Thai Chicken Peanut Satay

This recipe came about because I found some Thai peanut satay sauce on sale at the store. I knew I wanted to serve it with chicken skewers, but I needed some ideas. Improvising with chicken is not something I’m good at.

There are many versions online. Lots of them were for grilled skewers, but I wanted to use the oven. Some used the peanut sauce for basting, but I wanted to use it for dipping. After a lot of searching, I found two chicken skewer recipes from the Food Network (their recipes always work for me!) that I combined to make a perfect easy dinner. One recipe gave me the idea to marinate and the other had the cooking instructions.

Here’s the result. I served this with sesame broccolini (trim stems on the diagonal, parboil, drain, drizzle with sesame oil, sprinkle with sesame seeds, serve hot.)

Serves 4

1 7-oz. jar Thai peanut satay sauce
2 1/2 lbs. skinless, boneless chicken breasts
Large handful of cilantro (fresh coriander)
12-14 long bamboo skewers

For the marinade:
1 Tbsp. hoisin sauce (I know it’s not Thai, but it worked)
1/2 cup lime juice
4 Tbsp. agave
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. minced fresh ginger
4 garlic cloves, minced

Whisk the marinade ingredients together and set aside.

Trim the chicken, then cut into strips. Length doesn’t matter too much, as long as they’re not more than 5 inches or so. You can always put two small strips together on a skewer. Don’t make them too wide — maybe between 1 and 1 1/2 inches.

Whisk the marinade again briefly, then pour into a large bowl. Add the chicken and let marinate 1-2 hours in the refrigerator.

Soak the bamboo skewers in water for 1 hour so they don’t burn in the oven. A good idea is to lay them in a rimmed baking pan (which you’ll use for the skewers later) and pour enough water on top to cover them.

Preheat the oven to 375F/190C degrees. Remove the bamboo skewers from the pan, empty the water, and line the pan with a sheet of foil.

Thread the chicken strips onto the skewers, leaving space on one end for handling, as with a popsicle stick. Place them on the foil and bake for about 30 minutes, or until cooked through.

While they’re cooking, pinch off four cilantro sprigs, chop the rest, and set aside. Pour the satay sauce into small individual serving bowls and stick a cilantro sprig in each. Make the broccolini, if using.

To serve, stack all the skewers on a large plate and sprinkle the cilantro on top. Put the broccolini in a serving bowl. Place both on the table for everyone to help themselves.

Cookie Frosting

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Adapt the decoration on your cookies, or the color of the frosting, for any holiday.

This creamy frosting is a fun, easy way to decorate cookies. It’s not as fancy or sophisticated as icing, which is smooth and glossier, but it’s simple and yummy, and decorations like sprinkles stick to it easily. It’s especially perfect for spreading on sugar cookies.

I got this recipe years ago from a Williams-Sonoma booklet on making Christmas cookies. I keep that booklet in the front pocket of my dessert recipe binder and refer to it often when making any kind of cookie that needs decorating.

This makes about 3/4 cup, or enough to frost 2 dozen regular cookies (about 2 1/2 inches in diameter).

With the brown vanilla extract, the frosting comes out an off-white color. Try a clear extract if you want it pure white, maybe playing around with some flavors of extract to see how it turns out. This can also easily be tinted with food coloring.

2 cups confectioner’s sugar (powdered or icing sugar)
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. heavy cream
Food coloring, if desired.

Sift the confectioner’s sugar into a large bowl about 1/2 cup at a time. Add the melted butter, vanilla, and cream. Using an electric hand mixer, beat on medium speed until creamy and spreadable.

Blueberry Pie

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(Note: I have updated this recipe to include Clear Jel, a thickener that solves the problem of runny fruit pies.)

Whether you’re great at making pies or not, there ought to be at least a few pie recipes in your book that you’re able to make with some confidence. I am no pro at pies and stick mainly to the non-fruit kind, since they’re not so messy — key lime, chocolate pecan, and buttermilk coconut pie are my favorites.

But fruit pies are pretty easy, too, and they’re classic. I make Rose Levy Beranbaum’s apple pie and this blueberry pie. The filling spills all over the place when I serve them, and I’m still working on that (suggestions are welcome), but I seem to be the only one who minds. Everyone always just digs right in.

It used to be so frustrating to spend time making a pie only to have the slices fall apart when I cut them. Was I missing some baking secret or special trick? A couple of online searches for “fix runny fruit pies” yielded a magic ingredient: Clear Jel. It’s a modified cornstarch that is added to the filling before baking and holds the filling together when slices are cut.

Clear Jel is available in big bags online. The smallest bag I found was one pound, and since only a few tablespoons are needed for each pie, I expect it to last a while. If you buy some, look for the instant kind.

Makes one 9-inch pie

3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose (plain) flour
3 Tbsp. instant Clear Jel
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
5 cups fresh blueberries
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. butter, melted
2 refrigerated pie crusts
1 tsp. granulated sugar for topping

Preheat oven to 400F (200C) degrees.

In a large bowl, combine the first nine ingredients, tossing gently with a rubber spatula. Fit one pie crust in a 9-inch pie plate according to package directions, carefully cutting off the overhanging crust. (Save the scraps.) Spoon blueberry mixture into pastry shell.

Use the scraps for the lattice on top of the pie. Gather them into a ball, then roll it out to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut into strips and arrange in a lattice design on top of the pie. If you need more strips, use the other pie crust. I cut my strips to fit inside the pie shell; if you have enough dough, you can lay the ends over the edges of the pie shell and press them in. Then crimp or pinch the edge of the pie in whatever design you like.

Sprinkle the teaspoon of sugar on top of the pie, then place in the oven. Bake 40-45 minutes until golden, shielding the edges with strips of aluminum foil halfway through to prevent excess browning.

(Credit for this recipe goes to a lady named Nan Ferguson of Sandy Springs, Georgia, who submitted it to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about 20 years ago.)

Rainbow Birthday Cake

rainbow birthday cakeHere’s a way to dress up a white cake for special occasions. The layers are colored and the frosting is white, so when slices are cut it’s the inside that stands out.

I was inspired by a picture I clipped from a magazine ages ago that showed four layers in graduating shades of blue. There was no recipe, if I recall — just the picture. But it was easy to copy using my existing recipes for white cake and buttercream frosting.

My son requested this cake for his birthday with four layers, each in one of our favorite colors. That was orange, green, red, and pink. I can foresee making this on holidays — shades of red and pink for Valentine’s Day, pastel colors for Easter, or red, white, and blue (maybe with another layer of white containing sprinkles?) for Independence Day.

The white cake recipe above yields two 9-inch round layers. I made the recipe twice to get four layers. Each time I made the recipe, I divided the batter evenly into two large measuring cups and tinted them with gel colors before pouring into the baking pans.

I also doubled the buttercream frosting recipe above.

Now, you’ll see from the picture that the cake is missing the red layer my son requested and has a brown one instead. That one counts as a lesson learned. I decided to use some red beet powder as a natural red food coloring — I had used it before to tint frosting — but this time, the cake turned out the color of whole wheat bread. I looked it up and it seems that the baking process, and maybe a reaction to the baking powder, turned the red beet powder brown. Oh, well. I know for next time.

A note on the frosting: For this cake, you want the colored layers to stand out, so you shouldn’t put a lot of frosting between them. Put just a small amount to act as a glue to hold the layers in place. The thin ribbon of white you’ll see between each layer when you cut the cake is also just enough to show off the colors.

Hard-boiled Eggs

There isn’t much to say about this recipe, but it’s a basic one that ought to be in your cookbook somewhere. I’ve been making more of these lately so we can dye them for Easter eggs.

1. Wash eggs to be hard-cooked in warm soap and water.

2. Place eggs in a single layer in an enamel, glass, or steel pan.

3. Add enough tap water to come at least 1 inch above the eggs.

4. Cover the pan and rapidly bring the water to a boil. Then turn off the heat. If you’re using an electric range, take the pan off the burner.

5. Leave the cover on the pan. Let large eggs sit for 15-17 minutes; medium eggs about 3 minutes less; extra-large about 3 minutes more.

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6. Heat retained in the water will continue to cook them, so remove eggs with a slotted spoon and transfer to a bowl of ice water. Cooling helps prevent the green rings that sometimes form around the yolks.

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Notes:
Don’t worry if the eggs crack a little during boiling, because they are still cooked and perfectly edible. If you dye them, part of the egg underneath the shell will be colored, but since most egg dyes are food-safe it won’t matter.

To eat them, tap the eggs gently on a hard surface to make cracks, then gently peel off the shell.

Slice or cut them into chunks, sprinkled with a little salt. Chop them for an egg salad sandwich or crumble them for a salad. Or make them into deviled eggs — see my recipe here.

Candied Pecan Popcorn

20170128_162714This is a recipe that could earn you a lot of friends. I brought a container of this to work, and it was soon gobbled up by colleagues who asked me not to bring it in again because they didn’t need the temptation.

The original recipe came from the Food Network magazine, which always seems to have recipes that just simply work. It was the creation of Marcela Valladolid, who called for the addition of chipotle seasoning, but I leave that out in my version. Here is the recipe, with a few more changes from the original.

11 cups popped plain popcorn (very important: inspect carefully and remove all unpopped kernels)
1 cup pecans, roughly chopped
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/4 cup honey
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda

Heat oven to 250F degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and butter the foil.

When oven is hot, put popcorn on the pan and scatter the pecans on top. Place in the oven while you do the next step.

Place the sugar, butter, and honey in a small saucepan and heat over medium-low, stirring occasionally. When the sugar and butter have melted, increase the heat and boil for 4 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and quickly stir in salt and baking soda.

Remove popcorn from oven and pour the syrup on top, then mix gently with a rubber spatula to coat as much of the popcorn as possible. Bake for 1 hour, stirring with the spatula halfway through to coat more popcorn.

Remove from oven, stir once more, and let cool. To remove cooled popcorn from foil, lift it up at each end, gently moving the foil around to ease the popcorn off.

White Bean Soup

20161203_134150This easy soup looks and tastes like it could be served in a restaurant. I love the creamy base, which you get not from cream, but from pureeing some of the beans. It’s a trick I didn’t know before, and I love it because it keeps the calories and fat content low.

The recipe came from Dallas chef David Holben and was served at his former restaurant, Mediterraneo. I clipped it years ago from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The original recipe called for cooking bacon, then using the bacon fat to cook the onions. I omitted the bacon and replaced the fat with olive oil.

Makes 4 servings

Olive oil
1/2 large yellow onion, finely chopped
2 15-oz. cans white (Great Northern) beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 tsp. dark brown sugar
1 large clove garlic, minced
2 cups chicken stock
1 heaping tsp. dried thyme
1 heaping tsp. dried rosemary
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook until translucent.

Add beans, sugar, garlic, stock, and herbs. Simmer 20 minutes or so, checking to make sure the beans don’t get too soft. (You may also have to simmer longer.)

With a slotted spoon or ladle, remove half the beans and place in a food processor or blender, then puree. You can also place the beans in a bowl and puree with an immersion blender. Stir the puree back into soup and add salt and pepper to taste.