Spicy Orange Chicken

by the time i grabbed my camera, this is all that was left of spicy orange chicken.

With all of the crazy in my world right now, I feel a pronounced need to look for some balance.  And strength.  And focus.  And flexibility.  So I’ve decided to give yoga a try.

The idea of me stepping into the yoga studio is laughable.  I am not the least bit athletic and I’m clumsy as all hell.  I also have a constant stream of consciousness chatter going on in my head.  So the notion of working week after week to get to a place of inner quiet while simultaneously moving through poses without falling flat on my arse is a lofty goal.  I expect the namaste to kick my butt for a while.  And that’s ok.  Because with practice I will learn to focus and breathe and move.

What I didn’t expect was to find myself quietly weepy at the end of each session.  After moving my body through Mountain, Warrior, Tree, Bridge, and all the other poses whose names escape me, my emotional defenses are down.  And as I lay on my mat, focusing on my breathing, the tears just appear.  I don’t fight them.  They roll down the side of my face and into my hair, or fall onto my mat.  In that moment, I relinquish control to The Universe.

And as yoga helps me to find balance, strength, focus, and flexibility in the physical world, I’ve got a hunch that it will also help me to find those same things emotionally.  It may take me thousands of sun salutations and downward dogs to get there, but each one will take me one step closer.

Wish me luck.  I’m definitely going to need it.

Spicy Orange Chicken

Adapted from GE Advantium Cookbook

BAH Note:  To make this in a regular oven, bake at 375 degrees.  Check for doneness after about 20 minutes.

  • 4 to 5 (5 ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts (I use Perdue Perfect Portions)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • zest and juice (approximately 1/4 cup) from 1 large orange
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar

Combine salt, paprika, allspice, and ginger and coat the chicken breasts completely.  Place the spice coated chicken in an oblong baking dish and set aside.

In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine the orange juice, zest, and brown sugar.  Pour the liquid over the chicken.  Place the baking dish on the metal tray.

Press SpeedCook, and scroll to My Recipes, New Recipe.  Set the time for 20 minutes at the following settings: U=7, L=7, M=3.  Check the chicken after 15 minutes and add a bit more orange juice or some chicken broth if the liquid has reduced too much.  Check for doneness after 20 minutes and continue to cook for 5 minute increments, at the same settings, if needed.

Baste the chicken with the liquid before serving.

{printable recipe}

Tracy’s Rhubarb Pate de Fruit

The summer that I was 20 I lived at the beach.  With the exception of some underage drinking and a single encounter with Ocean City’s finest law enforcement officers, it was a pretty unremarkable summer.  To be honest, working three jobs left me little time to get into much trouble at all.  Or to develop a decent tan.  But knowing what we do about sun exposure and skin cancer, maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing after all.

It pains me to realize that my beach summer was twenty years ago.  Instead of mourning my long lost youth, I can use a little kitchen magic to recapture one of my favorite food memories of the summer of 1991…pate de fruit.

One of my three jobs that summer was in a candy shop.  The same place that gave birth to my abhorrence to fudge also allowed me to develop a love for orange slices.  I probably “sampled” more of those than I actually sold.  Even though the statute of limitations is probably long expired on that transgression, let’s just keep this confession between you and me.

The orange slices won me over at the very first bite.  The crunchy sugar exterior gave way to a pleasantly chewy, fruity inside.  It was like Sour Patch Kids, only a million times better.  And without the scrunchy sour face.  I hadn’t had an orange slice since that summer but over the years I had run across recipes for diy versions.  I would look at them dreamily recalling what it felt like to be 20 years old and carefree.  And then I would turn the page, feeling just a wee bit sad.

It wasn’t until my Big Summer Potluck pal Tracy posted a recipe for rhubarb pate de fruit that I decided to just get over myself and try making them.  No, they would not turn back the hands of time.  And that’s ok.  I don’t want to get stuck living in the past.

Orange slices may have been me at 20.  Rhubarb Pate de Fruit is me at 40.

Rhubarb Pate de Fruit

Adapted from Sugarcrafter

BAH Note:  Before I set out to make these beauties, I emailed Sugarcrafter to see if she had any additional guidance to offer on the recipe.  Her only comment to me was to watch the temperature as the mixture cooks.  So don’t get distracted with Angry Birds, email, or wrangling a wayward child and walk away from the stove.  And don’t forget that boiling sugar juice is HOT STUFF that will inflict pain and suffering to those who do not heed its power….so yeah, this isn’t really a child friendly recipe for those of you following along at home.  PS, you’ll also need either a candy thermometer or an instant read thermometer that you can clip on the side of your pot.

  • 1/2 – 3/4 pound rhubarb, roughly chopped
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 ounces (1 envelope) liquid pectin
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice

Line an 8 inch square baking dish with a parchment paper sling (two pieces of parchment, folded to fit, laid across each other in the pan).

Blitz 1/2 pound of rhubarb in a food processor until completely pureed.  Strain the juices through a fine mesh sieve, using a spoon to push the juice out of the pulp.  Measure out 3/4 cup of rhubarb juice and discard the pulp.  If you don’t get enough juice, repeat the process with the remaining 1/4 pound of rhubarb.

Heat the rhubarb juice, lemon juice, and 1/2 cup of sugar in a large sauce pan over medium heat until it reaches 113 degrees, stirring occasionally.  Once it reaches 113 degrees, add the remaining sugar, stir and continue to cook until the mixture reaches 238 degrees.  At 238 degrees, add the liquid pectin and boil for another 2 minutes, stirring constantly.

Carefully pour the hot sugar mixture into the prepared baking pan.  Sprinkle the top lightly with sugar and let the pan cool for two hours or until the pate de fruit is completely set.

When cool and set, use the parchment sling to lift the candy out of the baking dish.  Place the candy, still on the parchment sheets on a cutting board.  Use a sharp knife to cut the candy into bite sized pieces, cleaning the blade in hot water between cuts.  Roll the pieces in sugar until they are well coated and store in an airtight container.

{printable recipe}

Flashback Friday – Q&A

The following post appeared on BAH on 14 August 2009.

A great thing about blogging is that it allows conversation between blogger and reader.  Like when I  tried Food In Jar’s Dilly Beans.  After trying the recipe, I commented on the post about the results I got.

I said: “I wonder what I could have done wrong with the recipe.  My brine ended up being overly salty even though I only used 1/4 cup.  Other than that, these are lovely.  The texture is crispy and snappy.”

Imagine my surprise when Food In Jars said: “What kind of salt did you use? Did you make these as refrigerator pickles or did you can them? Crazy part is, this isn’t actually even my recipe, it’s one from So Easy to Preserve, so it should be tested and reliable.

I went back and looked at the post, and in your original comment, you mentioned that you wanted to make them as fridge pickles. I’m wondering is the amount of salt needs to be reduced if you don’t hot water process pickles. Now that I think about it, all the recipes I use/know for refrigerator pickles do call for less salt. It’s probable that recipes for shelf stable pickles call for more salt because it plays the part of preservative as well as seasoning.

Now that you’ve got these salty pickles, you could give them a quick rinse before eating or chop them up and make them part of a salad (omitting much of the salt).  Again, I’m so sorry that you had this problem. I admit, I didn’t notice an overabundance of salt in my batch, but I’m a notorious salt lover, so I rarely feel that there’s too much (it’s a sickness).”

See, I didn’t get some autoreply like “thank you for your comment”.  She took the time to read my question and provide a thoughtful response which actually gave me some great insight as well as a new tip to try out.

Every single blogger I’ve met, and most (but certainly not all) of the ones I’ve reached out to via comments or email, seem to geniunely want a conversation with their readers.  For me, that’s half the fun of it all.  The other half is that I get to try my hand at things like Dilly Beans, Jacques’ Scallops,  and Bittman’s Chocolate Souffle .  So send those comments and questions.  I promise not to answer with my mouth full.

Dilly Beans

Food In Jars, adapted from So Easy to Preserve

FIJ Notes: Wide mouth pints work great here.  A 12 ounce jelly jar is also nice as it’s a bit taller than a standard pint and makes for less trimming.

BAH Note: I used a wide mouth quart jar. I did not process the beans after they were in the jar since long term storage was not my goal and the beans currently live in my refrigerator.  But I’ve included the instructions on how to prep and process in case your beans can hang out longer.

  • 2 pounds green beans, trimmed to fit your jars
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 4 teaspoons dill seeds (not dill weed)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 1/2 cups white vinegar (5% acidity)
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup pickling salt (use a bit more if you only have kosher and will be processing your jars, use a bit less if using kosher for non processed jars i.e. fridge pickles)

Prep your canning pot by inserting a rack to keep your jars off the bottom of the pot, place jars in pot and fill pot with water.  Bring to a boil to sterilize while you prepare the rest of your ingredients.

Wash and trim your beans so they fit in your jar.

Combine vinegar, water, and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  While it’s heating up, pack your beans into the jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace (distance between the tops of the beans and the rim of the jar).  To each jar, add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1 clove garlic, and 1 teaspoon dill seeds.

Pour the boiling brine over the beans, making sure to leave 1/2 inch of headspace.  Use a plastic knife to remove air bubbles from the jar by running it around the interior of the jar.  Wipe the rims and apply the lids (which have been sitting in a small saucepan of water at a mere simmer for at least ten minutes in order to soften the sealing compound) and rings.

Process for 5 minutes in a boiling water bath (five minutes start when the pot has come to a roiling boil).

Let beans age for at least two weeks to develop their flavor.

Not Martha’s Blueberry Cobbler In A Jar

I’ve talked about how the canning jars seem to multiply before my eyes.  Every time I blink, there’s more of them.  This is in addition to the jars that have already fulfilled their destiny as a vessel for homecooked goodness.  As much as I enjoy canning, there’s only so much I can do and only so many jars that I can give away.  Besides, the idea of consuming even a wee jar of fruit jam or butter all by myself in a single sitting is kind of gluttonous and gives me a stomach ache.

These empty jars force me to get creative.

And by creative, I mean scour google for other people’s ideas.  That’s how I stumbled across blueberry cobbler in jars.

It was a perfect storm.  The Mistah and I had just come home with a bounty of fresh picked local blueberries.  There was a stash of empty jars begging for attention.  And we had promised to bring dessert to an outing with friends.

Unlike the Hollywood blockbuster of the same name, this perfect storm had a happy ending.  Blueberry cobbler in jars provided the perfectly portioned dessert for our outing.  It also won the hearts of the folks at the coffee shop when I showed up with wee jars of cobbler for everyone.  Because really, how bad can a Monday morning be when you start it off with a few bites of spiced blueberries and baked topping?

Blueberry Cobbler In A Jar

Adapted from Not Martha

BAH Note: I was hesitant about adding the cornmeal to the biscuit topping.  I almost didn’t do it.  Fortunately I ended up grabbing the container of cornmeal out of the pantry and scooping out a few tablespoons…it made the topping I sampled out of the bowl snap, crackle, and pop.  It felt like the combination of cornmeal, buttermilk, and baking soda/powder tag teamed to form an effervescent tingle in my mouth.  So do I think it’s worth buying a container of cornmeal for the topping?  Hells yes.  And if you need another use for that cornmeal, check out the creamiest polenta you’ll ever eat.

  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 6 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons stone ground cornmeal
  • 1/4 cup, plus 2 teaspoons, sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 stick butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Wash and dry 12 half quarter pint (4 ounce jars) and place them on a baking sheet covered in aluminum foil.

Heat your oven to 375 degrees.

Combine the first four ingredients in a large bowl.  Add the berries and gently stir until they are combined with the sugar mixture.  Stir in the lemon juice and zest and divide the filling among the 12 jars.  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the filling is bubbling and hot.

While the filling is cooking, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar, and cinnamon in a bowl.  In a separate bowl, combine the melted butter, buttermilk, and vanilla.

Remove the pan of jars from the oven and IMMEDIATELY TURN THE OVEN TEMPERATURE UP TO 425 DEGREES.

Pour the buttermilk mixture into the cornmeal mixture and stir until they are just combined and no dry streaks remain.  Divide the topping among the jars, gently and CAREFULLY pressing the dough down onto the bubbling filling.

Return the pan to the oven and bake for another 15 or 20 minutes until the topping is cooked through and golden brown and the filling is gently bubbling around it.

Cool on a wire rack for about 20 minutes before serving or allow the jars to cool completely before screwing on clean bands and lids for longer storage in the refrigerator.

{printable recipe}

Blackberry Syrup

Expectations.  There’s a loaded gun just waiting for someone to pull the trigger and spray a barrage of emotionally painful bullets.  How often do our expectations trip us up?

There’s the expectations we have of ourselves. The idea that we should be able to get it all done – family, work, outside interests…the things we have to do and the things we want to do.  Yeah, I can see that leading to a case of poor self esteem when I find myself exhausted at 11pm, baking cupcakes for tomorrow’s office birthday celebration, because I just had to { fill in the blank } before I could get to it.  Our to-do lists are never ending and yet we still trick ourselves into believing that somehow we should be the exception to the rule.  We SHOULD be able to perfectly balance all of the demands for our time and attention.  It looks effortless in the magazines that sell us on the idea that if we only do ‘x’ we can lose 10 pounds overnight, plan the perfect wedding, be the ideal spouse or parent, and our life will be perfect.  I have yet to meet the person who has managed that feat.

Then there’s the expectations we have of others.  Like my expectations that people I hardly know will not ask me questions about things that are clearly none of their business.  Things like my bank statement and my feelings about whether parenthood is right for me are completely inappropriate topics of conversation unless you also happen to be intimately involved in that part of my life.  Or are my therapist.  And yet those wildly inappropriate questions still come my way without a second thought.

To go back to the gun metaphor here, I think the 50 caliber ammunition shell of expectations has to be the ones we have of the members of our families.  For instance, I expect The Mistah to somehow intuit what I’m thinking or feeling without me having to say a word.  We’ve been together for nine years.  Shouldn’t he have developed that sixth sense by now?  We expect the people closest to us to act and react the way we think we would in any given situation, to have the exact same values we do, and to somehow “know” the right thing to say to us at all times.  Talk about a powerful weapon capable of inflicting pain and suffering.

But my friends, there is a solution.  It is as simple as taking the bullets out of the guns we carry daily in our emotional holsters and replacing them with something else.  It is as simple as changing our expectations.  By reframing how we see something, and what we expect to get out of a situation, we have the power to turn that rifle shooting 50 cal bullets into a toy gun that blows bubbles.

So when I’m feeling especially prickly and cranky…which really could be any given day…instead of assuming The Mistah’s spidey senses are on full alert and getting frustrated with him because he didn’t unload the dishwasher or he left his stinky Army gear in the middle of the floor, I can remind myself that despite his many wonderful skills, mindreading is not one of them.  If I want the dishes put away or the gear moved elsewhere I should either ask him to do it or do it myself.  Regardless of which choice I choose, I have no reason to be disappointed by The Mistah.  I’ve taken a deadly 50 caliber bullet and turned it into a harmless emulsion of soap and water.

What’s my point here?  The next time you reach into your emotional holster for whatever you load your expectations into, ask yourself this question…”am I shooting bullets or blowing bubbles”.

Blackberry Syrup

Adapted from Food In Jars

BAH Note:  I set out to make blackberry jam.  Despite following Marisa’s directions to the letter, my jam never set up.  I felt defeated.  I felt disappointed.  I felt like a loser.  And then it occurred to me that while I failed at making jam, I had succeeded in making syrup.  I let my expectations cut me down initially, but once I reframed them, they took on a delicious new flavor.

  • 8 to 9 cups of blackberries
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • juice and zest of 1 lemon

Working in batches, blitz your blackberries in the food processor until they are good and pureed.  Pour the puree through a fine mesh strainer, working the juice through with a spoon.

Bring the blackberry juice and sugar to a simmer in a large, non-reactive (think enameled cast iron or stainless steel) pot over medium heat.  Stir in the cinnamon, lemon juice, and zest and bring to a low boil, stirring frequently.  Cook until the mixture has thickened to your desired consistency then carefully transfer the syrup to jars for storage in the refrigerator.

For longer storage, ladle the jam into heated jars (with new lids), leaving 1/4 inch head space, and process for 10 minutes.

Let the jars cool for 24 hours before checking the seal and storing the jars. Any jars that have not sealed should be refrigerated or immediately reprocessed using new lids.

Flashback Friday – Notes On A Recipe Bon Appetit Shrimp and Garlicky Beans with Feta

Flashback Friday

The following originally appeared on 4/20/09 at Exit 51.

Notes On A Recipe – Bon Appetit Shrimp and Garlicky Beans with Feta

Every dog may have its day, but there’s no telling how long that day may be in coming.  If that dog happens to be named Bon Appetit’s Garlicky Beans with Feta and Mint, it is my sincere hope that I never see that day in my lifetime.  Since going all South Beach in the kitchen, I have tried to overcome my dislike of garbanzo beans.  There’s something about their texture that just does not work for me.  They’re not gritty on the tongue but they’re not smooth either.  Maybe because they are unlike any other food I enjoy eating, I can’t get past my consistency prejudice. And calling them chickpeas isn’t fooling me.

BA Shrimp

The most outrageous thing about my hate/hate relationship with garbanzo beans is that I like hummus.  Crazy right?  I should clarify that position.  Plain hummus elicits my anti-garbanzo stance.  But add a good helping of roasted red peppers to the recipe (to mask the chickpea) and I will gladly double dip my veggies all the livelong day.

When I read the Garlicky Beans with Feta and Mint recipe in that new cookbook of mine, I thought maybe I had found a way to move past the hate.  It might have two cans of chickpeas, but it’s also got an entire cup of feta cheese.  On a daily basis, I cannot find enough ways to love feta.  Especially a nice chunk of French Feta soaking in sharp brine.  For real, if there is a heaven,  I hope they stock the French Feta from Wegmans.

I decided to make the fetafied beans the base for Bon Appetit’s Shrimp with Shallot Tarragon Sauce.  That recipe actually calls for it to be served on a bed of wilted spinach.  But I was trying to stack the deck so that maybe, just maybe, the entire meal wouldn’t be a bust if I couldn’t embrace the beans.

In theory, it was a good idea.  In reality, not so much.  Aside from the fact that even French Feta doesn’t have enough superpowers to make chickpeas taste like anything other than chickpeas, the mint in the beans really did not work with the flavors of the shrimp.

Let us also consider the implications of having one cup of feta cheese, a quarter of a stick of butter, and cream in a single meal.  Rich?  That would be an understatement.  Instead of being silky and luscious, it was heavy.  I thought about subbing out the butter for a butter blend product instead, to try and keep the dish as South Beach friendly as possible, but ended up going with the real deal although I did use half in half instead of heavy cream.  And still, it was too much.

Maybe the wilted spinach works to balance the richness of the sauce and my substitution doomed the dish from the get go?  Who knows?  I do know that I won’t be trying this combo again.  The shrimp I will give another chance to win me over.  Add the spinach, take out the butter and cream all together, and I think I’ve got a good weeknight dinner option.  As long as that dog named Garlicky Beans with Feta and Mint doesn’t come barking around,I think we’ll be just fine.

Garlicky Beans with Feta and Mint

Bon Appetit: Fast, Easy, Fresh

  • 2 15 oz to 16 oz cans garbanzo beans, rinsed, drained
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh mint

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Combined first 4 ingredients in 11×7×2 inch glass baking dish.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper; toss to blend.  Bake until heated through and beans begin to crisp on top, about 15 minutes.  Mix in cheese and mint.

Shrimp with Shallot Tarragon Sauce on Wilted Spinach

Bon Appetit: Fast, Easy, Fresh

  • 10 uncooked large shrimp, peeled, deveined
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 3 tablespoons oilve oil, divided
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, divided
  • 5 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon, divided
  • 2 teaspoons minced peeled fresh ginger, divided
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped shallots (about 2 large)
  • 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
  • 2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
  • 1 6oz package fresh baby spinach

Toss shrimp, parsley, 1 tablespoon oil, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 3 teaspoons tarragon, and 1 teaspoon ginger in medium bowl.  Sprinkle mixture with salt and pepper.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Add shallots; saute 5 minutes.  Add shrimp mixture; saute until shrimp are almost cooked through, about 3 minutes.  Add butter and cream; bring just to simmer.  Add remaining 1 teaspoon ginger.  Season with salt and pepper.  Set shrimp aside.

Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in another large nonstick skillet over high heat.  Add spinach and remaining 1 tablespoon lemon juice; sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Toss until just wilted; about 30 seconds.  Mound spinach in center of plates; surround with shrip and sauce. Sprinkle shrimp with remaining 2 teaspoons tarragon.