As always, Thanksgiving in Tucson was full of friends, family, fun and food comas—lots of them. While I’m the last person to let dietary restrictions rain on my pig-out parade, I felt inclined to make a gluten-free dish for my dear nana (A thinly veiled attempt to become the favorite grandchild? Maybe). The resulting creation was a sweet potato “stuffing” inspired by a work potluck dish a la creative director of the century, David (A thinly veiled attempt at a raise? Maybe.). This stuff is FANTASTIC—even if you aren’t foregoing gluten. While it won’t replace the good-old Pepperidge-Farm-stuffing-in-a-bag variety my family loves so much, it’s definitely a holiday side worth adding to your rotation. Plus, it’s ridiculously healthy—almost too much so for this butter-loving blogger.
Sweet potato “stuffing”
3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced red pepper
1/2 cup diced green pepper
1 tbsp. thyme (fresh is better but dried will do—same goes for all herbs)
1 tsp. sage
1 tsp. rosemary
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 cup crushed pecans, toasted
4 tbsp. butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Toast crushed pecans in a skillet over medium-high heat for about 2-3 minutes. Set aside.
Cook peppers in skillet with 2 tbsp. butter over medium-high heat for a few minutes. Add onions and celery and cook until tender. Set aside.
Cook chopped sweet potatoes in the same skillet with remaining butter over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally, but let the sweet potatoes sit long enough to start to develop a little bit of a caramelized, crispy skin. Cook for several minutes until sweet potatoes are tender.
Mix potatoes, vegetables, spices, herbs and pecans together until incorporated and spoon into a casserole dish. Finish off in a 375-degree oven for 10 minutes before serving.
There are some things that make me proud to claim Tucson as my hometown. The breathtaking Santa Catalina mountains. The constant sunshine. And Café Poca Cosa—almost certainly the best restaurant in the city by a desert mile.
There’s no question that owner Suzana Davila’s creative, authentic and upscale Mexican cuisine (sans guacamole and sour cream) could
survive thrive in any of the country’s cutthroat culinary proving grounds—from NYC to Chicago. But pleas from restauranteurs to open locations in other cities have fallen on deaf ears. Suzana—and her melt in your mouth chicken mole and moan-inducing tamale pies—are staying put in the Old Pueblo. And that makes me smile.
Another thing that I love, love, love about Suzana is her refusal to sacrifice her culinary prowess in the face of popular demand. The ever-changing (twice daily!) Poca Cosa menu has a mere dozen-or-so entree choices—no distracting appetizers and absolutely no alterations or substitutions. What you get is a beautiful dish that is exactly as the chef intended it. ¡Que fantastico!
Lucky for me, I got inside access to Poca Cosa(thanks Candice!)—and two of Suzana’s most delicious dishes: chicken in mole verde and shredded chicken in mole de chilhaucle. Lucky for you, dear BWB readers, I’m sharing these treasured recipes with you.
Mole de chilhaucle with shredded chicken
8 skinned chicken breasts (bone-in)
32 oz. sesame seeds
16 oz. fresh almonds, shelled
8 oz. roasted peanuts, shelled
4 large roma tomatoes
12 cloves of garlic
3 yellow onions
10 chilhaucle chilis
6 pasilla chilis
3 guajillo chilis
3 cinnamon sticks
1 tablespoon oregano
8 oz. red chili powder
2 oz. sugar
4 oz. vegetable oil (soy or canola works best)
8-10 cups chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste
Place chicken breasts in a large pot with enough water to yield a gallon of broth. Cut up one carrot, one onion and one garlic clove and add to the pot. Cook for 20 minutes at medium-high heat, making sure the liquid simmers, but does not come to a rolling boil. Remove the chicken breasts from the pot and pick the chicken from the bones. Refrigerate. Season broth with salt and pepper to taste.
Pour about half of the vegetable oil in a sauté pan and add the nuts and sesame seeds and brown until golden. Set aside.
Roast peppers, garlic and one onion under the broiler, turning until they are lightly charred all around.
Mix the nuts and vegetables, in small batches, in a food processor or blender.
In a large, dry sauce pan, toast the chili powder, oregano, cloves and cinnamon. Remove the spices and set aside. Cut up the remaining onion and cook it in the pan with the remaining oil. Add the veggie mix from the food processor and the seasonings and cook for 20 minutes over medium heat, gradually adding broth to maintain a loose but thick consistency. Add sugar, a little more broth and the shredded chicken. Serve with tortillas.
Chicken in mole verde
6 corn tortillas
Vegetable oil for frying tortillas
1 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup hulled, raw pumpkin seeds
1/3 cup shelled pistachios
1/3 cup whole blanched almonds
4 large garlic cloves
3 fresh poblano chilis, chopped
4 fresh serrano chilis, chopped
1 1/2 cups husked tomatillos, chopped
1 large bunch fresh corriander (about 2 cups packed)
1 cup shredded iceberg lettuce
about 4 cups chicken broth
3 tablespoons safflower oil
3 lbs cooked chicken, turkey or pork
In a large, heavy skillet, heat 1/4 inch vegetable oil on medium-high until hot but not smoking. Fry tortillas in batches until golden brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels and break into pieces when cool.
In a dry heavy skillet, toast sesame seeds over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until golden brown (about 8 minutes) and set aside. Repeat with the pumpkin seeds for about 2-3 minutes (until they puff up but do not darken). Finally, repeat with nuts for 2-3 minutes. Set all nuts and seeds aside.
In a food processor, blend garlic, chilis, tomatillos, corriander, lettuce, tortilla chips and 1 1/2 to 2 cups broth until the mixture forms a thick paste. Add nuts and blend until combined, but not smooth.
In a large saucepan, heat the safflower oil over medium-high heat until hot and add sauce. Cook, stirring frequently, adding broth as necessary to reach a thick, pasty consistency—about 12 minutes. Stir in meat and cook for 1o more minutes, stirring constantly. Serve mole with tortillas.
Another thing to visit Poca Cosa for—Cup Quequitos from Suzana’s daughter, Shanali. With more than 100 flavors of vegan cupcakes—and counting—every meal there can have a sweet ending.
Thanks again to Suzana and her staff for welcoming (and feeding) us!
I like horror—maybe a little too much, judging by my Netflix queue. Many a night, Dave flings the bedroom door open to find me in the glow of some weird B-grade horror movie.
What can I say, I love things that are a little sick and twisted. Which is why I say, screw the cutesy Halloween decor—give me fake bugs and terrifying zombie props. Scouring Pinterest, I found some equally spooky Halloween bites:
Spider web dip
Refried beans, covered in a layer of guacamole, surrounded by a ring of salsa and shredded cheese, decorated with a “spider web” of sour cream. I put the sour cream in a plastic bag, cut the tip and piped circles onto the guac, then took a toothpick and dragged it from the innermost circle to the outside. Worked like a charm.
Rice Krispies treat vampire skull
Just follow the good-old-fashioned Rice Krispies treat recipe. To form the skull, I scraped the mixture out of the bowl and onto a sheet of parchment paper. Then, I sprayed a sheet of plastic wrap with a little Pam, placed it over the mound, and started forming the skull with my hands.
My new GIR Spatula arrived just in time (thanks for the preview GIR folks!) to do the heavy lifting. When tasked with testing/reviewing the strength and functionality of a spatula, the ever-challenging Rice Krispies Treat Stir test is about as tough as it gets. The GIR Spatula passed with flying colors.
Anyway, back to the spooky stuff:
Mummified treats: Mummy hand baked brie and mummy cocktail weenies
For the mummy hand, simply cover a wheel of brie with a full sheet of puff pastry or crescent roll dough (I used the pre-made full sheets of crescent roll dough you find in the same area as the pre-made pie crusts). You’ll need another sheet of the dough to cut up in strips and wrap around the wheel to make it look “mummified”. To form the fingers, roll a strip in a sort of spiral around itself. For the longer fingers, you can stretch it out a bit. Push each finger onto the palm part of the hand and blend the dough together. Bake at 375 degrees until golden brown. Make things really spooky by drizzling “blood” (i.e., fruit jam) on top. Serve with crackers.
For the cocktail weenies. cut thin strips of pie crust dough (again, go with the pre-made stuff if you want to maintain your sanity) and wrap them around the weenies. Cover the top of each weenie with a little pie dough “cap.” Bake at 375 until golden brown.
Maggots ‘n’ cheese (mac ‘n’ cheese in a bread “coffin”)
This was one of my favorites. Cut off the very top of a loaf of bread (we used ciabatta), so it’s still “hinged” onto the bottom portion. Hollow out the bottom half of the bread and fill it with mac ‘n’ cheese (I maintain that Alton Brown’s mac ‘n’ cheese recipe is the best ever, but my sister and I usually doctor it up with about double the cheese). Sprinkle the top with more cheese and panko crumbs and bake at 400 degrees until the bread is looking a little toasty and the top layer of the mac ‘n’ cheese is bubbly and golden brown. Top with a little plastic skeleton.
Finally, the least scary, but possibly most addicting of the Halloween foods …
This stuff is like crack, so consider yourself warned. I assume no responsibility if, after eating this, you wake up with a sugar-induced hangover, covered in cool whip and clutching an empty, caramel-streaked baking dish.
Cupcakes made for easier party eating, but I think the cake is the way to go in terms of maximum deliciousness.
Mix all of the above with ridiculously awesome Pinterest-scavenged DIY halloween decorations, fun people in costumes and lots of liquor, and scary things are bound to happen.
Happy Halloween … MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.
Anyone who uses the phrase “Butter is [INSERT FOOD NAME HERE]‘s best friend” is a man after my own heart. That’s why talking bacon, branding, and yes, butter, with Graham Elliot was one of the most exciting experiences of my blogging career. The fact that he’s down-to-earth, warm, passionate and eloquent was the buttercream icing on my cake.
Better with Butter: What would you say to home cooks who want to go “off recipe”?
Graham Elliot: I think the most important thing is unlearn everything you’ve been taught, and that’s similar to anything that has an artistic bent to it—music, sculpture, poetry, etc., etc. To look at a recipe—a lot of people say, ‘Use it as a blueprint and build off of it.’ To me it’s like, tear the recipe up and throw it away. Understand cultures and regions, and the idea of ‘what goes together grows together,’ and really start putting things together that way. Almost like jazz versus classical—don’t read the sheet music, create it yourself. Understand the flavors that go together and build on it however you feel at that time—be spontaneous.
BWB: What about the crazy flavor and ingredient combinations you come up with?
GE: If you look at it similar to paint, for example: these two together create this, and that applied to this surface yields this type of visual result. It’s saying the same thing, but with your palate: OK, I’m going to use foie gras, and that’s really rich and creamy, I need something with texture, so I’m going to do walnuts. And it’s fall, so I’m going to do a pomegranate salad with it and a maple glaze or sweet potato puree. Knowing your colors, textures and ingredients and putting them all together.
BWB: My motto: Full fat is where it’s at. When it comes to using real butter and real ingredients in general, what’s your advice?
GE: In a kitchen, it all starts with great things. Anybody can hide behind truffles and caviar, but what can you do with a carrot? What can you do with a potato? We just had this discussion in the kitchen the other day about rutabaga. Butter is rutabaga’s best friend. You cut it and caramelize it and cook it in butter, it’s unlike anything you’ve ever had. And I think that most people that have had it haven’t had it the right way. Same thing with brussel sprouts—you tear the leaves up and roast it with some bacon and apple and with that fat it works really well. That’s why fish cooked in butter finished with a little lemon, there’s nothing better—and you’re talking about three ingredients. And that philosophy carries through everything: Using better ingredients allows you to not have to put as much on the plate to hide bad things.
BWB: How does that philosophy fit into your restaurants?
GE: I have a sandwich shop, grahamwich and then we have graham elliot, the flagship and that one is really focused on the hyper-artistry, avant garde, pushing the envelope with those weird flavor combinations, where as at g.e.b., it’s the exact opposite. It’s craft-focused, it’s using techniques like grilling and roasting and searing, very old-world if you will. And same thing with flavors. We’re talking about for the fall menu doing a huge roasted pork knuckle with sauerkraut, just that—two things. And I think that was very musically inspired. Jack White from the White Stripes said, ‘If you have 50 instruments, it’s very easy to come up with something; if you only have a drummer and a singer-guitarist, it forces you to see things differently.’ And so that’s what we do in the kitchen.
BWB: Best hidden secret in the Chicago, culinary-wise?
GE: I mean there’s so many: Devon Avenue with the Indo-Pak flavors that are amazing. Going into the market and seeing dehydrated lemons and limes and the different things you can apply. Same thing with going to Chinatown and seeing things like dried scallops, and we’re sitting here thinking, do you grate that into a powder and roll something in it and cook that, and what’s the flavor profile going to be? We’ve tried lizards, and everything you can think of, it’s amazing! It opens your eyes to the world and different cultures. Also, Argyle Street, there’s a hundred different things.
So, there’s always great restaurants opening up like Yusho and Vera and places that don’t have a humongous PR machine behind them, but good food attracts people—just like good music or good film. Chicago is so ethnically and culturally diverse, that that’s where I think people can get a lot of inspiration, you know going and finding different things … things that 99 percent of us have never eaten, and then buying it and going home and Googling it and seeing what you can make with it. That’s what makes cooking fun.
BWB: What’s the secret behind the success of the Graham Elliot brand?
GE: We don’t have a PR firm, we don’t have a marketing team. Everything from MasterChef to Top Chef Masters, Lollapalooza, everything came to us organically. And I think it’s only by being true to yourself, which can in turn can get you in trouble … but I think it does come across as genuine, and you know, I’m a nice guy to a fault. And I think a lot of that is my brand as well, just trying to teach and stay humble and do food that’s really whimsical and approachable.
BWB: As and entrepreneur, how do you juggle cooking and business?
GE: You start to think long-term—can I do a g.e.b. in six other cities? Or for the cookbook we’re doing, do you make it super-artsy and chef-driven or something extremely accessible and fun? With staffing, the chef I have here (at g.e.b.) and the chef I have running the company, they’ve all been with me since I opened GE five years ago. So you create this culture and realize that you don’t just want cooks, or servers, or managers. You want everyone to be a chef, and to lead, and to problem-solve on their own. And that’s what allows me to do what I want, to grow the brand and create other opportunities.
Recently, we had a staffing change and I’ve been thrown into the restaurant all of a sudden. I just created a new menu for fall and it’s like 16 dishes that are mine, that I’m doing, that I’m seeing get plated. So it’s fun getting thrown back into that and being in the mix where you are cooking and having more to do with it. It’s very fun and kind of reignites that initial flame of passion.
Check out the other highlights of my lunch with Graham.
The gourmet-ification of classic snack food is a trend I can really get behind. That’s why, when presented with the opportunity to have lunch at Graham Elliot Bistro (g.e.b.), sample his take on Combos (of cheddar cheese and pretzel fame) and interview the man himself (culinary dynamo and all-around badass), I jumped at the chance.
On a noble quest to differentiate between a bad combo and good Combos, we sampled some interesting and surprisingly delicious flavor pairings—all in Combos form:
Pineapple and peanut butter, egg and cheese (sous-vide egg yolk piped into a Combos shell and dusted in tomato powder), Chicago style hot dog (with all the fix-ins) and for the finale, pickles and ice cream—each presented by Graham himself with humor and enthusiasm.
And because one cannot subsist on Combos alone, we also enjoyed a more well-rounded lunch—the highlight of which was a velvety fig risotto studded with crispy bits of guanciale, and fresh-baked cookies AND milk. As Dave pointed out, a chef who serves his chocolate chip cookies with milk isn’t messing around.
Then, the best part—the chance to pick Graham’s brain in a one-on-one interview. I’ll post that Q&A soon, so stay tuned.
It’s amazing how our expectations change in the face of dietary restriction. Case in point: My recent experience with these crackers …
Sister walks into my kitchen.
“Ooooh, homemade crackers?!”
Nom, nom, nom … confusion … sad face …
Me: “They’re low carb.”
Eyes light up … expression turns to delight and ravenous hunger … dives in for more …
“OMG, SOOOO good!”
And despite her initial reaction, they truly are yummy—as long as you realize that nothing that has absolutely no carbs can taste like a food item that is typically made almost entirely of them. These almond-meal crackers will never taste like a crumbly, buttery Ritz, but when you know that you can eat them on your gluten-free/carb-free/Paleo diet, they’re suddenly the best thing since sliced … uh … well, you get my point. Loaded with flavor and great with soft cheeses, these little snacks get rave reviews—assuming you under-promise (they’re wheat-free!!) and over-deliver (wow, they don’t taste like cardboard!!!). Have to give a shout out to my friend Nicole for turning me on to this delicious-yet-nutrutious concoction.
Gluten-free, carb-free, Paleo* super crackers
*For the Paleo version, simply substitute more almond meal for the parmesan cheese.
2 cups almond meal (You can make this by grinding almonds in a food processor until they are fine. Be careful not to over-blend or you’ll have almond butter.)
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for coating
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon mixed herbs (I used basil, oregano, chives, rosemary and parsley)
Sesame seeds for sprinkling (optional)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix all ingredients thoroughly with your hands. Divide into four parts and roll out flat on parchment paper with a rolling pin or other cylindrical object (I used a glass). Roll out to about 1/8 or 1/10 of an inch thick and cut in desired shape with a pizza cutter. Place individual crackers about one-half-inch apart on a parchment- or tin-foil-lined cookie sheet. Brush the tops of the crackers with olive oil, salt generously and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake at 400 degrees for 10-12 minutes, or until crackers are golden brown and crispy.
As a cook, there’s nothing better than converting the non-believers. I’m talking about the moment when someone says “I don’t like (insert food item),” tries your variation anyway, and becomes wide-eyed with surprise and delight. “I DO like (previously detested food item)!”
My Italian take on deviled eggs elicited this response. The potentially disastrous ingredient combination wasn’t lost on me—but I pushed ahead, mixed the yolks anyway, and came out with finger-food gold. You won’t be embarrassed to show up at your next party with these babies—even if they are in one of those ridiculous pastel-colored deviled-egg carriers.
Uovas Diavolos (Italian-style deviled eggs)
A dozen hard boiled eggs
1/2 cup mayo
1/4 cup pesto
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
cooked pancetta for garnish
Peel and halve your hard-boiled eggs. Carefully remove the yolks and place in a bowl. Mix in all other ingredients. Careful when salting to taste—consider the fact that pancetta is very salty, and you’ll be topping your eggs with it. Pipe yolk mix into egg white halves and top with pancetta (cooked to crispy beforehand in a skillet—be sure it is cooled before topping eggs).
Today is Merle’s (aka Boof, Boofie, Nugget Face) first birthday—and the perfect excuse to dress him in a humiliating but painfully adorable little cone-shaped hat and feed him lots of T-R-E-A-T-S (my fellow dog-owners catch my drift). In honor of our spoiled little piggy, I whipped up a cake with puppy-tested, mom-approved ingredients—and the results were drool-worthy (at least for the canine set).
Pumpkin-peanut-butter puppy cake
1 cup flour
1/3 cup peanut butter (natural, lower-sugar varieties are better)
2/3 cup pure pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin-pie mix as that has sugar and other ingredients in it)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons cream cheese
2/3 cup pumpkin puree
Mix all cake ingredients. Bake in a small, greased and floured pan (I used two 6-inch ramekins—a small round pan or a small loaf pan would probably be good, too) at 350 degrees for about 15 to 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool. Meanwhile, mix frosting ingredients. Frost when cake is completely cool. Serve to the pups … or perhaps to a human who you aren’t particularly fond of.
Delicious as the may be, it’s a wonder that people eat perch. They are notorious for swallowing the hook; they have sharp, spiny fins that will slice your hand open when you try to release them from said hook; and you have to catch dozens of them to get a decent meal out of it. Not to mention how tedious they must be to filet. I, myself, have no firsthand knowledge of that last part, since, fishing for them as a child during summers on the St. Lawrence river, I actually didn’t think they were edible. We’d catch them, yell for our dad or uncle to come release them and pray they wouldn’t come floating back up to the surface.
Having since moved to the midwest, I’ve now experienced them in all of their golden-fried glory. Perch are Dave’s favorite—so imagine his delight when we stumbled across them a few weekends ago at the Green City Market. An undeniable splurge at 17 bucks a pound, but like I said, it can’t be easy to butcher those suckers.
So it was a dinner of beer-battered perch sliders with homemade tartar sauce, washed down with some of our city’s finest: Half Acre Daisy Cutter Pale Ale.
1 lb of perch filets
1 12-oz can of beer
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
Extra flour for dredging
Vegetable oil for frying
Prepare beer batter by mixing beer, flour and salt.
Heat oil to 375 degrees.
Near the stove, dredge each filet in flour and dip in batter. Transfer immediately to the frying oil, slowly lowering each piece into the oil with tongs. Doing this slowly gives the batter time to solidify before you release the piece into the oil, so it doesn’t stick to the bottom or sides of the pan. Fry in batches, each batch for about 2-4 minutes, or until golden brown.
Remove and let drain on paper towels.
Prepare tarter sauce by mixing 1 cup of mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons of chopped sweet pickles, 1/2 teaspoon of minced garlic and the juice from half of a lemon.
These are A-MAZ-ING as sliders made with soft dinner rolls slathered in tarted sauce. Best of all—no fishing required.
The only reliable thing about Chinese food delivery is the fortune cookie at the bottom of the bag. Wait, no, I take that back. I recall a traumatizing meal in which, after finishing my mediocre orange chicken dish, I reached into the takeout bag only to feel napkins and chopsticks. The memory is burned into my brain.
Assuming you do get your prophetic little treat, your meal isn’t totally ruined. But everything else is a crapshoot. Soggy egg rolls, chewy mystery meat, limp veggies, dry rice: all potential land mines packed neatly in gleaming white takeout boxes.
Forgo your next round of Chinese Takeout Roulette, spring for some real chicken and heat up the frying pan. And for the love of God, don’t forget the fortune cookies.
Better-than-takeout Orange Chicken
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast or thighs, cut into 1-2-inch pieces
1 12-oz beer
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
Extra flour for dredging
Vegetable oil for frying
2 cups orange juice
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons cornstarch or flour
1 tablespoon dark corn syrup
1/2 tablespoon crushed red pepper (if you don’t like a touch of spice, leave this out)
1 clove minced garlic
1 tablespoon honey
Combine all sauce ingredients in a saucepan on medium-high heat. Stir and heat for several minutes until the sauce thickens. Remove from heat and set aside.
Heat oil (enough to cover chicken pieces completely once you put them in) in a pot to 375 degrees. Prepare beer batter by mixing beer, flour and salt. Set up your batter station close to the fryer so you can bring the chicken immediately out of the batter and into the fryer. This can get a little messy.
First dip chicken in flour to coat, then, using tongs, dip chicken pieces in the beer batter, then put them immediately into the hot oil. Here’s an important tip: slowly submerge each chicken piece in the oil for a second or two to let the batter firm up before you release the piece into the oil. This will prevent the chicken from sticking to the bottom or sides of the pan. Be careful though, you might get spattered with specks of hot oil. All in the name of homestyle faux takeout.
Cook chicken pieces in batches for about 3-5 minutes in the oil, or until golden brown. Cut a piece to test for doneness and gauge cooking time. Place on a plate with paper towels.
When the chicken is almost all fried, re-heat your sauce, if necessary. Toss fried chicken pieces in hot sauce or drizzle over the top of the chicken. Serve over a bed of rice and garnish with sesame seeds and green onions.