Gingerbread “Truffles”

Gingerbread "truffles" with lemon icing and candied orange peels

Gingerbread “truffles” with lemon icing and candied orange peels

Even though I have yet to buy a single Christmas gift (eek!), I have already immersed myself in holiday baking projects. With the rate the holiday season is approaching, I had to start early or it’d be January before I knew it!

These little guys were one of the easiest creations I’ve made this season and I pretty much love them. The recipe is very easy to follow and you don’t even have to turn on your oven!

Basically they are bite-sized “truffles” made from oats, pecans, dates, flax seed, molasses and spices. Somehow something so relatively healthy (when compared to the decadence of other holiday treats) still manages to taste like a sweetly chewy gingersnap cookie.

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Herb & Garlic Rubbed Poussin with Pistachio Relish

Herbed Poussin with Pistachio Relish

One of my favorite work stories is the day I got a call from a guy who wanted to buy some possum meat. We get that type of call all the time — people looking for beaver, lion and squirrel — so this request was not too strange. I told him we did not sell possum, expecting that to be the end of it.

Instead he started to argue with me, saying that he was looking at our price list online and possum was on there as being a “stock item.” Baffled, I asked him for the item number. He gave it to me and I could barely contain my laughter as I said, “Sir, that’s not possum, it’s poussin — baby chickens.”

That happened years ago but it still makes me giggle.

For anyone else unfamiliar with poussin, they are basically a chicken a few weeks younger than a game hen. Once processed and packed, they weigh about 15-17 oz, making them ideal for a one-bird-per-person dinner.

I rarely ever buy them, but I had a recipe that I wanted to try out and it called for 2 each 3# chickens. Since I was only cooking for two people, I figured two poussin would work just fine.

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Tso Delicious! The making of the general’s chicken…

General Tso's Chicken

Over the past few years, I’ve cooked a fair amount of Chinese food, focusing mainly on my favorite dim sum dishes (yum bean curd rolls!). But beyond the basic stirfries and fried rice, I haven’t attempted much from the more Americanized style, like General Tso’s chicken for instance. But last week, feeling frisky, I decided to expand my repertoire and I had the perfect recipe to try out: this one created by Grace Parisi.

While General Tso’s Chicken may have a slightly murky history, the reason it’s remained so popular is easy to understand. It’s spicy, sweet, salty and fried — basically the epitome of great take-out Chinese food. And it appeals to the masses, from hungover college students to stay-at-home moms. With all of those different elements, it seemed like the perfect thing to try making at home.

And to be honest this review of the recipe really encouraged me to go for it — such an awesome experiment!

Anyways, Parisi’s recipe manages to combine all of the expected goodness of General Tso’s in a slightly less fatty (and certainly less processed!) way. I was a bit hesitant about the frying part since normally I try to eat a little healthier, but I felt it was only fair to try the recipe as written. Well…for the most part anyways — I did sub out the chicken thighs for boneless breasts only because I had them on hand.

On the subject of frying, the first thing that stood out about this recipe was the batter for the chicken. I loved that it wasn’t a basic tempura-style of batter; instead it has components added in — soy, sesame oil — giving the final dish another layer of flavor. The breading is also incredibly light. It ends up barely clinging to the meat (in a good way!), making the chicken seem merely very crispy instead of greasy and deep fried.

Chicken slices in the batter

Chicken slices in the batter

Fried chicken pieces

Fried chicken pieces

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The Spice of Life: My first attempt at Beef Rendang

Beef Rendang

Beef Rendang

I’m going to be upfront about something. This is the first time I’ve ever eaten or made beef rendang, so I can’t tell you how it compares to other versions out there. I can’t even tell you if it’s at all authentic, but I can tell you it was delicious!

A little back story: I’ve had this recipe for Beef Rendang kicking around in my arsenal for a long, long time (3 years to the month!) and for some reason I never think to actually make it. But finally, last weekend, I had a beef chuck roast that needed some love and attention.

My first instinct was a traditional beef stew, this one in particular, but I didn’t have a whole bottle of wine on hand to just use for cooking. My next thought was to do more of a curry-style braised beef and then I remembered this recipe. I even had the ingredients — clearly it was meant to be!

Since I was unfamiliar with rendang in general, I read a little bit about the history of the dish to get some background. It originated in Indonesia and should contain a serious list of spices, most often ginger, galangal, turmeric, lemongrass, garlic, shallots and chillies. It’s often mistaken as a cousin to the curry but rendang should actually be dry — as in cooked so slowly that the meat absorbs all of the liquid.

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Parmesan Biscotti: The antidote for your candy overdose

Champagne and Biscotti

Two old friends hanging out — Champagne and Biscotti

When I first attempted making savory biscotti about a month ago, I used cheddar cheese and cayenne pepper. The end result was so delicious that I wanted to try the initial recipe that had piqued my curiosity. The recipe, from a 2006 issue of Gourmet magazine, is for Parmesan and Black Pepper Biscotti and has stellar reviews online.

Even Deb from Smitten Kitchen gave it a try years ago in mid-December and called the biscotti the perfect antidote to sugary holiday treats. (And yes, I am stealing her name for it because it’s totally true.)

So if you’re like me and the thought of one more chocolate truffle makes you cringe, consider whipping up a batch of these. They are not at all sweet — but they are rich with a hefty kick of spice and full of cheesy flavor. While you could eat them with coffee, these biscotti are better suited for Champagne and lush red wines. They’d be perfect as an hors d’oeuvre at a fancy soiree or paired with an aperitif at a dinner party.

Or, let’s be honest, eaten while standing alone in your kitchen at midnight. No shame here, people.

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Picnic-Perfect Chicken with Grape & Raisin Agrodolce

Roasted Chicken with AgrodolceIt may be disgustingly cold in Portland right now, but my mind is fast-forwarding to the pleasures of spring. Just when I think I can’t handle any more winter, I know it’ll soon be over and the sun will warm up the city. And when that happens, there will be trips to the river, the park, the coast or down into Oregon’s wine country. And when there are trips like that, picnics are a given!

Last summer I tried out pressed sandwiches for my rather infamous picnic in Newport, OR. I’ve already decided that when spring hits, I’ll be packing this chicken. And I won’t make promises about sharing with any of my picnic-partaking partners. It’s so good, they might have to fend for themselves.

This recipe is, as they would call it in the movie biz, a sleeper hit. It is greater than the sum of its parts, but if it came down to it, it’s the agrodolce that takes it above and beyond. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it’s an Italian version of sweet and sour, usually made with a combination of vinegar and sugar, similar to the French gastrique.

And it is fabulous. I’ve tasted agrodolce in several different forms — coating onions, lacquered over wild boar ribs and even as a sticky, finger-licking sauce on turkey wings. But this relish could be one of my favorites. The grapes were like little jewels and the onion was almost candied, but the bite of the vinegar was still very present and the pine nuts rounded everything out with a hint of buttery flavor. It’s the perfect topping for any meat, though it perfectly complements this chicken.

Just looking at this makes my mouth water!

Just looking at this makes my mouth water!

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