Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Slow-Cooker Moroccan Chicken

Do the days seem to get longer during the holidays? I mean, technically, I know they're shorter (at least in daylight hours) but they seem to drag on. I suppose that's due to the extras on the to do lists: shop for toys for the little ones, order the gloves online for dad, clean the house post-holiday party, send out Christmas cards, send out the Christmas cards I accidently forgot to send out a week ago, bake the fruitcake for Grandpa, search the internet for that perfect Secret Santa gift, etc. etc. etc. Not to mention all the normal, everyday things that don't stop just because it's December! My point? No, it's not to Scrooge-ify your December's to explain why coming home to a fabulous meal ready and waiting is the best possible end to our crazy days this time of year. A friend had sent me a recipe for Moroccan chicken that is supposed to cook for about 30 minutes or so--and I thought, "Why not try this slow-cooker style?" So, I changed/added some ingredients, threw it all in a crock pot and crossed my fingers...Well, I'm happy to say it turned out great! And it's a nice change from the 5 chicken dishes that are already in rotation at your house. (It's OK...admit it...) Enjoy!

NOTE: The preserved lemon will have to be made at least a day ahead.

1 whole chicken, cut up OR buy 2 wings, 2 breasts, 2 legs, and 2 thighs with skin
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 Tablespoon Paprika
1 1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon tumeric
1 teaspoon dried ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks*
2 zucchini, cut into 1-inch chunks (or about 15 baby zucchini)*
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks*
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon preserved lemon***
3/4 cup green olives, pitted and sliced
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
Whole Wheat Cous-Cous/Brown Rice

***Preserved Lemon Recipe

*Amendment: These vegetables will be super soft...if you like yours more crisp-tender, just add them the last hour of cooking.

1. Combine spices, salt, and pepper. Sprinkle over chicken pieces.

2. In a large sautee pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add chicken pieces. Brown on both sides. (Just brown the skin--we are not looking to cook them here but just to give them a nice brown skin for flavor)

3. Place browned chicken in a crockpot. Add the vegetables and olives. Sprinkle garlic and preserved lemon over the chicken and vegetables. Add chicken broth. Gently with a wooden spoon.

4. Put the slow cooker on low for 6-8 hours (or high for 3-4).

5. When fully cooked, with a slotted spoon, remove all the chicken and vegetables from the container and place in a large bowl. Carefully pour accumulated juices into a gravy separator and pour out all the fat. Return reserved juices to the chicken and vegetables.

6. Prepare couscous or brown rice according to package directions. Serve chicken and vegetables over grains, and sprinkle with cilantro and parsley.

Serves 4.

Printable version here.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Best-Of Holiday Party Eats

Every year, we have a Holiday party with all of our friends. As with all things, there is always a learning curve...and at the beginning, I made the typical mistake as a novice hostess of making too many high-maintenance dishes that kept me 1) stressed and 2) in the kitchen. I have blocked out of my mind most of the mistakes I made...but for some reason, one particularly bad idea sticks in my mind. I decided that I would do mini crab cakes and pass them around. So, each batch, I'd roll the crab in the crumbs, fry them in the pan stovetop, plate, and serve. And of course, there were probably 5 rounds. I definitely played the martyr, sacrificing my experience of the party in order for everyone to call me the 'hostess with the mostess.' Well, as the years pass, I am more and more interested in having a good time and less and less interested in everyone's praise. Once you've been called Martha 10 times, the effect begins to weaken...

Don't get me wrong--I still put a ton of work into each and every party because it is important to me....but I do it on my time according to my schedule. I freeze cookies for a couple weeks before the party...and I serve lots of dishes that I can do during the day that need little attention last-minute.

So because I have not had the chance to blog lately due to putting in my cookie baking hours, I thought I'd share with you some of my go-to's every year. These dishes are delicious, easy, and sure to please--both you and your guests!

Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup Station

I make the soup a day or two ahead of the party, and prep the sandwiches in the morning. I set up a panini press next to the stove and put a plate out of prepped grilled cheese sandwiches separated by sheets of waxed paper. I leave a cute note saying "Please help yourself to a grilled cheese" and provide tongs so they don't have to get their hands all buttery. They put the sandwich in the panini press themselves, and meanwhile, ladle themselves a cup of tomato soup. Small bowls, latte cups, or even mugs would work for that. Some years, I've also left out toppers like croutons, goldfish, basil, or cheese. By the time they're done ladling and topping their soup, their grilled cheese is ready for the eating. I have thought about not repeating this certain years, but people have objected--they say it's one of the things they look forward to the most! NO work for the hostess, casual so people feel comfortable, and super delicious. Win-win all around.

Tomato Recipe by Michael Chiarello, with notes by Suzanne
Food Network Recipe

1 (14-oz) can chopped tomatoes
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (I use less)
Salt and pepper
1 stalk celery, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chicken broth
1 bay leaf
2 Tablespoons butter
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup heavy cream, optional (I don't put this in because the butter makes it plenty creamy)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Strain the chopped canned tomatoes, reserving the juiced, and spread onto a baking sheet, season with salt and pepper, to taste, drizzle with 1/4 cup of the olive oil and roast until caramelized, about 15 minutes. (1/8 cup is plenty I think)

Meanwhile, in a saucepan, heat remaining olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the celery, carrot, onion, and garlic and cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the roasted chopped canned tomatoes, reserved tomato juiced, chicken broth, bay leaf, and butter. Simmer until vegetables are very tender, about 15-20 minutes. Add basil and cream if using. Puree with a hand held immersion blender until smooth.

I made four times this recipe last year and ran out--this year I made six times and had about two cups left. It's something you'll want as leftovers, anyway, so my advice is to make more than you think you'll need.

Truffled Filet of Beef Sandwiches by Ina Garten, notes by Suzanne

1 1/2 to 2 pounds fillet of beef, trimmed and tied
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter at room temperature
Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper
2 French baguettes, 18-20 inches long
3 oz black truffle butter at room temperature
1 (2-oz) chunk good Parmesan cheese
Fresh baby arugula

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Place the beef on a sheet pan and pat the outside dry with a paper towel. Spread the butter all over the beef with your hands. Sprinkle the beef evenly with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper. Roast for exactly 22 minutes for rare and 25 minutes for medium-rare.

Remove the beef from the oven and cover it tightly with aluminum foil and allow it to rest at room temperature for 15 minutes. Remove the strings and slice the filet about 1/4 inch thick.

Open the baguettes lengthwise but not all the way through. Spread the bottom halves generously with truffle butter. Top with a layer of sliced beef and sprinkle it with salt and pepper.

Using a vegetable peeler, shave the Parmesan into thin shards and scatter the shards over the sliced beef on each sandwich. Finish with a sprinkling of arugula leaves. Fold the tops of the sandwiches over, cut each baguette diagonally in 3 or 4 sandwiches, and serve right away.

OK--I totally misread this recipe!!! I tripled the recipe and bought all the appropriate amounts except truffle butter--I only bought 2 (3-oz) packages and ignored the other unsalted butter part. So, I smeared about 6 lbs of filet with 3 oz truffle butter, added the salt and pepper and roasted as directed. Then I used the other truffle butter to smear on the baguettes (I did run out but luckily I had unsalted butter and truffle salt to make up for it). All in all, though, a happy accident because it was outstanding. I can't say that it would not have been had I used regular unsalted butter to roast the beef, but I'm not arguing with that yummy goodness that came out of the oven. So, next time, I will just buy one more package of truffle butter but I'll continue roasting with the truffle butter because it was so delicious.

Roasted Almonds with Rosemary Fleur de Sel, provided by, notes by Suzanne

If whole blanched almonds aren't available, substitute whole raw almonds with skin on.

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 large egg white
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons dried rosemary, crushed
1 1/2 teaspoons fleur de sel
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cups whole blanched almonds

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line rimmed baking sheet with foil. Spray foil with nonstick spray. Whisk egg white in medium bowl until foamy. Add sugar and whisk until frothy. Whisk in rosemary, fleur de sel, and cayenne. Add nuts; stir. Transfer to baking sheet, spreading nuts in single layer. Bake until golden, stirring every 10 minutes, about 40 minutes.**
Cool completely on sheet. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover, store at room temperature). Make two cups.

**For the past two years, I could not find blanched almonds so used regular raw almonds and for two years, I burnt my first batch! The cooking time is CUT IN HALF if you use the almonds with the rule of thumb: When I start to smell them, they're done.

Every year, I'll also do some no-prep or almost-no-prep stuff like shrimp cocktail, crudite, baked brie with crackers. People always like that stuff, it adds volume, and it's easy.

Some sweets that are always a hit:

Monster Cookies, recipe by Paula Deen, notes by Suzanne
Food Network Recipe

Serves 3 dozen.

3 eggs
1 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 12-oz jar creamy peanut butter
1 stick butter, softened
1/2 cup multi-colored chocolate chips (aka M&M's)
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/4 cup raisins, optional (I don't use)
2 teaspoons baking soda
4 1/2 cups quick-cooking oatmeal (not instant)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or nonstick baking mats. In a very large mixing bowl, combine the eggs and sugars. Mix well. Add the salt, vanilla, peanut butter, and butter. Mix well. Stir in the chocolate candies, chocolate chips, raisins if using, baking soda, and oatmeal. Drop by Tablespoons 2 inches apart onto the prepared cookie sheets.
Bake for 8-10 minutes. Do not overbake. Let stand for about 3 minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool. When cool, store in large resealable plastic bags.

These cookies spread so really stick to the Tablespoon measurement. Also, note that it says 12-oz jar of peanut butter (that's the stumpy little one).

Tipsy Turtle Bark, recipe provided by, developed by Tracey Seaman, notes by Suzanne

Makes about 1 1/2 pounds.

2 cups pecan halves
1 cup (about 24) caramel candies, such as Kraft, unwrapped
1 Tablespoon run, bourbon, or whisky (I use gold rum)
1 1/2 teaspoons heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 lb high-quality semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread pecans on large shallow baking sheet and toast until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Transfer to plate and let cool. Line baking sheet with parchment or wax paper.

In small bowl, combine caramels, liquor, cream, and salt. Microwave uncovered at medium power for 2 minutes. Stir with fork. Microwave at medium power for 1 additional minute. Stir until smooth and set aside.

In a medium bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, melt half chocolate, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, add remaining chocolate, and stir until smooth. Pour half melted chocolate into small bowl and reserve.

Stir 1 cup nuts into remaining chocolate. Transfer mixture to baking sheet, spreading to 1/4-1/2 inch thickness. Spoon caramel over and pat on remaining pecans. Drizzle with reserved chocolate. Let cool at room temperature until set, about 2 hours. Do not chill.

Chop finished bark into irregular 1 1/2-inch chunks.

Store airtight at room temperature up to one month.

Tip: If omitting the alcohol, add an extra tablespoon of heavy cream.

Suzy and the Oven Saga: Tipsy Turtle Bark was the last of the 15 cookies/candies I made this year for the holiday party. I washed my Silpat mats in the sink, dried them, and them put them on the stovetop while I finished some other things. Well, actually, I kinda chucked them over there (gently--there was no fury in the toss), and I guess I did it at just the right angle because when I looked back, they weren't there. They had slipped back in the crack behind the oven next to the wall. The cabinet is on one side and the fridge is on the other--they were gone. Lost to the abyss where the missing socks and earring backs go to play. Well, that was no good, but life goes I go to open the drawer underneath the oven where I keep my baking sheets, and it won't open. Evidently, I've stuffed it too full and one of the pans has somehow caught. No amount of me or my husband's prodding with various kitchen instruments could re-open it. So now I'm out my silpats and all my baking sheets! Luckily it was my last project--so I just used a pyrex but forgot to line it with parchment paper in my distraction. BIG mistake. Several of the pieces stuck to the glass, which made for some messy bark. Still tasted great, but this is such a pretty candy when done right. The moral of the story: 1) Don't throw your silpats; 2) Don't overstuff your oven drawer; 3) since you haven't thrown your silpats, USE them...or use parchment paper. One other thing--chocolate chips will NOT work for this. They have some weird stabilizing agent which does not allow them to melt correctly. The best chocolate I've found for this is Scharffen Berger Semi-Sweet bar.

Soft Molasses Cookies, from Kay Galbraith, published in the Cookie Book by Wisconsin Electricc, 1998, notes by Suzanne

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/ cup shortening
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar plus sugar for garnishing
1/2 cup dark molasses
2 eggs, lightly beaten
4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
2 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

In large mixing bowl, cream butter and shortening until well mixed, 1-2 minutes. Add sugar and beat until light-colored and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Mix in molasses and eggs until smooth; set aside.

In another large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking soda, ginger, cloves, and cinnamon. Gradually mix dry ingredients into creamed mixture until dough is blended and smooth.

Roll dough into 1 1/2-inch balls. Dip tops in granulated sugar. Place 2 1/2-inches apart on greased cookie sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for about 11 minutes. Remove from sheets to wire rack to cool completely. Store in tightly-covered container. Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

I try to ignore the fact that these have shortening in them. Also, I dip them in Turbinado sugar instead of regular granulated sugar.

Red Velvet Whoopie Pies with Peppermint Filling, from 2009 Christmas Cookies magazine by Better Homes and Gardens Special Interest Publications

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 1-oz bottle red food coloring
Peppermint Cream Cheese Filling
Striped round peppermint candies, crushed (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper; set aside. In a large bowl, beat the 1/2 cup butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add the brown sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Beat until combined, scraping bowl occasionally. Beat in egg and vanilla until combined. Alternately add flour and buttermilk, beating on low speed after each additional just until combined. Stir in red food coloring.

2. Spoon dough from a rounded measuring teaspoon 2 inches apart onto prepared cookie sheet. Bake in the preheated oven for 7-9 minutes or until edges are set. Cool on cookie sheet for 2 minutes. transfer cookies to a wire rack; let cool.

3. Spread Peppermint and Cream Cheese Filling on flat sides of half of the cookies. Top with remaining cookies, flat sides down, pressing lightly together.

4. If desired, before serving, sprinkle each cookie with the finely chopped peppermint candies. Serve cookies immediately. Makes about 40 sandwich cookies.

Peppermint and Cream Cheese Filling

2 (3-oz) cream cheese, softened
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract.
3 cups powdered sugar.

In a large bowl, combine cream cheese, butter, and extract. Beat with an electric mixer on medium-low to medium speed until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in sugar. Add milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, to make a filling of spreading consistency.

To store: Layer cookies between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container; cover. Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Let cookies stand at room temperature for 15 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with peppermint candies, if desired.

This recipe makes a lot of frosting--chances are you will have extra. Maybe buy some chocolate wafers and make peppermint oreos? Mmmmm.

Printable version here.