National Sandwich Day – Pomegranate Balsamic Chicken Sandwich

National Sandwich Day – Pomegranate Balsamic Chicken Sandwich

National Sandwich Day should happen at least once a week, in my opinion. But if I got my way, we’d all be getting paid to eat sandwiches and play with puppies and kitties  and the economy would collapse…so maybe we should leave Sandwich Day alone. I am always happy to have a new idea in my sandwich arsenal, though, which is why I am particularly thrilled with Sarah today. Not only does this sandwich look 100% phenomenal, I never knew about cilantro in a tube, and I think my life may be forever altered in the best possible way. I hope you feel the same about this creation. Sarah, if you would be so kind, show us the way to sandwich perfection.

Happy National Sandwich Day, folks! I am a big fan of putting things between bread as a meal, as well as the season of FALL, and so when I discovered that National Sandwich Day happens to be in November, I knew we had to cook up a hearty fall sandwich to celebrate.

I have always been enamored with “weird” foods. This may have begun when my dad brought home a coconut from the grocery store when my brother and I were little kids. We cracked it open with a hammer and chisel, I think, and while none of us really cared for what we found inside, I retained the fascination with food that required a little bit of work to get to the good stuff. Shellfish, avocados, mangoes, and pomegranates are huge favorites of mine, possibly for this very reason.

Not many things speak “fall” to me more than pomegranate—we’ll leave the turkey and cranberry to Thanksgiving (which is SO SOON, you guys!).

Today we will be making a Pomegranate Balsamic Glazed Chicken Sandwich with Smoked Gouda, Anjou Pear, and Cilantro Aioli.

Ingredients:

  • Good loaf of bread
  • Cooked chicken (you know my favorite shortcut is a rotisserie chicken)
  • ½ cup balsamic vinegar
  • ¾ cup pomegranate seeds (about 2/3 of a pomegranate)
  • Sriracha
  • Ginger
  • Cilantro
  • Mayonnaise
  • Smoked Gouda
  • 1 Anjou pear

Let’s get started! The first step is to open your pomegranate. After googling this lazily (I believe my search keyword was “open pomegranate”) and clicking on the very first video, I found an acceptable method which only requires a bowl of cold water and a knife. The idea is to score the pomegranate along its sections (I followed the splits in the top of the fruit with my knife), break it open with your hands, and proceed to pull the seeds apart from the casing in the water. The dense seeds sink to the bottom, while the vaguely pool noodle-like outer skin floats. This science checks out. It took the longest for me to break the thing open, but start to finish I think I had all the seeds out in about ten minutes.

sandwich

Once you have your pomegranate seeds, chuck them in a small pot with ½ cup of balsamic vinegar. I let mine come to a boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes. You basically want to cook the vinegar until it thickens and loses its bite. I can’t leave things be, so I added a squeeze of Sriracha and a squeeze of ginger (herbs in a tube are the BEST shortcut) to amp up the tart pomegranate and sweet balsamic flavors.

While the glaze was thickening, I cut up my pear into thin slices, sliced my Gouda, cut two thick slices of what my grocery store told me is “Tuscany bread,” and broke down my chicken into vaguely bite-sized pieces. Now would also be an excellent time to toast your bread and cheese, if you want a toasted sandwich. The pear adds some crunch, but not quite as much as I wanted. I think next time I make these, I’ll definitely go toasty.

Once your glaze is making thick bubbles and doesn’t have a watery consistency (taste it, too—the vinegar “bite” should be mostly eliminated), throw it (pomegranate seeds and all) into the container with your chicken and coat well.

Now it’s aioli time! Guys, aiolis are the easiest things to make. You know the fancy, creamy dipping sauces you get in some restaurants. “Sriracha garlic aioli” is usually mayonnaise with a squeeze of Sriracha and some roasted garlic (this is over-simplifying things—but not much!). Let’s make a fancy-sounding super tasty cilantro aioli with—wait for it—two ingredients. I took a small container, added a squeeze of mayonnaise and about a teaspoon and a half of cilantro from a tube (I love fresh herbs, but this stuff packs a lot of flavor and doesn’t go bad quickly) and mixed it together. Congratulations, you’ve made a fancy, restaurant-quality dipping sauce. Spread it on your bread!

sandwich

So the steps of sandwich-building today are going to go: aioli Sandwich and pear on one piece of bread, Gouda and chicken on the other, then quickly slap them together. I apply some pressure to kind of hold this guy together, and cut it in half to make this less unwieldy to eat. The Gouda brings creaminess, the chicken has a nice sweet flavor thanks to the glaze, the occasional pomegranate seed gives you some tartness, while the pears are a bit crisp, and the aioli adds a bit of salt.

This is a heavy, but well-balanced sandwich, in my opinion. Perfect to welcome fall and get ready for sweaters and blankets and bonfires and raking leaves in the crisp air.

What are your favorite fall flavors? Would you toast this sandwich (I should have toasted this sandwich)? What kinds of aiolis are you inspired to make this season? I think I want to try something with figs…

 

Get Healthy With Homemade Stock and Soup

Get Healthy With Homemade Stock and Soup

Happy New Year! Seems like just about everyone I know, myself included, has the post-holiday yuck. Unfortunately, our dear friend Claire Hoenke caught it, too. But the magical thing about Claire is that, rather than wallow in her sickness, she gets motivated to whip up a batch of rich, restorative stock and then make matzah ball soup. Considering my soup skills are on more of a ramen level, this is pretty dang impressive. Claire assures me that it’s actually pretty easy to pull off, and I’m inclined to believe her, so let’s all learn/recuperate together.

Well, it’s 2016, and I’m starting my year off not with a bang, but with a deep, throaty cough. While my coworkers are all resolved this year to really stick to their diets this time and “get healthy,” my only resolution this New Year’s is to actually get healthy and get over this cold as quickly as possible. In the face of a pounding headache and a rumbling chest cold, I wrap up in my warmest pajamas and slippers and head to the kitchen for the best medicine I know: a steaming bowl of soup. I skip the canned stuff in the pantry. Store-bought soup might feel nice enough on a sore throat, but I’m pretty sure real healing only comes from the homemade stuff.

Luckily, stock is actually pretty easy to make. It can be as simple as throwing a whole chicken in a pot of water and just letting it simmer, but I like to introduce a little more depth of flavor into the stock by first roasting the chicken. The nice thing about stock is that you can basically throw anything into the pot. For treating congestion, I recommend hot peppers and ginger, to open the sinuses.

I am going more classic with my get-healthy stock, though, and sticking with the basics. Carrots, garlic, celery, and onions make a nice, all-around stock that you can use to make any kind of soup.

Stock

  • 5 pounds frozen turkey or chicken wings, thawed
  • Chicken giblets
  • 2 medium onions, quartered
  • 4 large carrots, peeled, cut into 1” pieces
  • 4 celery stalks, cut into 1” pieces
  • 1 head garlic, halved crosswise
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 sprigs thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons black peppercorns

Healthy Stock Soup

(Notice how the juice groove on Claire’s block catches the veggies before they roll off the sides? That dual functionality has never occurred to me!)

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Rinse the chicken well, and then add the veggies into the bag with the wings and giblets. Add the oil and salt and ground pepper, and then mix them all together to coat. Spread everything in a single layer over two rimmed baking sheets and roast, turning once, for 45 minutes to an hour, until the vegetables are slightly browned and soft and stick to the pan a bit.

Stock Prep 6

Transfer everything from the pans into a large soup pot and add 16 cups of water. Pour about a cup of water into each of the baking pans and scrape up the browned bits. Empty the pans into the soup pot, add bay leaves, thyme, and peppercorns, and bring to a simmer. Cook for about 2 hours, until the stock is deep brown and reduced by about 5 cups. Take a nap in the meantime; your body needs to conserve energy.

Healthy Stock Soup

When the stock has reduced, strain it through a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth into a sauce pan, if you’re using it right away, or storage containers, if you’re saving it for later. Throw away the solids. Let it cool completely before covering and storing. After your stock has cooled, the fat will form a layer on the top. This is pure culinary gold. Carefully skim it off and save it for later. As for storing the stock itself, I like to fill an ice cube tray and a gallon freezer bag for the freezer, and an air-tight jar for the fridge. You can keep the stock frozen for up to three months, but once it’s thawed, it goes quickly, so if you don’t have soup scheduled for the near future, freeze the whole batch.

Now you have your soup base, but what’s the next step? This rich stock will happily make any kind of soup you like, but for me, there is only one way to really treat a sore throat. If you were raised by or near Jews, chances are good you’ve had at least one bowl of matzah ball soup in your life. If so, you know the powerful restorative properties that the steaming golden broth and soft, fluffy balls possess. If not, trust that no amount of Nyquil or Tylenol can soothe the way this soup does. This is where that schmaltz (the rendered fat) comes in.

Matzah Ball Soup

  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons schmaltz
  • 1/4 club soda or chicken broth
  • 1 cup matzah meal
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

With a fork, beat the eggs well in a medium bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl and mix until just combined. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour. Take another nap while your mixture chills. When you wake up and you’re ready to cook the balls, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Dip your hands into cold water to prevent the dough from sticking and form the mixture into balls. They can be anywhere from one to two inches in diameter, depending on your preference. Carefully drop each ball into the water and reduce to a simmer. Cook the balls for 30 to 45 minutes, until they start to drop a little below the water’s surface.

Heat your stock in a separate soup pot, and carefully transfer the cooked balls into the stock. You can add other things to this soup, like carrots or celery or chicken, but sometimes I prefer the simplicity of just a perfect matzah ball in some very good broth, maybe with some fresh dill or parsley to round it all out. This recipe makes about six servings, so it should last you through most of a week of your illness.

Healthy Stock Soup

From my home to yours, I wish you a Happy New Year. Here’s hoping you have paid sick leave and someone to make this soup for you while you lie in bed and re-watch the entire run of Gilmore Girls. Ess gezunterhait!

Printer-friendly recipes: Homemade Stock and Matzah Ball Soup

Fun Food: Build-Your-Own Kabobs!

Fun Food: Build-Your-Own Kabobs!

We love to have fun with our food, and letting your family or guests get creative with their own kabobs is the perfect way to bring fun to your summer cookout! We’ve shared lots of grilling tips already, but today Sarah W. is here to tell us about making the perfect kabobs. Whether you’re just grilling up a meal for yourself, or having a Build-Your-Own Kabob party, Sarah’s got you covered. Skewer us with wisdom, Sarah!

Growing up, my family loved to grill out on a nice summer night. Chicken breast, the occasional steak, maybe pork chops. There’s something totally transportive about the smell of barbeque and smoke on a hot summer evening. It’s a safe zone for me. We couldn’t always afford the best cuts of meat, but a tasty sauce and an element of fun easily made those childhood memories great ones. My dad is the family’s grillmaster – the man loves to cook, loves to experiment with new recipes, and he knows how to handle anything you can think of to throw on the grill. I didn’t inherit his knowledge of perfect grill temperatures and how to test meat’s doneness by feel over a fire, but my husband is also a great grill guy, and I slip into my mother’s role of preparing the food, as I can remember helping her slide meat and veggies onto skewers as a child.

First things first: kebab or kabob? Technically, kebab is a big hunk of meat, usually lamb or beef, slow-cooked on a long metal rod and shaved off in thin slices to pile onto amazing sandwiches like gyros. Shish kabobs are meat and veggies cooked on skewers – the Americanization of kebab.

Either way you slice and dice it, there’s something very primal about cooking meat on a stick. I was thinking of cavemen huddled around a fire roasting things while assembling and flipping these on the grill. They’re an easy dinner to throw together – anything grillable is game. Kids can help assemble their own masterpieces, and picky eaters or guests with allergies can have their own selection of stuff on a stick to be grilled on a separate part of the grill.

Kabobs are the perfect FUN FOOD!

So let’s get down to DOs and DON’Ts.

  • DO make your own kabobs. Grocery stores will sell you pretty prepackaged kabobs with meat, onion, and bright pepper slices on wooden skewers. DON’T buy them. It’s much more cost effective to make them yourself.
  • If your are just cooking up a few skewers for yourself or a small gathering, DON’T assemble skewers the way you see them in grocery stores. You can make pretty patterns, but some veggies have different cooking times, and it’s important to cook your meat thoroughly. Having a skewer of meat, a skewer of mushrooms, a skewer of peppers, etc, will ensure that things with short cook times can be taken off the grill before they burn or turn mushy.
  • If you are having a party and want your guest to build their own kabobs, DO par-cook your veggies ahead of time so everything cooks evenly on the skewer. You can either grill or oven roast your heartier vegetables until they are about halfway done, and then set them out for your guests to add to their skewers. When grilled along with the meat, these will have just enough time to get piping hot and acquire those beautiful grill lines (and flavor!).
  • DO season these suckers. I found an herb-seasoned vinegar that added a great splash of flavor, and helped my other spices stick. You don’t necessarily want to crust your ingredients, but seasoning is, as always, so important to make food taste good. And why expend energy on cooking something that turns out bland? I would, however, shy away from garlic or garlic powder, as it burns easily. If you’re working ahead, this is a great opportunity to marinate your meat.
  • DON’T leave your grill unattended. These don’t take super long to cook, so stand over that grill like the world’s best babysitter or guard dog. Also, unattended fire can lead to bad things.
  • DO pick vegetables that cook up firm and won’t get mushy. Eggplant, while delicious grilled, is most likely going to fall off your skewers. I would also skip potatoes. This is a meal for squash, mushrooms, peppers, onions, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, anything that holds up well.

Fun Food Kabobs

When we first moved into our house, my husband and I could never find wooden skewers anywhere. This resulted in my mother-in-law and mother each buying us giant packages when they saw them next, so I’ll probably never have to buy them again. You can also use nice metal skewers, but be careful! These usually have nice loops on the end for an easy handle, but they get VERY hot and stay VERY hot. Don’t grab the handles without a potholder until you’re sure they’re cool. I have both metal and wooden skewers, and find myself with a preference for the wooden ones. Part of this is that we have six metal skewers, and usually end up with seven or eight skewers worth of stuff to grill. Another factor is slippage. Wooden skewers tend to have a grain to them, which helps grip your food even as it cooks. Metal skewers, as they get hot, have a tendency to help cook your stuff from the inside, which is great for chicken, but keep an eye on your food, as it may be more done than you think.

Ingredients:

  • Beef or chicken
  • Veggies (I used half a container of mushrooms, 2 small summer squash, and a green bell pepper)
  • Seasoning (I used an herb-infused white vinegar, chili powder, salt and pepper)
  • Skewers

Directions:

  • Cut your vegetables into square-ish pieces of a uniform size. You don’t want these to be too much bigger than your skewers- they should be easily separable. I went for pieces at least an inch wide and two or three inches long. Some things, like the mushrooms, I just cut in halves or quarters, depending on their size. Do your vegetables first so you can use the same cutting board for meat after without cross-contaminating anything.
  • Cut your meat into 1″ to 1.5″ -sized chunks.
  • Skewer it! Try to skewer in the very center of your bits and pieces. This will ensure that they stay balanced and don’t try to make an early bid for freedom as you’re flipping and transporting them. With vegetables, skewer through the skin if possible. Squashes and zucchinis have skin that will stay pretty firm as it’s cooking, and the extra grip on your skewers will help keep them from sliding off.
  • Season it. I splashed herb-infused vinegar over everything, then sprinkled chili powder, salt, and pepper. I only did one side, then seasoned the other side once everything was on the grill.
  • Once your grill is hot, throw these bad boys on, seasoned-side down. This gives you an opportunity to season the other side without making a huge mess. We used a grill mat, which can be helpful if you’re afraid things will slide off the skewers and between the grill grates.
  • Your vegetables will probably need 5-6 minutes before flipping. Our meat cooked quickly, and needed to be flipped after about 2 minutes. This is going to vary based on your grill, and any hotspots it has. A good reason to use seasoning is that it facilitates a sear, and can make it easier to tell when your food is ready to be flipped. I used long grill tongs to turn these once I saw a nice sear on the bottom.
  • Cook for the same amount of time on both sides to ensure even cooking and doneness. Use a fork to slide food from skewers.  This can lead to food flying everywhere, so be cautious and supervise any small children attempting this trick.

 

What’s your favorite fun food to assemble or cook?

Winter Warmth – Midnight Whiskey Chicken Soup

Winter Warmth – Midnight Whiskey Chicken Soup

Chicken Soup is pretty much a standard in our households throughout the winter. This winter has been brutal for many across the country, and I imagine a lot of you are getting tired of the snow and the boring soup. As a Phoenician, I am not allowed to talk about winter, but I can speak with some authority about food. Sarah W. is back with a killer Chicken Soup recipe that gets its punch from cooking the onions in whiskey. While I haven’t had the honor of trying her “Midnight Whiskey” Chicken Soup, I did use her technique to make an onion and mushroom topping for crostini the other night, and WOW. I can’t wait to make the soup! Sarah is here to commiserate with her fellow snow-bound citizens and provide some much needed warmth. Take it away, Sarah!

April may be the cruelest month, but February sure has to be a close second. New England is in a state of emergency with record snowfalls, and the Midwest is seeing historically low temperatures. Records are being shattered. It really just makes you want to stay holed up inside for days. It’s too cold to play; the roads are too dangerous to navigate.

Being a Clevelander, growing up in the heart of the Snowbelt, I understand the snow gods. Every childhood Halloween costume was loose enough to fit over a snowsuit if the occasion called. After a record snowfall in elementary school, I remember watching the National Guard trucks drive past my house, ready to help dig out the schools and city buildings. I grew up with a big black dog who loved to play in the snow – some winters you could only see the tip of her nose and tail as she cavorted in the drifts. Snow will most likely be a factor in life as early as (late) October through possibly (early) April.

The lesson from this constant threat is to keep your freezer, pantry, and refrigerator well-stocked. All autumn, I buy extra everything and throw it in my freezer like a squirrel hiding nuts for the spring. The goal is to be ahead of the emergency announcements so that you’re not at the grocery store at 6pm on a Friday trying to stock up on necessities. No one wants to wait in line for an hour at the grocery store for canned soup, frozen dinners, and ramen. Nor should those foods be your sole emergency rations. By keeping a few basics on-hand, you can make something really tasty, bust out the candles when the power goes out, and build a pillow fort to occupy yourself when disaster strikes. That sounds more like a fun date night than an emergency, no?

The best food in this kind of weather is chicken soup. There can be no argument – it’s easy to prepare, doesn’t need your constant attention, fills you up, and leaves you noticeably warmer.

This chicken soup has a whiskey onion base, which adds a lot of depth of flavor, even if you shortcut by using boxed stock and pre-cooked chicken. Honestly, I use these shortcuts even when not in a state of emergency. With clever seasoning and a whiskey base, you can build a lot of complexity, and the goal when cooking should be to make something that is impressively good; it doesn’t have to be impressively hard to make or use impressive ingredients.

This soup is easy to throw together after a long day, it’s perfect to prepare early in the day to let simmer while you shovel, and it’s heaven in a bowl when you’re frozen to your core.

Notes on whiskey – I would recommend using a brand you’d enjoy drinking in a cocktail, but wouldn’t prefer to drink straight. In other words, use the whiskey you’d drink at midnight, rather than your first choice.

Midnight Whiskey Chicken Soup

Chicken Soup

Ingredients:

  • 1 roasted chicken (or a few chicken breasts, really whatever chicken you have on-hand)
  • 2 quarts chicken broth
  • 4 large carrots
  • 2 small onions, diced
  • 1 ½ cups whiskey
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme

Throw your onions in a stockpot Chicken Soup over medium heat, then cover with a few splashes of whiskey and a drizzle of olive oil. Leave this uncovered as you prep the rest of your ingredients, adding more whiskey as it cooks off. This is going to imbue your onions with a lot of really good, deep flavor and add richness to your soup’s broth.

 

My friend Claire recently showed me this method, and I thought I’d try it out on my carrots. I tried to do quarter-to-half inch pieces. I ended up with something a bit bigger than expected, which is ok. New techniques often seem awkward until you’ve tried them enough times to really get them right.

Set your carrots aside, and get to your chicken. My favorite trick is to use a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken from the grocery store. If you have frozen chicken in your freezer, fantastic! Thaw them and dice them up. If you have leftover chicken from a previous meal, dice it up. If you have a whole chicken, strip the skin, remove the bones, and dice the meat up.

Chicken Soup

Throw your carrots and chicken into your stockpot, add about half your broth, and season. I am really loving Penzeys French Thyme in everything I make right now, and rosemary is a great poultry herb, so start from there. If your chicken was already cooked, feel free to taste your soup – add salt and pepper, maybe a drizzle of olive oil, maybe some ground chipotle pepper for some kick. If your chicken is raw, let your soup cook at least an hour before you taste (and check the chicken before you taste – raw chicken is the most terrifying kitchen thing).

Chicken Soup

Cover your pot and leave it at a simmer or slow boil for an hour or so, then add the rest of your broth and continue to taste and season. Let that simmer awhile, and voila! Soup!

And if you need a serving suggestion for a cozy evening, may I suggest…

Chicken Soup

 

What’s your favorite deceptively easy delicious dish for a snowed-in night? What are your best kitchen shortcuts and tricks?

Printer friendly recipe: Midnight Whiskey Chicken Soup

Not Your Ordinary Chicken Marsala

Not Your Ordinary Chicken Marsala

This week at ButcherBlockCo we have been talking all about color and texture in the kitchen. We have been tweeting the latest decorating trends and tips; sharing some of our favorite furniture to add color and texture to the heart of your home; and talking about the Pantone Color of the Year – Marsala. A fitting segue to the blog this week…a warm, earthy Chicken Marsala recipe with beautiful texture and flavor. Here is the secret…

One of my favorite go-to meals is Chicken Marsala. It’s a really hearty meal that requires relatively little prep time. My live-in chef, husband Mark, created his own version of Chicken Marsala that is so unique. The twist to this recipe is 1) use Cremini mushrooms for great texture, and 2) add Cayenne pepper for added heat and flavor. Cremini mushrooms are baby Portabello shrooms. Darker in color, these babies have a fuller, earthy flavor, and a firmer texture.

Make ordinary Chicken Marsala taste extraordinary.
Add a dash of Cayenne Pepper!

Chicken Marsala

Flour Dredge
1 cup flour
Season with black pepper, salt , and ground Cayenne

Marsala Ingredients
4 boneless Chicken Breasts, sliced into 1/2″ thick chicken cutlets
Marsala Wine
Unsalted Butter
Olive Oil
12 oz. Sliced Cremini Mushrooms
Garlic
Flour
Black Pepper
Cayenne Pepper
Salt
1/2 Cup Chicken Broth
Condensed Portobello Mushroom Soup

Directions

  1. Instead of pounding your boneless, skinless chicken breasts, slice them into 1/2″ thick cutlets. They ‘re tender and a bit juicier this way.
  2. Sauté mushrooms in a pan with 2T butter, 2T Olive Oil, garlic, and 1/4 cup Marsala wine for about 10 minutes. To add more color and texture to this recipe, sauté red onion with your mushrooms.
  3. In a separate, large skillet, heat 2T butter, 2T Olive Oil, and garlic for browning the chicken.
  4. Dredge chicken in the seasoned flour. Coat one chicken breast at a time, both sides, then place in pan. Work in batches. Cook chicken cutlets, on med-high heat, for 3 minutes, each side. Set golden brown chicken on plate to rest.
  5. Deglaze the skillet – remove from heat, add 1 cup Marsala wine, and stir to make a Marsala glaze. Add 1/2 cup chicken broth, 1 container Condensed Portobello Mushroom Soup and 1 tsp Cayenne pepper. Stir and heat to boil to make the Marsala reduction sauce.
  6. Add the golden brown chicken and sauteed mushrooms to the Marsala sauce. Cover and simmer 15 minutes. Then serve.

Chicken Marsala make

Chicken Marsala prep

Chicken marsala recipe Have a secret ingredient for your extraordinary Chicken Marsala?  Let us know!

 

Labor Day BBQ – Perfect Beer Pairings

Labor Day BBQ – Perfect Beer Pairings

Labor Day is next Monday — are you ready to say goodbye to Summer? WE ARE! There’s no better way to bid adieu to this nasty heat than with a nice, frosty brew. As you can see in the photo, Chef J inspired me to try a few new brews myself (I even found a few treats from nearby states!). Chef J has some pairing tips for your Labor Day fest featuring some AZ local brews. We’ve got some spectacular breweries around town and I bet you do, too. Even if you can’t get these exact ones, this is a great jumping off point to try something new in your locale!  Beer me, Chef J!

It’s time to get the crew together for one of the last excuses to fire up the BBQ this season. Labor Day is upon us once again! So mow the yard, skim the pool, and scrape down the ol’ grill. I usually go into some long-winded rant about how barbequing is a great way to waste the day away with friends and family, eat too much, and drink some delicious beer; since we have covered the ins and outs of grilling and smoking, it’s time to turn our attentions toward the sweet, sweet nectar that washes it all down. Though the suds market is still almost entirely controlled by cheap, bland, mass-produced swill, there are more and more craft breweries popping up all the time. Take a look around your town and chances are you’ll find a cold, refreshing gem or two.

So get your burgers pressed, your ribs rubbed, and your chickens ready to fly — but don’t forget about the main ingredient of the classic back yard party! Here are some of my local favorites for Labor Day. They aren’t all available everywhere, but wherever you are, there is probably a tasty brew not too far away.

Whatever you decide to grill up for Labor Day, there is a perfect beer to go along!

Four Peaks Peach Ale

Last time around I went on and on about my love for peaches. Unfortunately, more often than not, fruity beers come off as overly sweet and overpowering next to anything they are served with. Four Peaks Brewing Company has managed to capture the essence of a Labor Day perfectly ripe peach without it being too strong. This golden ale is incredibly refreshing and easy to drink. It goes great with a warm day and pairs nicely with lighter foods like fruits and cheeses, though it can be a cleansing addition to a plate of spicy ribs. [Pardon the interruption, but if you are anywhere near Arizona, get thee to a Four Peaks retailer immediately and try this ale. It is fantastic! -Candice]

San Tan Devil’s Ale

San Tan Brewery has a number of great beers, ranging from everyday staples to unique special occasion brews. This is my favorite of their offerings. Devil’s Ale has a golden red color with a rich citrus flavor. It has a strong body and a hoppy taste but doesn’t overwhelm; the flavors are delicately balanced. The gentle caramel makes it a good match for either grilled pork chops for a casual dinner or a big, fat cheeseburger on a hot afternoon.

Lumberyard Red Ale

Lumberyard Brewing Company has been supplying northern Arizona with a variety of their lovingly crafted beers for 20 years now, but their Special Bitter Red Ale is their most popular — and for good reason. It is incredibly balanced and gets along nicely with a wide variety of foods; from lightly buttered shrimp to spicy brisket to picant Gorgonzola. Using crystal and caramel malts along with a tempered serving of hops, Lumberyard has managed to create a full flavored beer that won’t get in the way on a hot day.

Nimbus Pale Ale

For those who like a strong PA (and there’s at least one at every party), Nimbus has crafted a Northwestern style pale ale that is almost out of control. While this beer is very clean and refreshing, it might not be the best introduction for novices looking at pale ales for the first time. The beer is hopped four times during the brewing process and five malts are packed into each batch, making this PA very intense. While the flavor packs a punch, the bitterness can stand up to fatty, spicy meats cooked over wood or charcoal. Not for the weak of palate, but definitely recommended for those looking for something bold.

Papago Coconut Joe

For years Papago Brewing Company has been a favorite watering hole of locals because of their huge selection of bottled and tap beers from their own stash and around the world. One of my favorites is their Coconut Joe stout. Even on the warmer days, this thick coconut and coffee beer hits the spot. Though it is very dark and tastes rich, it is an easily approachable stout for those who may not usually go for dark beers. The slightly sweet coconut and roasted coffee flavors can fit in with either grilled shrimp, barbequed beef, or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream for a grown-up summer float!

What are your plans for Labor Day? Do you have a favorite brew to go with your favorite BBQ? Let us know in the comments!

Embracing International Cuisine

Embracing International Cuisine

With the Winter Olympics upon us, we are given the opportunity to peer into the cultures and traditions of people from all around the globe.  We see all sorts of inspiring stories about athletes and their lives, providing a bit of human connection to such a grandiose event. You know what helps foster human connection better than almost anything else? If you said “food,” you’re absolutely right! Food brings people together around the world and is a social event in basically every culture.

Because the U.S. is such a melting pot, we have the privilege of having international cuisine at our fingertips at just about any moment. Whether you purchase something frozen from the grocery store, shop at your local deli for authentic cuisine, or decide to make something at home, you have access to more variety than you will ever have time to taste! We have Julia Child to thank for bringing international cooking into the homes of Americans when she exploded onto the culinary scene with accessible French recipes and techniques that could be duplicated in the home kitchen. Given the popularity today of cooking shows, blogs, and recipe forums, we now have an unlimited supply of internationally-inspired recipes that we can create and share with friends and family. We have entire grocery stores dedicated to bringing ingredients from faraway countries right into our backyards. Let’s utilize these resources and celebrate the international delights in which we are all capable of indulging.

A great way to sample the fare of many different nations is to host an international potluck, and the Olympic events are a fantastic excuse to do so.

Have your friends and family each bring a dish inspired by a different country or by their own culture and let everyone enjoy the diversity of food.  You will experience the vast array of flavors that are spread across our world and get a taste for how different regions can create a variety of flavors, oftentimes using some of the same spices or other ingredients. We live in a diverse society and should take advantage of every opportunity we have to experience and understand all of the cultures that play into it – and food is a great place to start! Chef J has shared one of his favorite Russian recipes to give you a little inspiration.

Roasted Chicken and Eggplant
Pesto: Roasted Chicken and Eggplant

  • 2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • ½ cup toasted pecans
  • ½ cup packed fresh basil
  • ¼ cup packed parsley
  • 3-4 sprigs marjoram
  • 2-3 sprigs oregano
  • ½ cup shredded asiago cheese
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • Salt & pepper
  • 8 oz. olive oil

In a food processor, combine all ingredients except oil, and pulse until a paste is formed.
Slowly add the oil while blending.
Season to taste.

Eggplant:

  • 1 eggplant, sliced into ½” rounds
  • Salt & pepper
  • Olive oil

Brush the eggplant with oil and season with salt and pepper.
Roast at 375 for 20 minutes.

Chicken:

  • 1 Chicken breast
  • olive oil
  • Salt & pepper

Season the chicken.
Sear on one side in a hot sauté pan.
Flip and move the pan to the oven. Cook until an internal temperate of 165 is reached, about 7 minutes.
Allow to rest for a few minutes.
Cut into bite size pieces

Pickled Onions:

  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • 1 cup red wine vinegar
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • ½ tsp coriander

Combine all ingredients, except onions, in a small sauce pot and bring to a simmer.
Remove from heat and add the onions.
Pour everything into a zipper bag.
Squeeze out all of the air and seal.
Let it sit at room temperature until cool.
Refrigerate until needed.

Assembly:
Spread a bit of the pesto on a slice of eggplant.
Add a piece of chicken and a few pieces of onion.
Roll up and skewer with a toothpick.
Repeat with remaining ingredients.

Printer friendly recipe: Roasted Chicken and Eggplant

End of Summer Tradition – Fajitaladas

End of Summer Tradition – Fajitaladas

I don’t know about you, but I always seem to have a hard time readjusting when school starts back up. I’m not the most organized person in the world, so dealing with drop-off and pick-up, homework and school events, I tend to slip in the dinner-cooking department! Fortunately for me, I have an awesome end of summer tradition that helps get me through those first couple weeks of school. Every year before school starts, I get together with my sister (who is a teacher and understands this pain far better than I do!) and a few of our friends for a few hours and cook up a storm to stock our freezers.  Everyone brings the ingredients for her signature dish, and we all work together to make enough batches to take home one of everything. Every year I make the same dish, my signature “Fajitaladas,” which are a yummy, freezer-friendly combo of fajitas and enchiladas. By the end of our cooking party, we each have an eclectic mix of five or six dishes to choose from when we run into the inevitable question, “What’s for dinner?”

Besides making lots of awesome food, this end of summer tradition gives us a chance to get some much needed relaxation and socialization, before jumping into the chaos of the school year.

To successfully pull off one of these parties, it helps to have a friend with a big kitchen and lots of workspace. If that is not an option, split up the tasks so you can work in assembly-line style and utilize each area to the max. Those disposable foil pans from the grocery store work fine for freezer storage (make your life easier by getting the ones with the lids), or you can use your own bakeware.

Over the years I have brought home delicious lasagnas, casseroles, pulled pork, and lots of Fajitaladas! Here is the simple recipe for my end of summer tradition dish! This is just my basic recipe, but it can be easily customized to your liking if you have other options on hand.

Fajitaladas Recipe

Makes one batch, serves 6-8 end of summer tradition

Ingredients:

  • 12 medium flour or 16 corn tortillas
  • 1-2 T olive or vegetable oil
  • 1 lb. steak or chicken, cut into strips
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into strips
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, cut into strips
  • 1 white or yellow onion, chopped
  • Fajita seasoning to taste
  • 1 16 oz. can enchilada sauce of your choice, or homemade
  • 2-3 cups Mexican style shredded cheese blend
  • Toppings of choice

If you will be eating right away, preheat your oven to 350 F.

In an oiled pan, sauté steak or chicken with fajita seasoning (taco seasoning works well, too) until browned on all sides. Add peppers and onions and sauté until meat is cooked through and onions are translucent. Set aside. If freezing, allow to cool completely before assembling. This can be done up to 3 days in advance.

Spread about ¼ cup of enchilada sauce in bottom of a 13” X 9” baking dish. This helps keep the tortillas from sticking to the pan. Lay out your tortillas on a flat surface and sprinkle a line of cheese down the middle of each. Divide veggie/meat mixture among tortillas on top of cheese. Roll each one up and place in baking dish, seam side down. Pour remaining enchilada sauce evenly over the top, and sprinkle with remaining cheese.

If baking immediately, loosely cover with foil and bake for 20-30 minutes, until cheese is bubbly. Uncover and place under the broiler for about two minutes to get that bubbly cheese nice and golden brown! Let stand for 5-10 minutes before serving. Serve with sour cream, chopped tomatoes, black olives, salsa, onions…whatever you like!

If freezing, cover tightly with plastic wrap and top with foil or the lid to your dish. When you are ready to cook, allow to thaw overnight in the refrigerator, remove plastic wrap (don’t forget this part – melted plastic wrap does not go well with these flavors!), put lid back on or cover with foil and follow baking instructions above, but allow to bake for 45 minutes to an hour.

So if you don’t have an end of summer tradition, try this one.  If you have a fun end of summer tradition to share with us, we would love to hear from you!

Printer Friendly Recipe: Fajitaladas Recipe