Friday, November 9, 2018

Loaded Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes – A Savory Delete of the Sometimes Too Sweet

They say your greatest strength is also your biggest weakness, which certainly is true when it comes to sweet potatoes.  The starchy sweetness that makes this tuber such a popular holiday side dish, is also its fatal flaw, since, for me at least, it quickly leads to palate fatigue. After a few bites of mashed sweet potatoes, or sweet potato casserole, I’m pretty much over the experience, and I’m reaching for the cranberry sauce to reset my tongue, but here we’ve mixed in a few ingredients specifically selected to cut that sweetness, and push this much closer to the savory side of town.

Lime, jalapeño, and sharp cheddar may seem like odd choices here, but paired with the green onions, and bacon, they work wonders, and I had no problem finishing a whole sweet potato. And by whole, I mean two. By the way, these orange-fleshed sweet potatoes are often sold as “yams,” but they’re not, in case that ever comes up in conversation.

Besides all the obvious reasons, this is a great choice for your Thanksgiving table, since you can prep it ahead of time, and then bake them when you’re ready to serve.  They will also stay hot for quite a while, which is another reason they’re nice around the holidays, when oven space can be limited. So, whether you make these for a special occasion, or some completely un-special weeknight meal, I really do hope you get give these loaded, twice-baked sweet potatoes a try soon. Enjoy


Ingredients for 4 portions:
4 orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, scrubbed clean
8 ounces bacon, sliced
1/3 cup sliced green onions
1/4 cup diced jalapeno
1/2 cup grated sharp white cheddar cheese, plus a little bit for the top
2 tablespoons crème fraiche, or sour cream
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
salt, freshly ground black pepper, and cayenne to taste
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Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Spicy Salami Spread (Nduja) – Almost Instant Soft Serve Salami

I’m not saying this spicy salami spread is as good as traditional nduja, but I am saying this takes about 3 months less time to make, and still delivers most of the characteristics that make this Calabrian delicacy so amazing. And just in case you’re not familiar with nduja, a few of those characteristics are a rich, spicy, super-savory flavor, and soft, luxurious texture.

Finding some decent salami to use should be simple enough, but depending on where you live, the oil-packed Calabrian chilies may not be as easy to acquire. Any decent Italian market will carry them, so ask your Calabrian friends where they shop, but if that doesn’t work, you can find them online as well. Or, you could use another spicy, jarred pepper product like Sambal, or simply use fresh hot chilies like Fresno, or cherry peppers. If it’s spicy, and it’s a pepper, it will work.

You can substitute bacon for the pancetta, but since bacon is smoked, your final product will taste significantly different. Not bad, just different. In any event, the wonderful ways you can use this are extensive. I gave a few ideas in the video, but other highly recommended uses include adding it to pasta sauces, salad dressings, ravioli fillings, and even as a pizza topping.

Having said that, this stuff is so unique, and delicious, your guests might not leave you with much to experiment with, which is fine, since this is so fast and easy to produce. So, with peak entertaining season right in front of us, I really do hope you give this a try soon. Enjoy!


Ingredients for about 2 cups Spicy Salami Spread (Nduja):
4 ounces sliced or diced pancetta, cooked, fat reserved
1/3 cup seeded hot Calabrian peppers
3 tablespoons Calabrian pepper oil from the jar
12 ounces sliced salami
1/4 cup room temp butter
2 or 3 tablespoons olive oil, or as needed to adjust the texture to your liking
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Friday, November 2, 2018

Portuguese Custard Tarts – The Hieronymites Got This Right

I’ve made custard tarts before, but never the world-famous Portuguese custard tarts, and I’m thrilled to report the results were shockingly good. This really was one of the best pastries I’ve ever enjoyed, custard or otherwise. 

Which is a good thing, since they do require a bit of effort to produce. The recipe itself is simple, using just a few basic ingredients, but there are numerous steps, and a certain amount of finesse is required, but the results are so worth it. After watching a few dozen videos on the technique, I decided to try the short cut version first, which uses frozen store-bought puff pastry. The results were not good. Since puff pastry is leavened with yeast, and contains so many more layers of butter and dough, my crust turned out too thick, and gummy, and wasn’t nearly as thin and crispy as it should’ve been. It may have been my technique, but officially I’m blaming the dough.

So then I attempted an “authentic” dough recipe from scratch, which was infinitely better. It’s a little tricky to work with, since the dough is very sticky, but I think that’s one of the keys here. Seems like the extra moisture in the dough, which is activated by the very hot oven, is what creates the signature flaky, crispy texture.

As far as the custard goes, it’s a relatively simple procedure, and we even streamlined one of the steps. You’ll have to decide whether you’re going to include lemon, cinnamon, and vanilla, which are apparently considered optional ingredients in Portugal, but I really enjoy the flavor, and wouldn’t change a thing. Regardless of what you decide to add, or not add to yours, like I said in the video, these should be on everyone’s baking bucket list. So, I really do hope you give them a try soon. Enjoy!


For the dough:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup cold water
Note: adjust with more flour or water to achieve what’s shown in the video
1 stick (4 ounces) very soft, high-quality unsalted butter

For the sugar syrup:
3/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon water
1 cinnamon stick (or 1/4 teaspoon ground)
zest from 1 lemon

For the custard base:
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups milk
6 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

- Bake tarts at 550 F. for 12 minutes or until the pastry is browned and bubbly, and the tops start to blister and caramelize.
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Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Crispy Garlic Breadcrumb Chicken – No Fry, Not Dry, Must Try

Trying to convert a fried recipe into a baked one is usually a disappointing exercise in futility, but this crispy garlic breadcrumb chicken turned out to be a very enjoyable exception. 

While not exactly the same as a pan-fried, breaded cutlet, if you want to eat tender, flavorful chicken with lots of crispy, crunchy bits, then this significantly less-messy method is for you.

One of the keys to this technique is to use panko breadcrumbs, which are much larger, and more jagged than regular, fine breadcrumbs. If you can’t find them, you can easily make you own. Just pulse chunks of stale white bread in a food processor until coarsely ground, and then spread out on a baking sheet, and place in a 275 F. oven until they are dried and crispy.

Above and beyond being easier, this method also allows us to introduce some additional flavor, and moisture, thanks to the “glue” we use to attach the crumbs. I went very simple with my formula, but as I mention in the video, you can add all sorts of herbs and spices to yours. Either way, the next time you want crispy, breaded chicken with less mess, and more flavor, I really do hope you give this a try. Enjoy!


Ingredients for 2 portions:
2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 8-10 ounces each)
salt, freshly ground black pepper and cayenne to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil for searing
1/4 cup chicken broth for the pan

For the garlic breadcrumbs:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
3 finely crushed or minced garlic cloves
1 tablespoon finely chopped Italian parsley
2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

For the “glue:”
1 tablespoon mayo
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

For the optional pan sauce:
1/3 cup chicken broth
juice from 1 lemon
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
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