Chicken with Garlic Cloves & Bacon, plus a favorite cooking tip

Chicken with garlic cloves and bacon

Many years ago I discovered a recipe for Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic, a fairly traditional dish of 8-cut chicken braised with whole blanched garlic cloves. Every time I make this dish I make a few changes (including never actually counting the garlic cloves), this time though I think I finally got it just right by adding a little bacon, one of my favorite tricks.

Blanching garlic Blanched garlic and thyme

Bacon is a diverse ingredient in which a little can go a long way, plus it can be very economical if you buy it by the slice at the meat counter in your grocery store. Just one piece can add texture and smokiness to a dish, and also adds fat so that you can cut back on or even eliminate the use of oil or butter.

Browning bacon Browning garlic

With this dish, redubbed Chicken with Garlic Cloves & Bacon, it did all three. I first diced the bacon and sauteed it over medium-high heat until the bacon was crispy and the fat had been rendered (meaning the fat had turned to liquid and separated from the meat). Then I removed the bacon from the pot, leaving the fat behind, to which I added a bit of olive oil and then the chicken pieces to brown. The crispy bacon bits were then used as a garnish. It’s truly amazing how much effect you can get from just one piece of bacon in a dish meant to serve four people.

Chicken in pot

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Homemade Holiday Gifts: Loaded Fortune Cookies

Decorated fortune cookie

For years I’ve been wanting to make big fortune cookies but never had the right occasion to do so. But this year with the economy in the crapper and all, I decided to make holiday gifts rather than buy them. Which of course led me straight to the loaded fortune cookie.

In reality, fortune cookies are nothing more than a tuile cookie formed with origami-like fancywork. The batter is simple – melted butter, powdered sugar, flour, egg whites, and a pinch of salt and dash of almond extract I added to the recipe.

Melted butter and powdered sugar Egg whites

But this isn’t to say I didn’t encounter challenges – there was plenty of trial and error. For example, the oven temperature was too high with the first cookie I attempted, making it impossible to form. I was able to fold it in half, then nothing.

The idea is to bake the cookie until the edges turn light brown and the batter is dry, then quickly remove the cookie from the pan with a spatula and place it upside-down on a dry towel. You then have to move quickly and carefully – the cookies are hot! – and place the “fortune” (or in this cake “Happy Holidays” typed on a strip of paper) in the center, fold the cookie lightly in half with the loose “creased” side closest to you. Then, place your thumbs in the center of the fold and place your index fingers in the openings on both ends. Pull the ends toward the center to form the traditional shape, then set aside to cool. Seriously, oye.

Strain batter Batter circle

So, moving on to to cookie attempts #2 and #3, I decreased the oven temperature and also used a thinner layer of batter. I was able to form the cookie shape but the final product was extremely brittle.

Attempt #4 used a thicker layer of batter which I cooked a bit longer but not quite long enough. This time the cookie was difficult to form because the batter hadn’t dried enough but at least it wasn’t brittle.

Finally, by attempt #5, I got it right. I used the same amount of batter as #4 but cooked it longer – about 11 minutes this time. And then, as is my luck, I was out of batter.

Formed cookies With chocolate

It was fine. I proceeded to decorate all the cookies with semi-sweet chocolate and multi-colored sprinkles (I had tried desperately to find those little edible silver balls but when I finally tracked them down I realized they were way overpriced – $15 for a small container!). Then I wrapped up the one presentable cookie and brought it to bring to my friend Heather’s house for her dinner party. She and the other guests were extremely impressed with my little gift, so much so that they didn’t even notice the bottle of wine I brought with it.

Bagged fortune cookie

As for the not-so-pretty cookies, I’ve slowly been eating them and can report that they taste much better than the small, stale fortune cookies I’m used to. I even did a side-by-side taste test with the cookie that came with my Pad Thai last night. Trust me on this – once you make your own (or eat one of mine) you’ll never go back to the other kind.

Tomorrow I’ll be making many more of these so I can start handing them out. I’m hopeful the other recipients will like them as much as Heather and her friends did.

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Food Bloggers Help with Menu for Hope

The food blogging community is one of the better ones to be a part of. Not just because of all the support between bloggers, which their definitely is, but because of Menu for Hope, an online auction/raffle to raise money for the UN World Food Program. Last year, Menu for Hope raised more than $90,000 to feed 19,000 children in Lesotho and helped local farmers.

There are just three days left to buy raffle tickets – Menu for Hope V ends Dec. 24! For more information or to buy raffle tickets, please go to www.chezpim.com.

Sadly, I didn’t get on board early enough to take part this year but rest assured I’ll be in on it in 2009. In the meantime, please support this cause through any of the many bloggers taking part!

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Rocky Mountain Toast By Any Other Name

Rocky Mountain Toast

I remember my dad cooking just two dishes, ever (cereal doesn’t count). Both were for breakfast and both used eggs: scrambled eggs with cinnamon and rocky mountain toast. The scrambled eggs were fine, but it was the rocky mountain toast I really liked. And the only way to convince him to make it for me by promising to do all the kitchen clean-up. It was worth it.

Today it remains one of my favorite comfort foods, although I make it only once or twice a year. Rocky mountain toast can be unhealthy (eggs, enriched bread, butter) but that’s not the reason. It’s simply because I just never have bread in my kitchen. I stopped buying it a few years ago when I realized I couldn’t make it even halfway through a loaf without it turning moldy, and I didn’t care for the consistency of defrosted bread. Plus, while I am a carb addict, I rarely eat sandwiches (I prefer hot food, but I’ll leave that discsussion for another day).

So, imagine my excitement when I had two slices of challah bread leftover from the Baked Challah French Toast with Praline Topping I made for my sister and her friends. I waited to use it for days until I couldn’t take it any longer: it was rocky mountain toast time.

I pulled out my nonstick pan reserved specifically for eggs and gave it a quick coating of cooking spray and set it on the burner over medium heat. Then, the fun began. I buttered not one, but both sides of the bread and used my fingers to make a quarter-sized hole in the center of each. Sure, I could have used a round cookie cutter, but my dad taught me to use my fingers so that’s what I did. Of course, I had to eat the small bits of bread that were removed.

buttered bread

Next, I placed both pieces of buttered challah bread in the hot pan and cracked an egg over each so that the yolk sat right over the hole. I cooked it until the bottom of the bread was toasty and the egg whites on the pan had set, then I carefully flipped the bread over so the eggs were now on the bottom. This was the most important part – you have to gently but efficiently flip the bread over so the egg stays in place but also so the yolk doesn’t break. It’s tricky.

Cooking rocky mountain toast

All that was left was to cook the rocky mountain toasts until the bread was crisp, the egg whites were set but the yolks were still runny in the center (as a kid I would to instruct my dad to cook one piece all the way through and to leave the yolk slightly runny in the second). I put both pieces on a plate and used my fork to break the center of the eggs, releasing a small stream of bright yellow liquid which I sopped up with the crunchy, golden toast.

Although this isn’t a unique recipe and, in fact, goes by many different names (i.e. toad in a hold, egg in a nest, etc.), to me it will always be my dad’s.

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Very Mandelly Mandel Bread

Hold onto your hats – and scarves, gloves, etc. (okay, bad joke) – this may shock you: I never really liked mandel bread, or mandelbrot, a quintessential Jewish food. I grew up eating lots of matzo ball soup, brisket, and all the typical dishes, but rarely had mandel bread and when I did I found it too bland and dry.

Wet ingredients

Then, about six weeks ago, I was working on an article for the Pioneer Press Newspapers (read “The Family Cookie“) about a new company that sells only mandel bread. During the interview they offered me a sample to try. I couldn’t believe it – this biscotti-like cookie was delicious! It had a crisp buttery texture (although no butter was used) and was subtly sweet. They offered many flavors but I found myself drawn most to the almond, the traditional flavor (mandelbrot literally translates to “almond bread”). I liked it even better than the chocolate chip, if you can believe that.

Pouring wet into dry Mixing in almonds

I started to wonder if I could make this myself, and if it would be as good. This past weekend I finally had the opportunity to try so I could bring it to my family’s early Hanukkah celebration. And I got my answer: yes, I could make a very good mandel bread that my family quickly devoured, and no, it wasn’t as good as the professionals’.

Dough on floured surface First baking

But it was awfully fun to make. My recipe is below if, like it is for me, the journey is the reward (if not, order yours and make your life easy).

Second baking Cooling mandel bread

The only complaint about the mandel bread was that it tasted sort of like the almond cookies given for dessert in Chinese restaurants, although I believe the relative who said this meant it as a compliment. I have to say I agreed a little – I think I went too far with the almond extract so I changed the recipe to use half as much.

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