Sunday, June 24, 2012

Slow Cooker Chicken and Black Bean Chili

Normally, people think of slow cookers as an easy way to create warm, delicious meals in the middle of winter.  There's nothing quite like the smell of hearty beef stew or chicken soup filling your house on a cold winter day, and knowing you'll get to dig in after those luscious flavors have simmered for up to ten hours.

So why am I blogging about a slow cooker recipe in June?

Well, just as slow cookers are life-and-dinner-savers in the wintertime, they are great for summer as well.  Think about it for a minute - sometimes you just don't want to grill (hold off on the horrified gasps for a minute, friends), but you want a hearty meal.  Now where I live, we don't usually get super hot summer days until, oh, end of July (this past week's heat wave notwithstanding).  So even though my dear husband likes to fire up the grill, I usually have no qualms about stirring something up on the stove or baking in the oven.

But slow cookers are great for summer.  Minimal fuss, you're not heating up a single element on your stove top, and they don't add much heat to your kitchen.  Do I recommend them for a 95+ degree day?  Not unless you have central air.  (Which I now have, and I'm looking forward to a summer of baking and canning in cool, air-conditioned comfort.)  On the hottest of hot days, a spinach and tomato salad alongside a couple hot dogs is as fancy as we'll get around here.

But I'm digressing terribly.

Chili is definitely a winter food.  But thanks to your slow cooker, you can enjoy it in the summer with minimal fuss and discomfort.  This particular chili recipe has the added bonus of being low calorie and low fat, thanks to the use of boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

And your hands-on time is maybe ten minutes, tops, depending on your dexterity with two forks.

This recipe doesn't have to be made in a slow cooker.  You can make it on the stove as well.  Use a large (three to four quart) pot, and simmer for about a half hour before shredding the chicken.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Chinese Chicken Salad with Honey-Sesame Dressing

Up until about six months ago, I'd never heard of napa cabbage.  Sometimes it's called Chinese cabbage or celery cabbage.

When I read the recipe for this Chinese chicken salad in my Turbo Fire recipe book, I was leery.  I don't care for cabbage in the least.  But I figured it was worth a shot.  If nothing else, I could pick out the chicken and other ingredients, and leave the cabbage for my husband to eat.

But napa cabbage isn't terribly cabbage-y.  It tastes a lot like celery, which is probably why it's sometimes called celery cabbage.

Isn't that a pretty salad?  

I thought so too, and it's so easy to make. Here's how I made mine.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Ginger Cupcakes (Cupcake of the Month Series #6)

I thought you all deserved a cupcake post riddled with success instead of frustration.  Luckily for you, I made the June cupcake of the month last weekend to celebrate my cousin's twentieth birthday.

These cupcakes are based on Martha Stewart's rose and ginger cupcakes, but I omitted the rose part for a few practical reasons.

First of all, my cousin is a guy.  I don't think he would've been thrilled to have sugared rose petals on top of his cupcakes, regardless of how nifty the idea is.  I also was a bit pressed for time. I baked the cupcakes at 9:30 at night and iced them before we left for church the next morning.

Second of all, the rosewater flavoring is only added to the icing.  And a tiny bottle of rosewater (which isn't available at my local Price Chopper or Walmart, by the way) costs like $4.  Remember my chagrin at the price of ground cardamom?  

Yeah, we weren't going there with the rosewater.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Meringue Cupcakes with Strawberry Rhubarb Compote (Cupcake of the Month #5)

So May turned out to be a bit of a wash with cooking, baking, and posting.  But there was a May cupcake.

It's a meringue cupcake with a strawberry rhubarb compote and creme fraiche.

And I was not enthusiastic about it once the process began.  It was messy.  It was frustrating.  And this is the only picture I have of the final product (taken with my Canon PowerShot ELPH because... well, we'll get to that later).

Let me be clear in stating I have no problems with meringue.  I love meringue.  I've made several pies involving meringue.

But meringue cupcakes - that's a whole different story. And these, in particular, were a comedy of errors from beginning to end.

First of all, I do have to give a huge shout-out-thank-you to my mother for making the compote and making the creme fraiche (because none could be found at the store).  I was out of town for Memorial Day weekend and had barely enough time to make the cupcakes. We'll get to that in a minute.

The strawberry rhubarb compote was delightful, actually. It would be fantastic on ice cream, pancakes, waffles, mixed into vanilla yogurt, spooned across the top of a sponge cake.  I will likely make it myself at some point this summer - and there will be directions and pictures of that process, I promise.

The creme fraiche whipped cream was pretty simple.  Whether you buy creme fraiche at the store or make it yourself (which is possible, by the way), you'll need to whip a cup of it together with half a cup of heavy cream.  Have I done a whipped cream tutorial?  Put that on the list of To-Dos as well.

But the cupcakes.  Oh. My. God.  The cupcakes.

If you've never worked with meringue before, let me just forewarn you that it is like glue. Sticky, sweet glue. And you're supposed to transfer it to a pasty bag and pipe the stuff into your cupcake cups.

Well, you know what?  It's a pain in the you know what.

When I put the first glob of meringue into my pastry bag, it pretty much glued the top shut.  When I finally did manage to get a decent amount into the bag, my attempts to force it to the snipped tip end resulted in about a third of it squeezing out of the top.  All over my hands. (Hence the lack of pictures.)

After about a half hour filled with some choice vocabulary, I had 11 of the 12 required cupcakes piped into my cupcake tins.  (Side note - I managed to have only one cupcake liner in my entire house.  Fortunately, I had some Wilton Bake Easy spray and it worked like magic.  I only had one cupcake break when I removed them from the pans.)   By this point, I think I had almost as much meringue on my hands as was in the pastry bag.

I shouted a particular obscenity, squeezed what was left in the bag into the last cup, and threw the bag away.  I then scraped the bowl clean with my spatula and pretty much just threw the remaining meringue into the cup.  I was done.

Then I discovered I was supposed to bake them for like three hours.  Which I somehow managed to overlook when I was planning my morning.  I had just enough time.

It was also a good thing my husband was home, because my hands were covered in meringue and he had to put the cupcakes in the oven for me, lest I glue my oven door shut with the meringue coating my fingers.

In the end, the cupcakes were adorable (even the one that was "slapped" into the pan).  Everyone loved them.  I told them to enjoy.

Because I am never making these things again.

If you ever consider making these cupcakes, I have a suggestion.


Unless you have an industrial sized pastry bag that can hold all the meringue at once.  Otherwise, I suggest something along the line of meringue shells: