (Sometimes I find 12 oz cans, and those work fine too--more chicken is great!)

1 1/4 cup/10oz hot sauce (I use Texas Pete or Frank's, and I often just buy Texas Pete's "Mild Buffalo Sauce" and use half of that, half regular hot sauce)

1 cup/8oz ranch dressing (any brand)

8oz cream cheese

2 cups of preshredded mexican blend cheese (you can use plain cheddar)

9x9 baking dish that's at least 3 inches deep


First, get a medium sized pot out and put it on medium heat. In it, pour the ranch dressing and add the cream cheese. Drain the liquid from two of the cans of chicken into the pot as well. Don't add the chicken itself, just the liquid. Stir everything together, and continue to stir occasionally until the cream cheese has melted.

Drain the third can of chicken, but not into the pot(2 cans is just right, 3 makes the dip too watery). In the baking dish, dump all three cans of chicken. Add the hot sauce, and mix, being sure to break up the chicken into smaller, more dip-friendly pieces. Mix in about 1 1/2 cups of your cheese at this point.

Once the ranch/cream cheese mixture is done (namely, once the cream cheese is melted), pour it over the chicken/hot sauce/cheese mix. Stir a little. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top, and mix it just slightly (in other words, don't let it just be a mound of cheese on top; let some of the dressing mixture be worked into it). Most of the recipes I've come across for this dip prefer to layer the ingredients, but I think they're better mixed up. Plus, if you have a layer of just cheese on the top, it can overcook and create a weird hard top. Better to mix it in and avoid that.

Bake in the oven at 350 for about 20-25 minutes, and serve hot. This can easily be reheated in the oven if you're taking it somewhere. My family devoured this dip on Christmas, but if you end up with leftovers, they can be kept in the fridge and reheated in the microwave for up to a week.
cafela: (Default)
My grandma's chicken and dumplings are my most favorite food of all time. I love dumplings in all their many forms (steamed, fried, other variations of chicken and dumplings, etc.), but none are better than Grandma's. For me, it's not really Easter, a family reunion, my birthday, or Thanksgiving without chicken and dumplings. I'm lucky that chicken and dumplings were also a favorite of my GranGran, whose birthday was the day before mine, so often I would get to share in the pot of chicken and dumplings Grandma made for his birthday.

A couple weeks ago, I realized that I hadn't had chicken and dumplings in a really long time, because I've missed the few "chicken and dumplings required" get-togethers over the past year. Around the same time, I came across a nice, fresh hen at the local farmer's market.

Now, prior to this, I had helped Grandma make chicken and dumplings before. One of my favorite things to do is to add the dumplings in at the end, so I knew the process, roughly. But I didn't know the details; cue a call to Grandma, who patiently explained each step of the process. I followed her directions to the letter, and I got awesome chicken and dumplings in return. SUCCESS!

It's been a couple of weeks since I actually made these, but having done it now, I'm fairly certain I'm remembering this pretty well. I wish I'd taken more pictures as I went, but c'est la vie. It's actually a very simple dish, with very few ingredients.



Grandma's Chicken & Dumplings

Ingredients:

1 fresh hen, 2-4 pounds (you can use a fryer or pieces of cut up chicken, but it won't be as flavorful)

a large stockpot full of water (needs to be tall enough that the water covers the hen, plus a couple inches of water above)

salt

pepper

all-purpose flour (start with 2 c)

about 2 cups of hot water

wax paper or parchment paper



Put the chicken, skin-on, into the pot. Fill with water until, as said above, the water covers the hen, and continue filling until there are a couple inches of water above the hen. I know, it seems like a lot of water--this dish will give you more broth than you actually need to make the dish, but the leftover is the perfect amount to use in cornbread dressing or a chicken pot pie (stay tuned for those recipes in the near future). Turn the heat on high until the water is boiling, then turn it down to medium or so--you want it to be simmering. Add a good amount of salt and pepper--I used probably 4 tbs of salt and 2 tb of pepper. There's enough water that it's not going to be too much, but even if you're skeptical, be sure to add at least a 2 tbs of salt and 1/2 tb of pepper. The hen will be better if it's seasoned while it's cooking. Cover and cook at a simmer for at least a couple of hours, preferably 3-4 hours.

While you wait for the chicken to finish cooking on the stove, now is the time to make your dumplings! On an episode of Cook's Country, they described these not as dumplings but as "slicks" and the resulting dish was called "chicken and slicks", so if you're familiar with that, this will be a similar dish. But I grew up with it being called chicken and dumplings, and that is what I'll continue to call it.

To make the dumplings, you need flour, water, salt and pepper. This is very much a "do until it feels right" approach, so I can't give you exact measurements. Make sure you have plenty of extra flour on hand. In a large bowl, mix about 2 tsp salt and 2 tsp pepper into about 2 cups of flour. Make a slight indent in the middle of the flour mixture (kind of like making a well, but be sure to leave plenty of flour between the bottom of the well/indent and the bottom of the bowl). Pour about half of the water in and mix until you need to add more water. Add the water until the mixture comes together.

The texture you're looking for is akin to that of fresh pasta, and you should use enough flour that it's not sticky. When you've got it about right, turn the bowl out onto a floured surface and knead a few more times. Now, roll it out into a rectangle. You don't want it to be too thin or too thick. I'd say make it about 1/4 of an inch or about the thickness of sheet of frozen puff pastry.



Go ahead and get a roll of of wax paper or parchment paper to lay the dumplings on (you'll need several sheets, and you'll want it to be a manageable size because the dumplings need to go in the freezer). When you have roughly the shape of a rectangle and the right thickness, cut off the weird edges, but don't toss them. You can still use them as dumplings, they'll just be kind of a weird shape. Put them on the first layer of wax paper. Now, cut your dumplings! Grandma and I like them about 2 inches by 2 inches (any larger becomes difficult to get out with a ladle), but you could always make them smaller. Either way, line the dumplings on the wax paper, not touching.

When you're done cutting them up, wrap up your layers 'o dumplings and put them in the freezer for at least a couple of hours. If you seal them up, they can last in the freezer for a couple months, and they are much better if they're frozen a week or two ahead of time.The amount you'll make here will probably be two pots' worth, so you'll have them premade the next time you want to make chicken & dumplings. If you notice, I leave them in full strips rather than cutting them into squares right away.



When the hen is done cooking in the pot, you'll want to pull it out of the pot so you can take the skin off and separate the meat from the bones. It will be well-cooked through at this point, and very likely to come off the bones, so you might want to use a set of tongs and scoop it out with a mesh strainer/metal colander if you've got one large enough to hold the hen. Let the hen cool before trying to get the skin/meat off. Pour about 2/3 of the remaining broth into a smaller pot (I used a 5qt pot) to make your chicken and dumplings in. Let the remainder cool so you can put it in ziplock bags/other containers to use for other dishes.

Once the hen has cooled, remove the skin, and add as much of the meat as you want to the chicken and dumplings pot. At this point, taste the broth in the pot and add more salt & pepper to taste. If in doubt, don't add much, because you can always finish seasoning it when you've got your own individual bowl. Bring the chicken and broth to a strong simmer/low boil.

Hopefully by now, your dumplings have chilled for at least a couple of hours. Now you get to add them! If you left them in strips, now you can just tear/break them off into the right size, and drop them right into the pot. Stir every minute or two to be sure they don't clump onto each other. Remember that the dumplings will get bigger as they take on water, and adding them will thicken the broth. When you've added all that you want, put the remainder in the freezer, and be sure that you cook the dumplings at least 20 minutes.



Remember that the dumplings will get bigger as they take on water, and adding them will thicken the broth. When you've added all that you want, put the remainder in the freezer, and be sure that you cook the dumplings at least 20 minutes.

After that time, they should be ready to serve! Best of all, any leftovers heat up wonderfully, and you can always freeze the leftovers to heat up on a chilly day.

cafela: (Default)
Whenever I go back to Auburn, one of my favorite restaurants to visit is Amsterdam Cafe. One of the reasons I go is because they have the best chicken tortilla soup I have ever tasted. I've tried for a long time to make my own tortilla soup that mimics it, and finally hit upon a combination of ingredients based on different assorted recipes that comes pretty close.

It's a lot of ingredients, but the recipe is pretty straightforward. Also, while I don't include them in this recipe, you can add red or black beans to this as well, and probably other vegetables like zucchini or squash, too. I mention the beans because they're in Amsterdam Cafe's Baja soup, but I don't tend to have them on hand, so I leave them out.

I still need to figure out how to create their roasted red pepper mayo (literally the only "mayo" I have ever liked), but having this recipe in my back pocket helps a lot when a craving for Amsterdam's hits me.



Baja Chicken Tortilla Soup

Ingredients:

3 tb oil (any plain vegetable oil works)

1/4 of one vidalia onion, minced

1/2 tsp onion powder

1 smallish Ancho chile/Poblano pepper, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 small tomatoes, diced (or one small can diced tomatoes)

5-6 cups chicken broth (reserve 1/4 c)

2 tb cornstarch

1 10oz can of chicken

1/4 cup corn (I use frozen)

3 tb lime juice

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/4 tsp ground cayenne/red pepper

1/4 tsp oregano

6 oz mild cheddar cheese, grated/shredded + 2 oz additional cheese for garnish

4 corn tortillas, crushed

1/4-1/2 tsp garlic salt (to taste)

tortilla chips for garnish



Step one--make sure you have a large enough pot. I make this in my 3 1/2 quart dutch oven, and it is only just big enough.

Next--heat the oil in the pot on medium high. Add the onion and chile/pepper and saute until the onion is translucent (about 5 minutes).



Add the garlic, cook for another minute or so, then added the tomatoes. Once they start to simmer, add the chicken broth--how much you add depends on how thick you want your soup. Either way, reserve 1/4 cup and stir the cornstarch into that before adding it to the pot.Stir well. When the soup starts to bubble, turn the heat down to medium.



Next, add your can of chicken, and your corn. Keep in mind that you can always add up to double the amount of chicken and/or corn if you want a heartier soup. Let this get to a simmering point.



Now, add the lime juice and all your spices. If you want a spicier soup, you can bump the cayenne pepper up to 1/2 tsp.

Next, dump in the crushed corn tortillas. This part, as it turns out, is one of the most important steps. It both helps thicken the soup, and adds an important flavor that is noticeable if it's missing. Also, I know you're thinking, ack, I'm going to have chunks of tortilla chips all in my soup! But you won't--the tortillas dissolved surprisingly well, especially if they're mostly crushed going in.



Lastly, add the shredded cheese and stir. Once the cheese has mostly melted, turn the soup to medium low or even just low, and simmer for about 20 minutes.

cafela: (fried chicken)
I've been cooking for a long time, but up until a year ago, I had never attempted to roast a chicken. I thought it was a complicated thing to do, that would involve racks or somehow violating the chicken with a beer can. Then I saw an episode of America's Test Kitchen that went through the process step-by-step, and it turned what I thought was a daunting task into something that now seems relatively easy.

The best thing about this approach is how easy it is, and how adaptable it is. If you don't have any other seasonings, you can use just salt and pepper and it will still taste good. And this particular recipe lends itself to a very simple gravy, the recipe for which I'll also include. The recipe itself is going to seem long, but it's just because I wanted to spell everything out for anyone else who, like me, had never roasted a chicken before encountering this recipe.

On a separate note, I apologize for the quality of some of these pictures. My nice camera is temporarily out of service due to a worn out shutter button, so I'm stuck with just my camera phone camera until I can get the other fixed.



Simple Lemon & Garlic Roast Chicken

Ingredients:

a whole chicken (about 4 lbs)

2 lemons, zested

6 garlic cloves

thyme (fresh or dried)

garlic salt

pepper

olive oil (or some other kind of fat--veggie oil or melted butter can work if that's all you have)

twine/string (you can get by without this if you don't have it)

A pot that can work on the stove and in the oven--a dutch oven is perfect, as is plain cast iron. If you don't have this, you'll just have to do a little more work in transferring the chicken



Start by prepping your lemons. Zest them, and set the zest aside. Next, slice one lemon into thin slices. Cut the other lemon into wedges. Now prep your garlic by peeling the dry bit off of two cloves and mincing them. Leave the other cloves alone. If you have fresh thyme, go ahead and chop it into smaller pieces.

Now, remove the chicken from the packaging. Pat it dry. Check the inside for the inner bits (liver, gizzard, etc.) that should be in a package inside the chicken, and pull that out if it's in there. I never use those parts, but some people like to fry those separately. Rub the chicken with a couple tablespoons of oil, then rub with garlic salt and pepper; I find that this is also a good time to add the thyme, and about half of the lemon zest. Don't be afraid to use your hands and get messy.

Then, add the rest of the seasoning--Put a couple of wedges of lemon inside the cavity of the chicken along with the minced garlic. Shove the lemon slices under the skin of the chicken--try to get about four per each side of the chicken; if you have more than 8 slices, that's fine. Tie the legs of the chicken together at this point; this will help keep the stuff you put inside from escaping by accident.

On the stove, heat a couple tablespoons of oil along with a bit of salt and pepper and the remaining zest. If you've got a pan that can go both on the stove and in the oven, use it, if not, you'll just have to use two pans. I put the whole chicken into the pan on the stove, breast side up. This is important, because the main reason for this step is to get the leg/thigh meat started cooking, since it takes longer than the breast does. Cook it on medium high for about 8 minutes. Then I put the pan in the oven at 450 for 30 minutes, adding the last 4 unpeeled garlic cloves then so they can roast with the chicken.

At 30 minutes, without opening the door, switch the oven off. Leave the chicken in the oven for another 30 minutes. I realize this sounds crazy, but it works perfectly every time, and keeps the breast from drying out.

After the 30 minutes are up, pull out the pan and set it back on the stove. With tongs, pick up the chicken and let the juices in the chicken drain into the pan. Set the chicken on a clean cuttiing board/plate to rest for 20 minutes. Pull the roast garlic from the pan and set aside. Squeeze a couple lemon wedges over the resting chicken. You can make the gravy while you wait for it to finish resting. Carve and serve!



Simple Chicken Gravy

Ingredients:

Drippings from roasted chicken

Roasted garlic cloves

1 shallot, minced

1/3 cup white wine (pinot grigio, chardonnay, or sauvignon blanc are good choices)

1/2 cup chicken broth

1/3 cup heavy cream (or 1/2 cup half n half)


Turn the heat on the stove to medium with the pan full of drippings/juices. Add the shallot to the pan. Take the roasted garlic you set aside and squeeze the garlic part back into the pan (if you've never roasted garlic before, the inside gets all mushy and delicious, and you just have to open the skin to squeeze it out). Stir to help incorporate the roasted garlic. When the shallots are soft, add the white wine and chicken broth. Once that cooks for a few minutes, add the heavy cream, and simmer until the gravy reaches your desired thickness. If you want a more elegant/smoother gravy, strain it. Either way, this gravy works very well with rice or biscuits as a side.

April 2014

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