Friday, September 23, 2011

Cider That Packs a Punch

After making my apple cider pulled chicken, I was left with plenty of fresh, local apple cider to drink. At this time of year, I'm happy to drink the cider just as it is, but while looking at the other Kitchen Play recipes, sponsored this month by the U.S. Apple Association, I came across this mocktail combining apple and basil. Sounds good, right? But what kind of mojito doesn't have rum?! I couldn't let that stand.

This cocktail tastes like spiced cider and... that's about it. The basil adds a little bit of spice, as does the rum, and the apple slices soak up a lot of the flavor, so make sure to eat those after you're done sipping. You can't really taste the rum, which makes it a bit dangerous, but if you have some of that cider chicken to soak it up, you'll be fine.

Cider Basil Cocktail inspired by Cheeky Kitchen
3-4 apple slices (I used honey crisp)
3-4 small basil leaves
apple cider
spiced rum

In a tall glass, muddle apple slices and basil leaves. Fill glass with ice, then add equal pours of the cider, rum, and seltzer. Stir to combine.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Apple Cider Pulled Chicken Sandwiches

Fall in New England comes on like someone hit a switch. It'll be 80° and humid one day, then 60° and crisp the next. It's how you know the seasons are really changing and not that it's just one particularly cold day. Of course, crisp weather means time for crisp apples (and inevitably, apple cider).

The folks at Kitchen Play clearly agree, what with this month's recipes being sponsored by the U.S. Apple Association and all. I was hoping to be able to go apple picking before I got around to trying some of the recipes, but since that's getting pushed off into October, I stopped by a local farm stand instead. The pulled chicken from Savour Fare especially caught my eye - the recipe looked simple, plus I wanted to lick my screen, looking at her picture.

Whenever I do finally get around to apple picking, though, I'm pretty sure I know what I'll be making for dinner after. This recipe is super quick and definitely delicious, and although it packs plenty of apple flavor, it's still something to look forward to after gorging on apples in the orchard. The chicken is good hot on a toasted bun (the cool slaw gives contrast in texture and temperature), but I enjoyed it just as much the next day, cold out of the fridge with another big dollop of slaw on top. Really, what's not to love?

Apple Cider Pulled Chicken Sandwiches with Apple Slaw adapted slightly from Savour Fare
1 Tbsp butter
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
1 cup apple cider, divided
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar, divided
1/2 cup ketchup
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp cajun seasoning
3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1/3 cup Greek yogurt
1 Tbsp sugar
1 apple, cut into matchsticks
1 lb cabbage, finely shredded
4 hamburger or bulkie rolls

Melt butter in a large saucepan; add onions and cook until translucent. Add 1/2 cup apple cider, 1/2 cup cider vinegar, ketchup, mustard, brown sugar, cajun seasoning, and salt to taste, and bring to a boil over high heat. Add chicken breasts and enough apple cider to cover. Cover pan, reduce to a simmer, and cook for about 15 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.

While chicken is cooking, whisk together Greek yogurt, 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, sugar, and salt to taste. In a large bowl, combine apple matchsticks, shredded cabbage, and yogurt mix, and toss to coat. Set aside.

When chicken is cooked through, remove from pan, shred with two forks, and return to sauce. Serve chicken on toasted rolls with a good-sized spoonful of slaw on top.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Black Cake for Dad

My father is the only person I know who actually likes fruitcake. He used to share the love of it with my grandmother (my mother's mother), and the two of them would share fruitcake in the winter and mocha almond ice cream in the summer.

A few years ago, when my friend Annabelle of Calamity Shazaam in the Kitchen game me a sliver of black cake (literally a sliver, but it was so rich, I ate it over a few days - ok, it was probably more like a few hours), I knew I had found a kind of fruitcake that I could get behind, and one that I wouldn't mind baking.

And then I promptly forgot about it.

The idea of black cake popped back into my head for some reason this summer, and so I decided I would embark on the task of making some for my father for his birthday. I got the fruit soaking in rum, and then I had a hard time finding enough time to bake the cake, so the fruit ended up sitting for 3 weeks or so. The recipe says 3 to 5 days, but from what I've read, it's really a the-longer-the-better thing. The recipe also calls for soaking the baked cakes in more rum, but I personally don't like cakes with too much of a strong rum flavor, so I left that part out. The cakes have been fine in the freezer/fridge without the extra alcohol to keep them.

Since giving these cakes to my father a little over a month ago, he's already finished two of the four and is currently making his way through the third. Guess I'll have to bake him some more for Christmas.

Black Cake from Trinigourmet via Bite Me New England

Fruit Base
1 lb pitted prunes, chopped
1 lb raisins, chopped
1 lb currants
1 bottle dark rum
(I also added a few chopped apricots I had laying around)

Combine these in a large glass bowl at least 3 days before baking the cake. Cover and store in a cool, dry place.

1 lb brown sugar
1/2 cup boiling water
1 lb butter
1 lb sugar
8 eggs
2 tsp lime zest
2 tsp almond extract
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1 lb flour
4 tsp baking powder
2 1/2 tsp mixed spice (I used something like 1 1/4 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ginger, 1/2 tsp nutmeg, 1/4 tsp cloves)

Blend fruit base in a blender or with an immersion blender. It should be thick and just a little chunky, like tomato sauce.

In a large pot, heat brown sugar over medium-high heat until caramelized (it will take on a darker quality). Add hot water carefully and mix well. Set aside to cool. This product is called browning. (I worked quickly so I didn't worry about it hardening, but apparently that can be an issue - watch out for it so you can get it out of the pan!)

Preheat oven to 250° (yes, I said two-fifty). Grease and line with parchment 4 8-inch round cake pans (you can play around the sizes and shapes as you'd like - I think this would be great in a bundt shape).

Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs gradually, mixing to combine, then add zest and extracts. Sift together dry ingredients, then slowly add them to the creamed mixture. Mix in pureed fruit base and browning.

Pour batter into prepared pans (you don't have to worry too much about them rising). Bake for 3 hours (yes, 3 hours - it's only 250°, remember?). Cool in pans slightly before removing. If you're going to soak them in rum, now's the time.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Lamb-Stuffed Eggplants

As autumn arrives full-force here in Boston, I'm left with lots of fresh produce AND a desire for heartier dishes. I've had lots of trouble with most of my garden this year, but eggplants and parsley are pretty much the two things I have plenty of (what a good Armenian girl I am!). It seemed like the perfect time to get cooking with them.

I've been growing Fairytale eggplant this year, which are adorable purple and white speckled fruits about the size of my thumb (below). They cook up very tender and have way fewer seeds than traditional eggplants. They're also the perfect size for cooking in smaller amounts or, in this case, making individual portions. I love them so much, I've pretty much decided that I will always grow these. If you can't find fairytale eggplants, try any long and thin eggplants (you can cut them in half to form more individual-sized portions).

Lamb-Stuffed Eggplants

10-12 fairytale eggplants
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground lamb
cayenne pepper
about 15 cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
2 Tbsp minced fresh mint
3 Tbsp minced fresh parsley
zest of half a lemon
salt and pepper

Cut each eggplant in half and scoop out the insides, leaving about a 1/4 inch wall. Place scooped-out eggplants in a bowl of salted water to prevent browning. Chop up the insides of the eggplant, discarding any areas that are mostly seeds, and set aside.

In a large pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until onions are translucent. Add lamb and chopped eggplant, and cook until lamb is well browned, breaking up any big pieces as you go. Remove from heat and drain off excess fat. Add cayenne, cinnamon, and nutmeg to taste (go easy on the nutmeg). Stir in tomatoes, mint, parsley, and lemon zest. Salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat oven to 350°. Line a baking sheet with tin foil. Remove eggplant halves, one by one, from water, and fill the cavity in the center with lamb mixture. If you press the mixture in with a spoon, you can mound it up a bit. Place on the baking sheet and repeat with remaining eggplant. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until eggplants are easily pierced with a fork.