Sunday, January 31, 2016

Denver Versus Carolina Wings

Super Bowl recipes are everywhere and I am no different in wanting something fun to serve while watching the "big game."  This year it's chicken wings with two sauces: one to celebrate Denver and the other for Carolina.

For the Broncos, it's got be chili verde wings. Denver residents, including my brother, put their famous green chili sauce on everything from breakfast to through dinner. We all know the Carolinas are famous for several types of great barbecue so for the Panthers we'll toss the wings in a thin vinegar-hot sauce that reminds me of little of Buffalo wings.

Get ready-- it's game on.

And by get ready, I mean the cook should enjoy the party too.  The wings are cooked right out of the freezer, drained then finished in their sauce.  You can even make them ahead. 
Denver Versus Carolina Wings
Recipe makes enough sauce for 3 dozen wings and can be doubled or tripled.

Start with the Wings:
36 frozen chicken wings  (about 3 pounds)
  1. Preheat oven to 425˚F. 
  2. Line two roasting pans with tin foil.   
  3. Place half the wings in each pan and roast for 15 minutes then drain wings.  While wings roast, prepare sauces. 
...for the Denver Wings
Chile Verde Sauce
2 Poblano or Anaheim peppers (canned is OK according to Denver residents)
1 jalepeño chili pepper
1 medium tomatillo*
½ medium onion
1 clove garlic
½ teaspoon oregano
¼ teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon salt
handful fresh cilantro
¼ cup water
*If you cannot find tomatillos, substitute a seeded tomato and a tablespoon of lime juice
  1. Roast, peel and seed fresh chilies if using.  If using canned, skip this step.   
  2. Roughly chop chilies, onion and peeled garlic clove.  (You may use jalepeño without roasting.  Seed and remove veins before chopping.) 
  3. Add chopped vegetables, spices and cilantro to a food processor.  Pulse to create a puree.   
  4. Add water by tablespoonful if pulp is very thick.  You are looking for a thick but pourable sauce.

...for the Carolina Wings
Vinegar Barbecue Sauce
½ cup apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon maple syrup (or brown sugar)
2 teaspoons hot sauce (or ketchup if you do not want spicy wings)
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
  1. Combine all ingredients in a jar.  Seal the jar and shake well.
Finish Wings:
  1. Pour the Chili Verde Sauce in one pan and the Vinegar Barbecue Sauce in the other.  Toss each sauce with the wings to coat completely.   You may have a little leftover sauce. 
  2. Roast uncovered for 30 minutes.  Halfway through turn the wings over in the sauce and switch their positions in the oven.  Wings  are ready when they reach a temperaure of 170˚F.  Serve immediately or cool and store covered.  (If using fresh wings, check after 20 minutes.)
  3. If you want your wings to have crisp skins, turn each wing so that it is sitting skin side up. Turn the oven to broil and place the roasting pan on the top rack.   Broil for 5 minutes, watching carefully.

Wings can be served plain or with dippers like sour cream, guacamole or buttermilk based dressings or drag them through some bean or beer-cheese dip. The Carolina wings also taste good with blue cheese dressing inthe style of Buffalo wings.

Store cooled wings covered in the refrigerator.  Reheat wings uncovered in a preheated 325˚F oven for 15-20 minutes.  Wings can be reheated in the microwave  with a cover --like a piece of paper towel to absorb any slattter.  They do not crisp up as well in the mircowave as in the oven.

If you have a litttle more time and care about the amount of fat associated with chicken wings you can roast the wings for 15 minutes, drain the fat and then combine the wings with their respective saauce.  Cook another 10-15 minutes until the wings reach a temperaure of 170˚F.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Weeknight Paella

Is Paella possible on a weeknight?  Yes, if you just think of it as enhanced chicken & rice and don't worry about cooking it in the traditional wide paella pan over an open flame.

Basic chicken and rice (or Arroz con Pollo) is simple.  In a large pot, cook two cups of uncooked rice in 4 1/2 cups of liquid seasoned with salt, pepper, oregano and paprika. I like short grain brown rice but regular rice is acceptable and also faster cooking.  Use water, chicken broth or a combination of both as your liquid. Sometimes I add a little tomato paste or chopped tomatoes, especially if they are very ripe and need a good home.  During the last fifteen minutes add cut up boneless chicken pieces and a cup of frozen peas. Cover and cook until the chicken is done.

Turn this into weeknight paella with the following enhancements (complete recipe is below). If you have saffron, add a few threads to your rice.  If not, try a combination of smoked paprika and turmeric instead.  Add bottled clam juice to your rice liquids.  Substitute clam juice for all or most of the water.  I use half chicken broth; half clam juice. 

While the rice cooks, sauté an onion, some red bell pepper and celery in a separate skillet with a few tablespoons of olive oil.  I also add chopped carrots and sliced green beans.  Add these ingredients to the rice when the rice is halfway cooked.

When your rice is almost tender and has about 10 minutes left to cook, add cut up boneless chicken pieces, peeled raw shrimp and slices of chorizo sausage.  Now is the time to add frozen artichoke hearts and frozen peas.  Check the liquid.  Add more broth, clam juice or water.  At this stage I usually add about 1/2 cup more liquid and carefully bury the new ingredients in the hot rice mixture. 

When the chicken and shrimp are completely cooked, garnish your paella with some black olives and fresh chopped parsley and dish into wide bowls. 

Here is the recipe.  The ingredient list is longer than I usually use for weeknights but you can mix and match vegetables to keep it easy. To me the key flavors in paella are saffron, red bell pepper, poultry, seafood and garlicky chorizo.  Most vegetables work well so pick some your favorites from the group listed. 

Weeknight Paella
Serves 4


2 cups rice (short grain brown rice preferred)
5 cups liquid (chicken broth, clam juice and/or water)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon oregano
pinch saffron threads
1 medium white or yellow onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, cored and chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
optional: 2 carrots, peeled and chopped, 1 cup green beans, sliced, 1 medium zucchini sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound boneless chicken— breasts or thighs, cut in bite sized pieces
1/2 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 box frozen artichoke hearts
1/2 pound Chorizo sausage*, sliced (about 12 slices)
1 cup frozen peas
1/4 cup black olives 

3 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley


  1. Combine rice, 5 cups liquid, salt, pepper, paprika, oregano and saffron in a large covered pot.  
  2. Bring rice to a boil, lower heat to simmer and cook covered. (Brown rices will take 45-50 minutes; white rices will take about 30 minutes.)
  3. While rice cooks, sauté onion, red bell pepper, celery and any other fresh vegetables you like in two tablespoons olive oil.  
  4. Add vegetables to rice when rice is abut halfway done.   
  5. About ten minutes before the rice is finished, taste the rice to see if it is done.  It should be hard in the center but you will be able to bite through it.  At this point a bowl of paella is about 10 -15 minutes away! Add chicken, shrimp, chorizo, artichokes and peas.  Give the pot a good stir to bury the new ingredients and check your liquid to make sure the bottom of the pot is not dry.  If needed, add 1/2-1 cup extra liquid to ensure rice is wet enough to share a little steam with the chicken and shrimp.  
  6. Cover and cook paella on low until chicken and shrimp are cooked through.  Taste the rice and adjust seasoning as needed with a little extra salt, pepper or paprika. Serve topped with black olives and parsley.
And… some of us add a little extra virgin olive oil from Spain and a squeeze of lemon to paella at the table.  

Elegant Life Leftovers: Weeknight Paella can be frozen for another easy night.  Cool completely in the refrigerator then pack into serving sized freezable containers or freezer bags.  Reheat in the microwave on a low setting or pop the serving out and into a pan with a few tablespoons of water.  Reheat over low heat. 

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Winter Veggie Stew

Butternut squash and white beans predominate in this simple vegetable stew making it easy to spice up in several different directions.  One pot of stew can be your vegetable side for several different dinners or feed a tableful of hungry vegetarians on a cold night.

Serve Winter Veggie Stew with a variety of Indian chutneys and plain yogurt and some warm naan. Or during the last few minutes of cooking, go mediterranean by adding a little extra virgin olive oil, black olives and sun dried tomatoes (in oil).  Fresh rosemary or thyme for garnish and a fat slice of a baguette on the side.  You can even pack this thick stew into a flour tortilla with sliced avocado, fresh cilantro sprigs, lime juice and salsa. ¡Olé!

Winter Vegetarian Veggie Stew
Serves 4-6, recipe can be doubled

1 ½ cups (1/2 bag) white beans, soaked (or one can low sodium white beans)

5-6 cups water
2 cups celery
½ onion
3 carrots
2 T oil

1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon  turmeric
1 teaspoon Hungarian sweet paprika
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon oregano
2 medium potatoes (eastern or low starch)
1 small butternut squash (or ½ a large squash)
1 ½ cups green beans
1 medium zucchini
½ red bell pepper


  1. If using dry beans, soak 8 hours (over night or during work day). Drain beans and rinse.  If using canned beans, read directions below.
  2. Place beans in 5 cups water and bring to a boil.  Cover and simmer.  Add tomato paste, turmeric, Hungarian sweet paprika, salt, pepper, and oregano.   Simmer beans, stirring occasionally for one hour.  
  3. Prepare vegetables: Chop celery, including leaves.  Chop onion and dice one carrot.  Sauté chopped vegetables in oil until limp.  Add to pot.
  4. Cut remaining two carrots, potato and butternut squash in large chunks.  Set aside.  Cut green beans in thirds (no longer than 2 inches). Set aside with other vegetables. 
  5. Prepare zucchini and red pepper.  Slice zucchini in large chunks.  Core and seed red bell pepper.  Cut into 1 inch pieces.  Sauté in skillet or place in a small baking dish tossed with some oil, salt and pepper and roast at 450 degrees F for 20 minutes until crisping. 
  6. Check beans.  Taste and if they are softening, add buternut squash, potates, carrots and green beans and enough water or vegetable broth to just cover all ingredients.  Continue to cook until vegetables are cooked and beans are very tender—about 15-20 minutes more. 
  7. Stir in cooked zucchini and red bell pepper.  
Serve alone in wide bowls or over rice, short pasta.

Directions for Canned Beans
If using canned beans you will add them at the end of the recipe.  Season the water following step 2 (omit beans) and add 3-1/2 cups water to your pot. Add all the vegeatbles to the pot except the zucchini and red bell pepper.  Simmer for 15-20 minutes while you prepare the zucchini and red pepper following step 5.  Once all the vegetables are tender add the canned beans and cook about five minutes more.  (Drain but do not rinse the canned beans.)

Elegant Life Leftovers: Add broth to make a soup.  This stew is vegetarian but you can replace some of the liquid with chicken broth if you'd like.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Sugar Alternatives

Ah, lists.  Here are six realistic ways to cut back on sugar.  Pick just one or try all six.   A goal of swearing off sugar for good is great and a way to get there is even more useful.  Don't be without a plan as the winter gets colder and New Year's pledges start to look small in the rear view mirror. 

Six Ways to Cut Back the Sugar in 2016
  1. Plan to eat fruit at least once a day.  The fiber is satisfying and you will soon find you crave really sugary treats less.  Give it time; it takes most people about two weeks to adjust their taste buds back to non-artificial levels.  Look forward to how good real food is going to taste. 
  2. Change what you buy at the food store starting today.  If it is not in the house, it will be easier to avoid.  Buy fruit instead of cookies, whole grain varieties of breads, flour, rice and pasta and low sodium canned whole beans and proteins instead of processed meals with a high amount sodium and sugar in the ingredients. 
  3. Bake it yourself.  If you have to work harder to eat a cookie and see what goes into the recipe, you will learn how much sugar is enough.  When you bake, use whole grain flour (look for white whole wheat) and look for recipes using less sugar per serving.  I'll be postng a few of these in the coming year.
  4. Measure what you do use with a real measuring spoon in order to reduce the amount you use over time. Use 1/2 and 1/4 teaspoon measures.  Consider replacing white sugar with smaller quantities of natural sweeteners like honey and maple syrup.  If you like your morning coffee a little sweet, try stirring in maple syrup.  A little goes a long way.  
  5. Take a long, hard look at the yogurt in your life.  If you are eating flavored yogurt because you think it is a healthy treat, you may be surprised to learn that the sugar content is often higher than that found in the pudding aisle.  Try buying plain yogurt and adding crushed fruit and a small amount, 1/2 teaspoon, of honey or maple syrup. Consider the whole milk or low fat varieties.  Non-fat does not always satisfy and can lead to more cravings.  
  6. Speaking of sugar cravings, notice what is really happening during a craving.  When we are hungry our bodies often request the fastest way to refuel-- sugar and carbs.  If you have not eaten a real meal in several hours you may simply be hungry, and with good reason.  Eat some protein and a complex carbohydrate.  Plan for this at key times like the late afternoon and be ready with a handful of nuts, a piece of cheese or other pure, real food choice.