Stovetop Spiced Pecans

I wanted a bit of sweet-salty crunch with the salad we made as part of our Christmas Eve dinner this year. After bouncing options off my husband I opted for a quick online search where I found this recipe that sounded promising. A bit of on-the-fly modification produced a tasty result.

Stovetop Spiced Pecans
Servings: 1 cup nuts
Prep time: nada
Total time: less than 5 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup whole pecans
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. water
  • 1/2 tsp. Ceylon cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper for finishing

Directions:

  1. Place a non-stick skillet over medium heat and add the pecans. Toast for about 1 minute, swishing the nuts around the pan frequently. Transfer to a plate.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients to the skillet, allow the sugar to melt and swirl to combine the spices.
  3. Return the nuts to the pan and toss to coat. Allow to cook for another minute until the nuts are well-coated with sugar and spice.
  4. Transfer nuts to a rimmed baking dish lined with parchment or a silicone mat. Spread the nuts out so they don’t touch. Sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper to taste.
  5. Allow to cool for 30 minutes and then transfer to a sealable container.

Note:
Let these cool at least a minute or two before tasting; the sugary coating is lavatastic when it first comes out of the skillet.

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Christmas Eve 2016

We enjoy having a few friends over on Christmas Eve. We often use it as an occasion to try out something fancier than our usual Saturday night dinner fare. This year, though, we are both feeling the need for comforting food that was fairly simple for us to put together.

Menu
Baked Brie
Roasted Pear and Spiced Pecan Salad with Apple Cider Vinaigrette
Lamb Pie with Puff Pastry
Farro with Mushrooms and Thyme
Roasted Carrots
Gingerbread
Strawberry Shortcake Pie

Notes under the cut

Creamy Chicken Chili

My husband wanted to make corn bread and asked what we should have with it. I suggested chicken chili and then said I knew he wouldn’t really approve. Chili for him is a tomato-based dish and chicken chili, at least in my mind and creation, is not. So I’ll compromise and put the chili in quotes. Or you can call this a creamy chicken stew if you like.

I use chicken thighs in this dish because they are very forgiving if you over shoot the recommended 175°F temperature. Since they get cooked through, and then added back as shredded chicken, we can use the extra insurance.

Creamy Chicken Chili
Servings: 6-8
Prep time: 20 minutes
Total time: 1 hour

Ingredients:

  • 2 poblano peppers
  • 2 Serrano peppers
  • ~4 lbs. bone-in chicken thighs (about 8), skin removed
  • 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil, divided
  • 1 lg. green bell pepper, 1/4″ dice
  • 1 lg. Spanish (red) onion, 1/4″ dice
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 3 Tbsp. chili powder
  • 2 cups unsalted chicken broth
  • 1×14.5 oz. can white beans, such as Great Northern, drained
  • 4 oz. room temperature cream cheese, cut into 8 cubes
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Optional: sour cream, cheddar cheese, avocado, radishes

Directions:

  1. Char the outside of the poblano and Serrano peppers, either by placing over a gas burner or under the broiler in the oven, until well blackened on all sides. Place in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 5 minutes.
  2. Trim excess fat from the skinned chicken thighs. Sprinkle generously with kosher slat and black pepper.
  3. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a 5 quart Dutch oven over medium high heat until just shimmering. Add thighs to the pan, placing what would be the skin side down first. Do not crowd the pan, rather work in batches (it took me 2 batches). Cook ~4 minutes on each side then transfer to plate while you brown the second batch.
  4. Pull the Dutch oven off the heat and look at how much fat is left. Add or drain so that you have about 2 tablespoons of fat. Return to medium heat for about 30 seconds then add the onions and bell pepper. Sprinkle with a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Stir to distribute and coat with oil. Cook for about 5 minutes until the onion is translucent.
  5. While the onions/peppers cook slip the charred skin from the poblanos and Serranos. A paper towel can help in this. Try to avoid running under water, it washes off some of the flavor along with the charred skin. Remove the seeds from the peppers. Roughly chop the Serranos to match the garlic. Cut the poblanos into 1/4″ squares.
  6. Push the onions/peppers to the side of the pan and add the garlic, Serranos and poblanos. Cook until the garlic is fragrant, 30 seconds to a minute.
  7. Add the chili powder and stir until it coats the vegetables. Stir in the chicken broth. Nestle the thighs into the Dutch oven, submerging them as best you can. Cover and cook over medium-low heat for 15 minutes.
  8. Grab the largest thigh with tongs and check the temperature with an instant read thermometer. If the result is less then 175°F return the thigh to the pot, partially cover and cook another 5 minutes. Test again until the thighs are all at least 175°F.
  9. Transfer cooked chicken to a plate. Add the beans to the pot along with the cubes of cream cheese. Stir to help the cream cheese melt. Reduce the temperature to low.
  10. Using 2 forks pull the chicken from the bones and shred it as best you can. Return the chicken to the pot as you complete each thigh. Stir everything together and serve.

Notes:
You may want to lower the temperature under the Dutch oven to medium-low before browning the second batch of thighs to avoid burning the fond in the bottom of the pan.

The leftovers, if any, could be used to make an interesting creamy chicken enchilada sort of dish.

Slow-cooker Pork Loin

Some weeks I know that, despite having two ovens, we will still be fighting for oven space as we approach dinner time. I turn to the slow-cooker on such occassions to prepare any number of lovely things. There are those who question using the slow-cooker without any liquid. Luckily most cuts of meat will produce a bit of liquid on their own over time. I say don’t sweat it.

Slow-cooker Pork Loin
Servings: 8-10
Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 3 1/2 hours

Ingredients:

  • 3 1/2 lb. pork loin
  • 1 tsp. herbes de Provence
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper

Special equipment:

Directions:

  1. Trim excess fat from the top of the pork loin, leaving about an 1/8″.
  2. Combine herbs, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Sprinkle over all sides of the pork loin, rubbing it in to ensure adherence.
  3. Place the pork loin in the crock pot and cover. Heat on low for 3 hours.
  4. Check the temperature; you want it to reach 145° before removing. If it isn’t ready then check again in 15 minutes.
  5. Transfer pork loin to a grooved cutting board and tent with foil. Allow to rest for 15-20 minutes. The internal temperature will continue to rise another 5-10°. Slice meat thinly and serve with homemade applesauce.

Notes:
I traded a bit of flavor for ease of prep by not browning the outside of the pork roast. If you don’t mind dirtying a skillet you can rub it with salt and pepper then brown it over high heat in a little vegetable oil. Cool until you can comfortably handle, rub on the herbes de Provence and continue with step 3.