Gettin' trendy with Rick Bayless
BRAISED CHICKEN WITH RICE AND SPINACH CARAMEL POPCORN WITH SALTED PEANUTS
Last week, I spent the day at Sargento, the cheese company near Milwaukee, and met Rick Bayless, a celebrity chef who is admired for his Mexican-themed cookbooks and highly acclaimed restaurants.
A few months ago, Sargento hired Rick to develop a list of the top 10 food trends. The company also hired a group of food writers and recipe developers, myself included, to create recipes over the coming year incorporating one or two of the trends with, you guessed it, cheese.
I have never been one to consciously pay attention to trends in food or fashion, for that matter. Yet trends open us up to fresh ideas, some of which might stick. Though bell-bottoms may have had their day, those billowy pant legs paved the way for boot-cut jeans and various other options, which have, indeed, had staying power.
Ten years ago, kale was merely a bitter garnish. As it came into vogue more recently, this dark, leafy green became available to people who tried it and liked it. Now, many people consume this nutrient-rich vegetable regularly and often have a choice among several varieties; some even grow it in their gardens. So, if trendy translates to accessibility and variety, I am jumping on board.
Toward the end of a fun, informative day touring the Sargento facility, spending time in the test kitchen, tasting and learning to grade cheese, we listened as Rick Bayless talked about trends ranging from habanero peppers and fermented foods to Peruvian and Middle Eastern cuisine and the use of herbs in desserts.
At "the big reveal," I was tasked with bitter greens and braised meats. And while there will still be salads with spring greens, baked oatmeals and grilled options, I am truly excited about using these trends as a stepping stone to flavorful new recipes that can be enjoyed at home.
Just as spinach was once the bridge to kale, kale will now serve as the gateway to such options as collard and beet greens. So when you buy a fresh bunch of beets at Lancaster Central Market, think twice about tossing the nutrient-dense leaves. And while braising may not be a new technique, sometimes a little nudge is helpful to move us beyond our go-to recipes and try something altogether new.
Coincidentally, the day before I left for Milwaukee, I created the following recipe. It merges my food trend perfectly. Perhaps next time I should swap the spinach for, say, dandelion greens?
Although this recipe requires a slow braise, it is largely a hands-off meal. The slow cooking will reward you with exceptional flavor in this wholesome, one-pot dinner. When my kids ask for leftovers the following night, I know a recipe is a keeper!
1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 cup water
1 teaspoon dried thyme (or 1 tablespoon fresh, minced)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
¼ teaspoon sugar
3½ cups chicken broth
¾ cup (5 ounces) brown rice (see notes)
5 ounces (about 4 cups, lightly packed) curly spinach, roughly chopped (could use other dark, leafy green of choice)
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
Parmesan or Manchego cheese, for serving
Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium to medium-high heat. Saut' the onions for about 5 minutes, or until they begin to soften and brown a bit on the edges.
Add the chicken, and cook for about 5 minutes, browning on both sides.
Add the tomatoes with their juice, the water, thyme, sugar, salt and pepper. (I adjusted over the course of cooking and found a total of 1½ teaspoons kosher salt and a scant half teaspoon of fresh pepper to be perfect for our tastes.)
Bring the mixture to a boil, then immediately reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 45 minutes.
At this point, I removed the chicken to a plate and half shredded, half cut it into bite-size pieces, and then returned to the pot.
Finally, add the chicken broth, bring to a boil, then add the brown rice. Cover and continue cooking over low heat (you want the mixture to be at a very gentle simmer) for another 45 to 50 minutes or until the rice is cooked but not mushy. (Check a time or two, as the rice will continue to cook in the hot broth after being removed from the heat.)
Stir in the chopped spinach and the balsamic vinegar and check for seasoning. Serve with a sprinkling of cheese, if desired.
Notes: Using ¾ cup of rice will yield a finished product that is like a thick soup after the mixture sits for a few minutes. If you would prefer to use white rice, you will only need to simmer for 20 minutes or so. You may also use pasta, in which case simmer until al dente, about 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the type of pasta being used.
Although popcorn did not make Rick Bayless' Top 10 list, look for this movie theater staple to appear as a crouton in salads and in such unexpected places as desserts and granola.
If popcorn in your cake or ice cream sounds a little far-flung, consider the following recipe. This salty-sweet treat is quite popular in our house as a snack or dessert.
This recipe can easily be doubled and, presented in a tin or decorative bag, makes a welcome hostess or holiday gift. If doubling, using a large stockpot will provide ample room to toss the popcorn once the caramel mixture is cooked. When time to bake the larger quantity, a turkey roasting pan works well.
Make sure to remove any unpopped kernels before mixing in the popcorn.
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup light brown sugar
¼ cup honey
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup salted peanuts
10 cups (2½ quarts) popped plain popcorn
Preheat your oven to 250 degrees.
In a large pot (large enough to add the popcorn later and toss), melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the brown sugar, honey and salt. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.
Once the mixture comes to a boil, boil for 4 minutes without stirring. I adjust the heat to the lowest possible temperature that will just maintain a boil. This way, the mixture won't burn.
After 4 minutes, remove the pot from the heat and stir in the vanilla and baking soda. The mixture will get bubbly; this is normal.
Immediately add the popcorn and peanuts. Toss gently but thoroughly. If the mixture starts to firm up before you have thoroughly incorporated the popcorn, place the pot over low heat to soften the caramel mixture and finish mixing.
Place the popcorn mixture in a greased 9-by-13-inch baking dish or other large, shallow pan and bake 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes.
Remove from the oven and turn out onto parchment or wax paper and cool thoroughly, breaking apart any large clumps, if desired.
Store in an airtight container and enjoy!
Notes: If you double the recipe and use a deeper pan, bake 15 extra minutes for a total of one hour, stirring every 15 minutes.
When finished, fill the sticky pans with hot water and allow to sit for a few minutes. All the excess caramel mixture will dissolve and cleanup will be a breeze.
Have questions or comments about Ann Fulton's column? Check out her blog at fountainavenuekitchen.com or at facebook.com/thefountainavenuekitchen. She also welcomes email at firstname.lastname@example.org.