Peanut Butter Fudge

I love peanut butter – in sandwiches, ice cream, cookies and, yes, even fudge. This version starts from Donald Link’s recipe in his Real Cajun cookbook but uses less sugar.

I also use crunchy peanut butter (versus using creamy and adding peanuts to the top). By using crunchy (Skippy Super Chunk Extra Crunchy), you end up with lots of peanuts throughout.

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Peanut Butter Fudge


4 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup milk (or heavy cream)
1 cup peanut butter, I prefer crunchy
1 cup confectioners sugar
1/2 cups peanuts, toasted and chopped (optional if using crunchy peanut butter)

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add in the vanilla extract. After the butter melts, stir in the brown sugar and milk. Bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in the peanut butter and mix until smooth. Remove from heat and cool slightly.

Using a mixer, add in the confections sugar and beat for 2 minutes or until smooth. Pour mixture into an 8 inch square baking dish that has been covered with parchment or wax paper. Top with peanuts, if using. Let cool completely before cutting fudge into squares.

 

Slow Cooker Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic

40 clove use this oneI’m a big fan of James Beard’s Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic. The long cook sweetens the garlic and makes it soft for spreading on crusty French bread.

I didn’t used to peel the garlic (here is video of a quick way to peel a head of garlic). Over time, though, I’ve found that if the garlic is peeled first, it is a lot less messy at the table and makes it easy to just stick an immersion blender in the juices at the bottom of the dish to make a terrific pan sauce.

As much as I honor James Beard, I have changed the recipe a bit (besides making it in the crock pot versus oven). I substitute sherry for vermouth (or use a dry white wine) and use thyme instead of tarragon.

Because I am feeling particularly lazy today, I will add potatoes to the pot to absorb the lovely garlic flavor and keep me from having to roast them separately. I’m using small, gold potatoes but any will do as long as they’re a uniform size.

Slow Cooker Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic


4lb chicken cut into 8 pieces, skin removed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/3 cup olive oil
40 cloves garlic, peeled
4 ribs celery, diced
2 medium onions, chopped
8 to 12 Yukon gold potatoes, halved
1/3 cup sherry (or dry vermouth)
1/2 cup water

Season chicken on all sides with salt, pepper and dried thyme. Add the oil to a skillet over high heat. Brown chicken on all sides, about 5 minutes per side. Remove from skillet when brown and toss the garlic cloves into the hot pan. Stir to coat with oil and cook just until you can smell the fragrant garlic.

Cover the bottom of the slow cooker with a mixture of the celery, onions and potatoes. Set browned chicken over top.  Pour the sherry and water over the chicken then pour over the garlic cloves and oil. Cover and cook over low heat for 3 hours without removing the lid. Check chicken for doneness and stir to make sure all the garlic is cooking and continue for another hour, if necessary.

Remove the chicken and potatoes. Pull out about 5 cloves of garlic per person. Using a regular blender or an immersion blender, puree the pan juices, garlic, celery and onion.

Serve chicken with sauce alongside slices of French bread. Spread the garlic like butter on the bread and eat with the chicken.

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Poppy Seed Pancakes

Sometimes I just want a little nuttiness in my pancakes. These poppy seed pancakes are a delicious solution and perfect for brunch.

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Poppy Seed Pancakes

2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1/3 cup poppy seeds
2 1/4 cups organic buttermilk
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons butter, melted
additional butter, to serve (and for pan)

To make the pancakes combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and poppy seeds in a large bowl. Add the buttermilk, eggs and melted butter. Stir all the ingredients until they are just combined. The batter will be a bit lumpy but that’s good, as you don’t want to over mix.

Heat your skillet, pan, or griddle to medium-hot. Test for the right temperature by seeing if a drop of water sprinkled onto the pan starts to dance. Brush on some butter and then pour about 1/3 of a cup of batter into the skillet. Wait until the pancake bottom is deep golden in color, then flip with a spatula and cook the other side until golden and cooked through. Repeat with the remaining batter.

If you have any leftover, set between wax paper and freeze. Thaw in a toaster oven or microwave for pancakes anytime.

 

Grilled Lemon Rosemary Salmon

For Valentine’s Day I’m cooking dinner for my sweetie. We are going to have grilled salmon, grilled asparagus rafts and fresh corn corn bread (recipe here).

As I don’t want to leave any fish attached to my grill grates, I’m cooking the fish in foil. You want to fold it so that it forms a tent over the fish, so that the smokey steam cooks the fish.

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Grilled Lemon Rosemary Salmon


2 lbs salmon fillet
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons of butter
1 lemon (juice and slices)
4 stems of rosemary

Place the salmon fillet in the center of a large piece of aluminum foil. Lightly salt and pepper the surface of the salmon.  Next, cut the butter into several pieces and place the pats of butter evenly over the salmon. Squeeze half a lemon over the salmon fillet before topping it off with thin slices of lemon. Take the rosemary stems and lay them cross ways across fillet.

Fold the foil length-wise around the lemon rosemary salmon leaving breathing room above the salmon. Fold in the outer edges but do not fold them tightly — you want to allow the heat to travel through the outside of the foil and be trapped in the middle to create steam.

Cook indirectly beside medium coals in a closed grill for about 15 minutes. It’s ready to remove when the flesh just turns opaque and the fish flakes when tested with a fork.

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Grilled Asparagus Rafts


Break asparagus at the natural bend. Toss in olive oil. Thread about 8 stalks onto two skewers. Continue until all asparagus is on skewers. Sprinkle with kosher salt.

Grill over medium coals, rotating clockwise and turning over until just cooked through about 5 to 8 minutes. Pull off skewers to serve.

 

 

Mardi Gras Cucumber Wraps

Getting up early for the parades (Zulu is at 8am and Rex is at 10am), means that I won’t really have the energy for making lunch. A great thing to do the night before is these cucumber wraps. I used Mission’s Sun Dried Tomato and Basil wraps but any large flatbread will work.

This recipe is a riff off the Benedictine Spread from Kentucky. NPR did a story on them a few years ago. I’m a bit of a heretic, though, for not making them on white bread (although I do love them that way during the summer).

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Cucumber Wraps


1 large cucumber, peeled and seeded
1 8 oz package of cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons grated onion
salt and pepper to taste
4 large flatbread wraps (flour tortillas, lavash, pita, etc)

Grate the seeded cucumber into a kitchen towel and wring out the liquid. Add the much drier cucumber to a bowl with the cream cheese, grated onion and salt and pepper. Stir to combine.

Spread in the center of the wrap. Fold in the side and roll up. Cut in half to serve as sandwiches or slice into pinwheels for appetizers or snacking.

Super Skillet Pretzels with Beer Cheese Dip

It is Superbowl Sunday and even if you find Debbie Reynolds as a dancing football more interesting than the actual game, here is an appetizer recipe that will score with everyone. Use your cast iron skillet to make these pretzels and definitely use the beer cheese dip with them. Oh, and if you want a cool crunch, cut up some slices of Granny Smith apple for dunking in the cheese sauce. Scrumptious!

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Super Skillet Pretzels with Beer Cheese Dip

For the Skillet Pretzels:
1½ cups warm water
1 packet active dry yeast
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
4½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoons salt
¼ cup unsalted butter, melted and let cool
¼ cup baking soda, for baking solution
8 cups water, for baking solution
1 whole egg, lightly beaten, for brushing
Kosher salt, for topping

For the Beer Cheese Dip:
1 bottle beer
3 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese
2 tablespoon flour
8 oz cream cheese, diced and softened
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt and pepper

In a large bowl or bowl of a countertop stand mixer, combine the warm water, yeast, and sugar. Let sit 5 minutes to proof the yeast.

Stir in 3½ cups of the flour, the salt and the melted butter. Mix until well combined. Slowly add more flour, a bit at a time, until the dough is no longer sticky and pulls away from the edges of the bowl. You may use the entire 4½ cups, or you might need a bit less.

Knead for 5 minutes. Lift the dough from the bowl and spray the bowl with nonstick spray. Place the dough back down, cover with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel. Let rise for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.

Line a pan with parchment paper and spray your skillet with nonstick spray.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and cut into 16 equal-sized pieces. Take each piece and shape into balls by pulling each corner toward the middle and pinching together. Place pinched-side down on the parchment paper lined sheet. Loosely cover again with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and let rise again for 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Bring the 8 cups of water to a boil in a large pot. Once the water is boiling, slowly add in the baking soda. Make sure you add it slowly or the water could boil over!

Put the rolls (1-3 at a time, depending on how big your pot is), in the water pinched side down. Boil for 30 seconds, then flip and boil the other side for another 30 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, remove the pretzel rolls from the water and place back on the baking sheet to cool. Continue until all of the pretzels have been boiled in the baking solution.

Arrange the pretzels around the outside of the prepared skillet. Squeeze them together so they fit snugly. You may not be able to fit all of the pretzels– if not, that’s okay. You can bake the remaining ones separately.

Cover once more and let sit for 5 minutes.

Brush the pretzels with the beaten egg, and then sprinkle with Kosher salt. Using a sharp knife, make X-shaped slices in the top of the pretzel rolls. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the pretzels are deep golden brown.

As they bake, prepare the Beer Cheese Dip. In a saucepan over medium heat, bring the beer to a simmer. In a bowl, toss the cheese with the flour. Add the cheese mixture to the beer with the remaining ingredients. Stir until all the cheese has melted and the texture is smooth, about 5 minutes. Keep warm until ready to serve.

Go, Sports!

Pork Shoulder Cassoulet in the Slow Cooker

There are probably some people out there who think the only thing I know how to do with a pork shoulder/Boston butt is to make BBQ pulled pork. And, while that is almost the world’s perfect food, I am capable of doing other things with this humble cut of meat.

In fact, I’m going French and making a cassoulet. A cassoulet combines beans, meat and seasonings together over a long, slow cook to make filling fare – the beans are creamy, the meat is succulent and the aromatic veggies help to flavor the rich stock. Taking this dish to the crock pot, frees up the cook to, I don’t know, enjoy a Mardi Gras parade or two.

There is a long soak of the beans, which I find helpful in muting their more musical qualities. I’m giving this a little Louisiana flavor with blackening seasoning on the meat and the andouille sausage.

pork shoulder cassoulete

Pork Shoulder Cassoulet in the Slow Cooker

4-5 lb. boneless pork shoulder, cut into 8 or 10 pieces and trimmed of excess fat
Blackening seasoning (my recipe is here)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, coarsely chopped
2 cups dry white wine
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 can (28 oz.) diced tomatoes
2 carrots, cut in half
2 stalks celery, cut in half
2 cups chicken broth
1 lb Great Northern beans or other small white
 dried beans, soaked overnight
1 lb. andouille sausage, halved on the bias
10 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2 bay leaves

Cook’s note: I recommend doing all of the prep work the night before because the slow cooker will take up to 10 hours to cook the pork. Once all the prep is done, store it overnight in the fridge in your crock pot insert (or a plastic container) and everything will be ready to go first thing.

The day before:

Season the pork generously with blackening seasons; set aside.

Heat a large skillet with the olive oil. Add half of the pork to the skillet and brown on all sides, 7 to 8 minutes total. Transfer to a platter. Repeat with the remaining pork.

 Add the onions and 1 teaspoon kosher salt to the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and softened, about 10 minutes. Add the wine and simmer until reduced by half, about 8 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, tomatoes, carrots, celery and broth. Remove the skillet from the heat and add the beans, pork, andouille and garlic.
 Place everything in the insert of your slow cocker and cover with plastic or put in a plastic container and refrigerate overnight.

The next morning:

Place everything in the slow-cooker, cover and cook on low until the pork pulls apart easily with a fork, 8 to 10 hours. Skim off the fat and remove carrots, celery and bay leaves. Adjust the seasonings with kosher salt and pepper.

Let the cassoulet stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes before serving.

Adapted from a recipe by Thomas Keller, Chef/Owner, The French Laundry.