Saturday, January 19, 2019

Wholeness Requires Action: Hearing the Human Frequency

Haven't we all heard about a billion times that we need to take care of ourselves? Every single medical study out there shows that when we care for our bodies we function better. Certainly we don't need a refresher on that basic truth, and yet so many of us abuse ourselves in any number of ways and reject what science proves as truth.

We know what is good for us and yet we continue to do things we should not. We overeat, we drink too much, we smoke, we rarely exercise, or maybe we just do too much in general and sleep suffers. The standard recommendations of nutrition and sleep are just the base needs of what our bodies require. If we ever expect to perform at higher levels, we have to be even more attentive to how we care for ourselves.

A funny thing happens when you make that resolution to take action and care for yourself; you FEEL a difference. The more the behavior change impacts your overall health or well-being and the better you feel, the more the resolution becomes a knowing of a better way to live. As you travel the path of knowing a better way to live, the path widens and more opportunities for self care present themselves. It just naturally works that way; believe it or not, your body likes it when you take care of it and it will call upon you to do more.

The only obstacle on the way to becoming a better you is YOU. Sadly, we often tell ourselves that some abusive behaviors can not change, that we must accept them as part of our makeup or our situation. This is a lie, we can change everything; even if it is just a perspective or judgement about a situation, still that is a change.

Every abuse we inflict and the resulting lie we tell ourselves about those things we believe we can not change creates a story in our head that acts as chatter to cover our inner voice. The farther away we get from caring for ourselves, the more we silence that voice with chatter. Our inner voice is from the same source that energizes the entire world. It makes sense that this voice of God, if that is how you label it, is louder when you honor yourself; for you are an amazing creation indeed! Every creator wants their creation to thrive, be well-cared for, and honored; that inner voice provides ultimate guidance to that end if you simply listen. The more you listen to your body's needs and follow the suggestions, the louder that voice gets.

All of nature functions on intuition, an inner voice of guidance that helps all living things flourish. The hummingbirds know how to behave like hummingbirds because they have no additional voices in their heads to question or distract them from being the best hummingbird they can be; they function with complete trust using the hummingbird frequency. Likewise, the ants know how to work together and function in the ant community because they are acutely tuned to the ant frequency. There is a human frequency too, only we let our minds carry so many stories of past worries and imagined scenarios of a future that will never be, that we nearly silence our inner voice.

Physically taking care of yourself is only the first step, but it is absolutely necessary to tune the voice in as clearly as possible. We are all beautiful, amazing spirits living inside a water bag and we only get one bag; we need to take the best possible care of it that we can. The human frequency is the same living truth that is God, energy, source, or whatever your spiritual belief system labels that which gives all life and reveals all wisdom.

We are all meant to be the best versions of ourselves that we can be.  

Start with yourself. ❤

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Love Shield

Buffalo Creek by Xene Abraham
Last week I was brazen enough to boast that I have a knowing within myself that I may never get sick again. How can someone be so confident of such a thing and post it out for all to read? Honestly, it seems a bit nuts even to me; and while I can't be sure of how I got to such a place of knowing, I can share some of the methods I use to maintain this kind of positive attitude.

Perhaps the most powerful tool I use is something I call the 'Love Shield'. The Love Shield makes the most uncomfortable or difficult situations significantly more bearable. I first started employing the shield at Walmart; as that environment requires more love and patience that most and it is the easiest in which to see how well a Love Shield works. 

Each person's field will look different; perhaps you zip yours on like a life vest, or maybe it glows at the top of your head like a royal crown of protection. Mine is a full-on Star Wars type force field that creates and radiates love to all who are near. When the Love Shield is in place, I smile as often as possible and greet all strangers I encounter with warmth and compassion. I offer assistance when it is needed and engage as many people with sincere compliments or friendly conversation as possible (without being annoying.) The Love Shield helps me remember the grocery list better, purchase items I didn't even know I yet needed, and makes me a more mindful and thrifty shopper. When I have it on, I am more beautiful and I can readily see the true beauty in others. I radiate Love out, and I get it back fourfold (at least.)

The Love Shield brings me into the Present/the Now

I challenge everyone reading to try it. Zip up, strap on, or simply activate your Love Shield in your own personal style and radiate Love in some of the more uncomfortable environments. Of course, the increase in patience, understanding, friendliness, confidence and the overall satisfaction of experience is really entirely up to you and directly related to the abundance of radiance you are able to accept in return. With practice, it is possible to wear it all the time. Ahh, bliss. 

'Buffalo Creek' is an original charcoal drawing by Xene Abraham and available for purchase. 

Saturday, November 24, 2018

I'm SICK of being SICK!

The Gift by Xene Abraham
The title of this post was determined late in January 2018 after a series of illnesses forced me to consider more seriously the study of homeopathic remedies. It seemed as though I was really sick all the time.  Something was wrong;  even though labs and blood work showed an example of perfect health, I was sick too often.  My plan was to blog the results of holistic experiments in an effort to avoid illness.

My friends on social media were also reporting sickness at an alarming frequency so I knew I was not alone in this quest to live healthier. There are nearly endless options to explore:  diet, essential oils, acupuncture, chiropractic care, massage therapy, exercise, yoga and many spiritual practices that reportedly increase overall health; I had to do something and if I was going to explore, my plan was to  share the journey.

So I did something, but clearly I dropped the ball on blogging it; I created art instead. I had attended university on a full-tuition scholarship for art but when motherhood came along, I nearly abandoned art to dedicate all my energy to raising a family.

Art unlocked something within me that had been both suppressed and oppressed all those years. 

I could hear my inner voice when I painted. If I let the voice lead the brush, the paintings came to life. If I doubted and fought the natural instinct by 'overthinking it' the art suffered. The more time I spent painting, the stronger I could hear the voice and I began to question "why I was not listening to it all the time?" 

So I made a decision to listen to my intuition as often as possible in all things. My inner voice was changing me for the better on everything from how I dealt with and identified conflict, to how I ate (I am now vegetarian with a strong desire for veganism.) Obviously, PiX FiZ has been a food blog up to this point, so I knew how to cook, but if I listened to my intuition, the food was better too.  I was on to something but I didn't understand any of it until I was turned on to the teachings of Eckhart Tolle. Ah ha! Art brought me into the Present! Every single thing Eckhart said made complete sense.

I devoured all I could from Eckhart and then turned to Deepak Chopra. I have so much left to learn, but I now believe, no wait, I have a KNOWING that I will be well. Several times this season already I have felt the tinge of a sore throat, or a tingling of a cold sore trying to erupt but I turned my thinking toward the positive and reminded this water bag of a body that surrounds my beautiful soul that it could heal itself. It has so far, and I believe that it will, perhaps forever.

I am new on this journey, but so many are seeking in this direction that I have been compelled to write about how I am navigating this new found mindful practice. Perhaps I will end up posting guest articles about homeopathic remedies that aid improved health, but for now I am going to let intuition guide what shows up here.

My name is Xene and I am going to do a better job blogging.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Post 100! PiX FiZ is Not Dead!

This is officially the 100th post on PiX FiZ! It seems rather fitting that the 100th post marks the first day of the new look and content soon to come to this space. 

PiX FiZ started as a repository of recipes but I have found that my interests have shifted considerably since the first post in 2012. Over the course of the last few years my love of creating art has blossomed and my culinary endeavors have dwindled; now my blog needs to reflect these changes. There will still be recipe posts but even my eating habits have evolved. I am far more interested in a vegetable-based-diet while reducing meat, carbohydrates, and sugar. I suspect I might even go a little health-nut experimenting in the future and those experiences/results might end up here as well. Only time will tell.

In addition to food, I expect to document a few other projects I have in the works. 2018 is the Year of the Dog in Chinese astrology and as a dog myself, I plan to make the most of this new year. Art classes, an Etsy store, sewing adventures, and other creative and health inspired ideas might just pop up here. 

Stay tuned! 

Conte and charcoal drawing of Buffalo Creek September 2017

Friday, March 24, 2017

Vegan 'Tabbouleh' Tofu Salad

Over the course of the last few years, our family has been cutting carbohydrates from our diet. Some of the effort has been due to health concerns like diabetes, while others are reducing carbs with weight loss in mind.  I find that I feel better consuming fewer carbs, especially reducing 'white' carbs like bread, pasta, and the majority of baked goods, so even though I don't have the same health issues as others in the family, I have made an effort to create and eat more dishes that are low-carb. Many of the new recipes I have been dragging my feet to blog will reflect this new diet effort.

My mother-in-law introduced the family to this recipe, which she got from a great tofu cookbook called Tofu Quick and Easy by Louise Hagler. Louise calls this 'Lebanese Salad for Pita Pockets' but if you look closely at the ingredients, you'll find this is just a tabbouleh dressing where tofu replaces the traditional cracked wheat. By substituting the tofu, this salad becomes protein packed and perfect for low-carb eaters (but I'm sure it is great in a pita, if you are so inclined.)

My preferred brand of tofu, Tofu House, comes in 19 oz packages so this recipe is written for that unusual size. Depending upon the size of tomatoes and cucumber, and how much of each you prefer, extra dressing for the salad won't really be an issue if you use a slightly smaller package. I eat this salad as is, but if I am lucky enough to have watercress, I will put a big scoop on top and devour it with great joy.

Vegan 'Tabbouleh' Tofu Salad

19 oz Extra Firm Tofu, drained and cubed
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon mint, minced
1/3 cup vegetable/olive oil
1/2 cup green onions, sliced
1-2 tomatoes seeded and cubed
1 large cucumber, cubed
1 bunch parsley chopped
Salt and Pepper to taste
Olive oil, optional

In a large bowl, combine the tofu, lemon juice, salt, garlic, mint, and oil. Let this marinate while you clean and cut the remaining ingredients and add them all to the salad. Toss and serve with a dash of olive oil.

Refrigerate leftover salad, it keeps well for days if covered in an air-tight container.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Peanut Butter Truffle Cookie Balls

This recipe is everywhere on the internet. Some folks sweeten the peanut butter with honey, some use molasses, and a several recipes differ in the amount of powdered sugar they use, calling for as many as four cups! I made one of those recipes to start, weeks ago and it was so sickeningly sweet that I had to double the rest of the ingredients to make them edible; it took an entire afternoon to roll all that modified mixture and coat them in chocolate, mostly because I had no idea what I was doing. Of course the kids devoured them, but I wasn't much of a fan, still too sweet. 
If I was to put these on a Christmas platter, I might add a halved salted peanut, or a sprinkling of crushed peanuts to indicate the flavor inside and alert those with allergies to stay clear.

Next I tried a Rice Krispie version, which the kids also loved, but they all felt the graham cracker one was better. So I worked out a recipe I liked and repeat it to be sure I had written it down correctly (I do that with all my recipes here on PiX FiZ.) Texture is important, none of these truffle cookies I make can be too soft or overly hard and crumbly, and I prefer just sweet enough over too sweet every time. I hit it just right on the third try, cutting the powdered sugar to only 1/2 cup, aiming for a more Recess peanut butter quality. Adding an additional tablespoon of coconut oil to the chocolate also makes for a thinner coating, making them less sweet and slightly easier to coat. I made them two more times, the only variation between experiments was using crunchy versus creamy peanut butter. The kids were divided on which they liked best, but they consumed them at the same accelerated rate and there were no complaints from anyone.

Peanut Butter Truffle Cookie Balls

18 graham crackers (2 packages)
15 ounce peanut butter, chunky or creamy
1/2 cup margarine
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional - tastes more like Recess if added)

12 ounces chocolate chips
2 Tablespoons coconut oil
  1. Break up the graham crackers by hand and place them in the bowl of the food processor. Pulse to achieve large evenly sized crumbs. 
  2. Melt the margarine and peanut butter together in a microwave safe bowl approximately 45 seconds, stirring to blend them together. 
  3. Combine the peanut butter mixture, powdered sugar and salt and pulse just until combined and uniform. 
  4. Roll into balls using a small 1/3 ounce ice cream scoop as a measure. 
  5. In a double boiler (or a metal bowl that fits snug inside a pot with water, but does not touch the water) melt the chocolate chips with the coconut oil. 
  6. Using two spoons to roll and coat the balls in the chocolate as shown in the below video (I find this works better than the skewer technique other recipes recommend.) 
  7. Set them on wax paper and place in refrigerator to set up once all are dipped into chocolate. Truffle Cookie Balls also freeze well.


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Coconut Truffle Cookie Balls

The kids favorite of these Truffle Cookie Balls were the Brownie Bites but mine were a toss up between these delectable coconut ones or the soon to be published Pumpkin Praline balls. Both were a bit more sophisticated in flavor than the chocolate and both hit the mark perfectly capturing that sought after texture just between a cookie and a candy. The best part about all these recipes is that they depend on coconut oil for the binder so you can have less guilt about eating them since coconut oil has so many health benefits.

The cookie balls depend on finding a vegan version of a Nilla wafer. It make take searching out several generic brands, but the search is worth it. Our local grocery store carries a vegan version. Since generic sized wafers vary in size, the amount of required coconut cream may also vary slightly. Of course, if you don't care about them being vegan, simply use the name brand wafers, and if you prefer, use heavy cream instead of coconut cream.

The difference in the two photos here is that the one above was tossed with the powdered sugar while the coconut was still warm, so the toasted color showed through more than in the bottom photo. Toasting coconut is a finicky thing, one minute it is too light, and in a blink too dark. A darker color is nuttier in flavor but you don't have to toast it at all, which would eliminate the only baking this recipe requires.

Coconut Truffle Cookie Balls

1/2 cup flake coconut (not unsweetened)
1/4 cup powdered sugar

60 vanilla flavored wafers
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted (organic is best)
2 cups flake coconut (not unsweetened)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 Tablespoons coconut cream

In a pie tin, toast the coconut in a 350-degree oven for 6-8 minutes, stir once while it bakes. Watch it closely as the color changes very quickly once it starts to turn golden. Remove from the oven and place it in the bowl of the food processor. Pulse until very fine. Add the powdered sugar and pulse just to coat. Return the coconut to the cooled pie tin to use as coating for truffle balls.

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the vanilla wafers into large crumbs. Add the 1/2 cup melted coconut oil, and all the remaining ingredients. Pulse until evenly combined and uniform, chunks of coconut should still be visible. Test for appropriate wetness by using a 1/3 ounce ice cream scoop for measure and squeezing the mixture into a ball. The warmth of your hands will help the ball take shape, but it does require some pressure to get them to stick. Too much liquid makes the balls a less desired texture, but if they won't hold together, add a bit more cream to make them take form.

Form all the balls in the same way and roll each immediately in the toasted coconut flakes. Allow the balls to firm up in the refrigerator and then place them in air tight containers. Truffle Cookie Balls freeze well and are best enjoyed at room temperature, but are almost as good straight out of the fridge.

Makes 40 1-inch balls


Brownie Bites Truffle Cookie Balls

I've gone a little crazy over these Truffle Cookie Ball things. Not a true truffle, but not really a cookie either, I'm naming them truffle cookie balls, like cake balls, but half truffle, half cookie; and totally delicious no matter what they are called. Did I mention they are no-bake?

There are a number of vegan recipes out there for candy-cookie ball sweet treats, but so many of them have to be eaten straight from the refrigerator because they are too gooey left at room temperature. My goal was to be able to make these little candy bites so they could be served off a platter at any gathering, which means they had to not taste 'vegan' and the texture had to be solid, and not too crumbly at around 70-degrees.

This particular batch was such a huge favorite with the kids that I had to hide them in several different places because they kept finding and devouring them. In the end I had only 1/3 of the batch to pack into boxes to send to relatives with all the others.

Aside from being the absolute perfect two-bite size, these little balls are not overly sweet, have terrific texture, and are some of the easiest to roll. The first timer will be alarmed by the amount of coconut oil that coats your hands in the process. Don't be worried, they are not the least bit greasy tasting once the oil solidifies, and the oily exterior means they can be coated easily with just about everything from powdered sugar, to toasted coconut, cocoa powder, chopped nuts, or colorful sprinkles. I am not normally a sprinkles fan, but these little nonpareils added a lovely crunch to the 'Brownie Bites'; a name my oldest daughter gave them after stealing about a dozen over the course of the day.

Brownie Bite with Coconut
Brownie Bite with Cocoa
Brownie Bite Truffle Cookie Balls

1/2 cup coconut oil (organic is best)
1/2 cup chocolate chips
18 (2 packages) chocolate graham crackers
1/4 cup coconut cream (heavy cream could be substituted for a non-vegan version)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 Tablespoon dark rum, or other favorite liquor (optional, and more can be added to taste)
1/2 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/4 cup coating of choice: cocoa powder (add 2 T powdered sugar so it is not too bitter), coconut, sprinkles, etc.

  1. Melt the chocolate chips and the coconut together, either on the stove or in the microwave (25-30 seconds on high.) 
  2. In the bowl of the food processor, break up the graham crackers and blend them into large crumbs. 
  3. Add the coconut cream, melted chocolate chip mixture, and vanilla. Pulse until the mixture is uniform and combined.  
  4. Test the consistency by using a 1/3 ounce ice cream scoop as measure and press the chocolate mixture into a ball. It takes a bit of squeezing to make the ball stick, but it should form a cohesive ball with the addition of the heat from your hands. If it does not stick, add a bit more cream. Put the test ball back into the processor bowl to blend it all together.
  5. Add the semi-sweet chocolate chips and pulse only until evenly distributed, being careful not to chop them up.
  6. Form all the balls as described above and immediately roll them in the coating of your choice.
  7. Refrigerate on a cookie sheet to harden and then store in an air tight container, either at room temp or in the fridge. The truffle cookie balls also freeze well. 
Makes 40 1-inch balls


Monday, December 21, 2015

Vegan Praline Pecans

It seems that a praline can be any number of candied pecan recipes. Some are encased in chewy caramel but the ones I really love have a lighter sugar coating rich with buttery flavor, a hint of cinnamon, and are simply irresistible when done right. How hard could it be to copy a candied nut? Funny it took me this long to try.

This was one of those happy accidents. I had an idea for a pumpkin truffle cookie ball with a praline coating. So I threw together a few ingredients, baked the mix in the oven and dusted them with powdered sugar. Luckily I made well over double what I needed to chop up for the cookie balls because the family absolutely devoured them!

Non-vegan recipes call for an egg white wash, so they are able to get a thicker more even coating.  I found that tossing the nuts as they cool allows the caramelized sugar to thicken up and stick to the pecan so they get areas of goopy sugar lumps in places, which is just perfect. A dusting of powdered sugar seals it all together and is the perfect finishing touch, just like the high end pralines. Yum!

Vegan Praline Pecans
1/2 cup vegan margarine
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
4 cups pecan halves
1/4 cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350-degrees. In a large microwave safe bowl, (or in a large sauce pan over medium heat) combine all the ingredients except the pecans and the powered sugar, and microwave on high 2 minutes. Stir the mixture and return to the microwave for another 1-2 minutes until it is bubbling and the sugar dissolves when stirred.

Add the pecans and toss to coat. Turn the mixture out into a parchment lined cookie sheet (not necessary, just easier for clean up), scraping all the contents onto the pan and bake at 350-degrees for a total of 12 minutes, stirring and turning over the nuts at the 6-minute mark.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool 1-2 minutes. Carefully scoop all the nuts back into the large glass bowl and stir until the caramelized sugars begin to stick to the nuts, 2-3 minutes. When there is no longer a pool of sugar sauce on the bottom of the bowl, indicating it is stuck to the pecans, sprinkle with the 1/4 cup powdered sugar and toss to coat.

Turn the nuts out onto wax paper to cool. Store in the refrigerator in an air tight container.

For those of you who like pictures:
Preheat oven to 350-degrees. In a large microwave safe bowl, (or in a large sauce pan over medium heat) combine all the ingredients except the pecans and the powered sugar, and microwave on high 2 minutes. Stir the mixture and return to the microwave for another 1-2 minutes until it is bubbling and the sugar dissolves when stirred. 
Add the pecans and toss to coat.

 Turn the mixture out into a parchment lined cookie sheet (not necessary, just easier for clean up), scraping all the contents onto the pan and bake at 350-degrees for a total of 12 minutes, stirring and turning over the nuts at the 6-minute mark. 

Remove from the oven and allow to cool 1-2 minutes. Carefully scoop all the nuts back into the large glass bowl and stir until the caramelized sugars begin to stick to the nuts, 2-3 minutes. 
When there is no longer a pool of sugar sauce on the bottom of the bowl, indicating it is stuck to the pecans, sprinkle with the 1/4 cup powdered sugar and toss to coat. Cool on wax paper.


Thursday, December 3, 2015

Baked Cod with Tomato and Preserved Lemon

The first time I served this dish was at a 5-course meal to a group of at least 20 distinguished guests at a very formal, fine-china, best-linens kind of event. I was young and had never served a group that size before but thankfully the food was a great success. My friend helped me plate and serve each dish, and it all went off without a hitch except when the sauce from the extra plate of scallops (one guest was allergic to fish) poured off the little platter I was holding right into the lap of the guest of honor. I was mortified, but he was most gracious about it, and made a special point to say how much he enjoyed the scallops, sauteed in this same sauce. I may need to revisit that scallop version again soon. 

Baked fish for a group is challenging. I use this recipe to serve as many as 30 on a regular basis and have always had it turn out delicious with many rave reviews. The cod releases a lot of water as it bakes, so to maintain appreciable flavor as much water as possible must be reduced from the tomato mixture before applying it to the fish. The sauce can be made the night before, or even days before, but don't top the fish until just before cooking; fish proteins are delicate and the tomato acids could potentially cause them to breakdown and get mushy if left to marinate too long. 
Fish prior to cooking, note the red sauce is very thick.
My husband got the idea to make preserved lemon over a year ago. He read Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and cut up some lemons, shoved them into salt and put them on top of my refrigerator. A few months later I found them and when confronted about what this gross pot of yellow yuck was, he said just to throw them out, that he wasn't sure what to do next (and honestly they looked kind of gross.) So I dug the book out and looked up some recipes and decided I would give it try and I'm sure glad I did!  I add them to almost everything that calls for lemon (like the spanikopita shown above.) If you want to learn more, Ruhlman has a blog post on preserved lemon confit, but feel free to substitute 1-2 tsp of finely grated lemon peel and finish the sauce with a bit more fresh squeezed, if preserved lemon is not a kitchen staple at your house. 

I have always served this with yellow rice, seasoned with whatever I have on hand (like saffron when I have it), but this batch was particularly tasty with preserved lemon, turmeric, smoked paprika, and a bit of bullion in the water.  I keep it subtle, no reason to overpower the flavors of the fish, only compliment. Spanikopita is almost always an accompaniment too, I can never get enough spinach. 

Baked Cod with Tomato and Preserved Lemon
2 14 oz cans petite diced tomato
1/4 cup olive oil
3-4 cloves garlic
2 large shallots or 1 small red onion, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon Better Than Bouillon, No Chicken Base (or bouillon of your choice)
8 oz clam juice
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon preserved lemon, mashed (or 1 teaspoon lemon rind, grated)
3 lbs cod fillets, thawed but kept very cold

1/2 cup mayonnaise (I use Just Mayo)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 cup dry white wine
juice of one lemon, to taste
salt and pepper

Drain and reserve the liquid from the tomatoes. Saute the garlic and shallot in the olive oil over medium heat in a large nonstick skillet. Add the wine, bouillon, reserved tomato liquid, and clam juice and bring to a simmer to reduce and concentrate all the flavors until the sauce is thick enough that a spoon leaves a path when drawn across the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat and add oregano, white pepper, and lemon. Taste for salt, the mixture should be very salty. Toss with the drained tomatoes.

Heat oven to 350-degrees. Oil a 9x13 baking dish and arrange the cod so that the fillets are touching. Layer the thin ends if they are varied thicknesses. Spread the tomato mixture evenly across the top of the fish and bake for approximately 20 minutes. The fish is done when it is flaky. Turn off the oven.

Prepare the fish 'gravy' ingredients while the fish is cooking by mixing the mayo, cornstarch and wine together in a small bowl. Juice the lemon.

Carefully remove the fish to a serving try, keeping the tomato topping intact. Place the fish back in the warm oven. Drain the remaining liquid into the nonstick skillet and bring to a boil. This mixture should be reduced further if the recipe is doubled, but a minute or so on the boil is enough reduction for a single recipe; reduce heat to medium. Wisk in the mayo mixture and allow the sauce to thicken. Remove from heat and add salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste.

Just prior to serving, add any remaining juice from the serving tray to the sauce and whisk to combine. Pour over the fish and serve immediately. Garnish with chopped parsley.
This dish is very forgiving. If cooking for a very large group, I simply tip the cooking juices out of the pan and reduce to make the gravy and pour back over the top of the fish in the original baking dish. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Pix Fiz Fried Chicken

My husband's grandmother was a Lebanese culinary genius who could elevate food well beyond anything mere mortals could create. Her fried chicken was beyond legendary and since not a single recipe of hers was ever recorded, recreating her dishes exactly is nearly impossible; all we have to work with are memories. I may not ever be able to make Grandma's chicken precisely, but the effort to recreate that level of satisfaction has certainly taught me a lot about what is not perfection. 

Grandma's chicken was fried crisp, but melted in your mouth, the skin and breading perfectly cohesive. In my experiments I more often encountered skin that remained fatty and separate. The breading would fry up too crisp, in some instances almost hard and break away from the skin even before the first bite. That kind of outcome was so unsavory that it nearly led me to give up entirely, but evaluating grandma's routine revealed the secret.
It was tradition that Grandma served fried chicken every Sunday after church. She fried it in the morning before services and left it in a warm oven until they returned to eat at noon. This wait in the oven turned out to be the key. The lower temperature allows the skin to render out more fat, which also helps the breading adhere better. A lower frying temperature was also critical. Monitoring heat on the stove was a hassle, but frying in an electric skillet turned out to be ideal. Truthfully, an electric skillet can not keep up with the heat fluctuations while frying the chicken, even on the highest setting of 400. Often the oil drops well below 300-degrees as pieces are added, but that low temp is ideal to render the skin and bond with the thin coating of breading. The two step cooking method ensures that the crust comes to the perfect golden brown while internal meat has a chance to come up to temperature. Frying the larger breasts also runs the risk of over-browning the breading which can have an off-putting flavor and color. This also allows me clean up the kitchen and prepare all the sides without rushing. 
With the method worked out, it was just a matter of finding the right breading ingredients. I experimented with a buttermilk soak, but felt it reacted with the meat and made it spongy, and more importantly, Dad couldn't remember grandma using anything but water. Since she fried first thing in the morning, I've always opted for an overnight soak. My salt to water ratio is a consideration for a 15+ hour brine time. Perhaps it can be done in less, but I don't make fried chicken on a whim, so buying chicken the night before is not a big deal. 
It should be noted that the chicken should be the best quality you can afford. Look for air-chilled chickens as they really are better tasting, more flavorful meat, and the skin is much better for frying; local farm raised/organic is even better. A whole small fryer is superior to those huge over-sized individual pieces and cutting it up yourself (or having a butcher do it) is not only more economical, but the backs can be frozen and used later for stock. Don't know how to cut up a chicken? Martha Stewart has a quick video to show how easy it is: How to Cut Up a Whole Chicken.
Having too much flour breading is far better than running out, so this recipe is enough to cover at least three whole chickens. At our house, we eat two whole fryers and two additional breasts and I always have enough breading left to make some hush-puppy like fried bits with the excess. The spice mixture is what our family prefers, letting the chicken shine, and only enhancing, not overpowering the meat. The baking powder addition however is critical to that melt in your mouth breading success. The lift that the baking powder provides lightens the crust and makes it flaky but not so tender that it looses structure.
Award Worthy Frying Tip: The kids always come around looking for loose crispies that fall off in the frying process, and when they can't find it, they try to pick the bits off that stick out (okay, maybe that is more the husband than the kids.) To remedy this 'problem' I now fry the bits that get stuck to my fingers as I bread the meat, allowing only my right hand to get caked with breading, I scrape off the accumulation into the oil, and fry it until golden. This provides the cook with sustenance and serves as a tasting method to stimulate excitement during the frying process. Since there are only five fingers, and at least six 'pickers' I have now taken to mixing some of the wet milk and egg mixture into the left over flour breading and drop it in the frying oil in clumps to satisfy everyone's need for an early tasting. 
Pix Fiz Fried Chicken 
Easily serves 8-10

2 whole fryers, cut in pieces, plus 2 breasts
1/3 cup salt
7-8 cups water to cover chicken

In a large 6-8 quart container, dissolve 1/3 cup salt in one cup hot water, stirring well until salt crystals are no longer visible. Add 3 cups of very cold water and the chicken pieces, adding additional water until all the chicken is covered in the brine. Refrigerate overnight.

Approximately 2-3 hours before the meal, rinse the chicken and place on rack over a cookie sheet to air dry while preparing the wet mixture in the previously used brine container.

3 eggs
1 cup heavy cream (or milk)
2 Tablespoons fresh ground black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika (optional)

Mix together well and add the chicken, taking care to press each piece well into the mixture. Do not wash the rack and cookie pan, it will be used again for uncooked chicken prep. While the chicken rests in the wet mix, prepare the frying station and turn the oven on to 275-degrees.
This is the setup for a right-handed prep. Fill the skillet with corn/vegetable oil half-way up the sides of the pan. Turn the pan to high (400-degrees) and place newspaper under the fryer to catch any oil. An additional rack and pan is needed for fried chicken to be placed in the oven. 

This is the setup for a right-handed prep. Fill the skillet with corn/vegetable oil half-way up the sides of the pan. Turn the pan to high (400-degrees) and place newspaper under the fryer to catch any oil. An additional rack and pan is needed for the fried chicken to finish in the oven.

4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons table salt
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons black pepper

Mix the ingredients well.

Start with the breast meat. Dedicate one hand to breading and keep the other one as clean as possible. Lift pieces out of the wet and place in the dry, making sure each is coated well. The breasts should go immediately into the oil to fry, meat side down. Continue to coat all the rest of the pieces and let them rest on the rack. Keep an eye on the breast meat during this process, it may need to be turned before all the remaining pieces are breaded (hence the need for a clean hand.)

Crowd the pan. Watch the oil level as each new piece is added. New additions can cause excessive bubbling and may cause overflow, but this is reduced if new pieces are added to the middle, moving those already cooking to the edges with each addition.

Turn the chicken when it reaches a beautiful golden brown color and cook the other side to match. Remove the chicken to the rack/pan in the warm oven to finish cooking. Don't obsess about temperature. Typically breasts reach an internal temp of 110-130 in this process and will come up to an internal temp of at least 150 by the time the rest of the pieces are fried (about 40 minutes.) Poking the breasts repeatedly lets all the meat juices escape and causes bubbling in the oil. I try to avoid that as much as possible. Worry about internal temp closer to serving time. Trust the process. If the internal temps are still low when all the chicken is fried and it is nearing time to serve, the breasts can go back in the hot oil at the very end to boost the cooking, but that is only needed when there isn't enough time allowed for the oven finish. The smaller dark meat pieces typically can cook nearly to temp when fried and is in far less risk of drying out, so the timing is less critical.
Note about internal temperature:  A quick Google search will overwhelmingly point out that chicken needs to come to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Dark meat can go much higher, even up to 180 without a risk of drying out. The white meat however is far more delicate, and will be considerably more dry if cooked to 165. I like white meat juicy without the slightest hint of being under cooked, which I find is reached at a temperature of 150-155. Anything over that runs the risk of being dry. Make sure you are reading the temperature of the thickest part of the meat without hitting the bone. 
While the chicken is frying, preparations can proceed for the side dishes. Peel potatoes and put them on to boil, mix up some gravy, warm some corn, or whip up coleslaw. Once the chicken is all fried, turn the oil off and let it cool down, but everything else can be cleaned up while it finishes in the oven, which makes the entire meal more enjoyable knowing there isn't a huge mess to clean up. That just makes the chicken taste so much better too.

This may not be Grandma's chicken, and only time will tell if rates a legendary status, but one thing is for certain, when fried chicken is on the menu, there isn't a single complaint or recommendation for improvement by anyone.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Eggs Benedict

Easy! Super fast! Totally fool-proof! Yeah, sorry, not this Eggs Benedict recipe. This one requires effort, but that first taste of the sauce, well before the rest is ready to assemble, will prove that it is totally worth it.

Eggs Benedict is all about the hollandaise, and the only real risk for failure there is allowing it to get too hot. A double boiler is needed to regulate the temperature, but I simply use a metal bowl that fits snuggly atop a slightly smaller saucepan to simmer the water. The water acts as a thermal break so that the sauce won't curdle.

Before I get called out by the culinary elite, I must be forthcoming and admit that the recipe as written here is not hollandaise, but a mousseline. A real hollandaise would not contain dairy beyond the butter, but after making it to the exacting French standards, I found it a bit too rich for my taste. The addition of sour cream allowed me to cut the butter needed in half, but the sauce is every bit as rich and luxurious as expected, or better.
The Egg
The second most important element is the slightly intimidating poached egg. The two secrets to poaching eggs are freshness and vinegar. A fresh egg has a stronger albumin bond and the white will hold together better when dropped into the hot swirling water. A tablespoon of vinegar in the water reacts to the egg white proteins in some mysterious manner that further forces them to stick together and not float off into the pan. You won't get a perfectly round egg with this method, but it will be absolutely delicious, and no, there is no hint of residual vinegar flavor. The best possible eggs should be used, farm raised, organic, free range chicken eggs are superior in every way to traditional store bought; seek them out if you are able.

To Finish

Keeping everything hot requires a bit of multitasking but following the steps in the order written here ensures everything stays warm until plated. This recipe makes close to 3 cups of hollandaise, which is easily enough for 8 servings, 2 eggs each, which is what I need for my large family. I have kids help toast and butter muffins, another child heats the ham in the skillet, while I pull together the hollandaise and poach the eggs. Cooking for four is certainly far less of a production than at my house, and only half this hollandaise recipe would be needed, but the technique is exactly the same.

Don't miss the notes below about reheating any left over sauce, to microwave would be tragic.

Step 1:  Sauce
9 egg yolks, whisked

1/3 cup lemon juice (approximately 2 lemons)
2/3 cup boiling water
1/2 teaspoon salt
black pepper to taste

1 1/2 cups butter, melted
4 Tablespoons all-natural sour cream (Daisy)

  1. Prepare the double boiler. Place water in the pan and allow it to come to simmer. Check to see that the bowl fits snuggly against the sides of the pan but does not touch the water. Do not leave the bowl sit atop the pan, the bowl should be room temperature. 
  2. In the room temperature bowl of the double boiler, whisk egg yolks until very smooth. 
  3. Combine the 1/3 cup lemon juice, 1/2 tsp salt, and desired black pepper in a glass measuring cup and pour in the 2/3 cup boiling water.
  4. While whisking continuously, carefully pour the hot water mixture into the egg yolks in a thin stream, the first third cup of hot water is extremely important to add slowly so as not to curdle the eggs. Continue adding the water in a slow stream, whisking thoroughly.
  5. Place the bowl on the prepared pan of simmering water and whisk until the yolks begin to thicken and lighten in color. 
  6. Slowly add the butter in a slow even stream, whisking to incorporate each addition until the sauce emulsifies and no remaining butter is visible. The sauce should be very thick at this point. 
  7. Whisk in the sour cream, one tablespoon at a time until incorporated. 
  8. Taste for salt and pepper.
  9. If the sauce seems too thick, a teaspoon of water can be added, one at a time, until the desired thickness.
  10. Reduce heat to low and keep sauce warm until ready to use. Do not cover, whisk occasionally to keep the sauce from forming a skin and/or separating.  

Step 2:  Ham
The ham definitely takes a supporting role, but that doesn't mean it should be inferior quality. Use the ham you prefer; thin or thick sliced, enough for each English muffin.
  1. Warm the oven to 200 degrees.
  2. Spray a large nonstick skillet with Pam cooking spray. (The spray is actually for the eggs, but it is better to spray the pan while it is clean.)
  3. Heat the skillet and quickly fry the ham to heat it through.
  4. Remove ham to plate and place in warm oven. 
Fill the skillet with water about 2/3 full and return to stove over high heat. Stir the hollandaise sauce.

Step 3:  English Muffin
The English muffins need to be toasted. There is plenty of butter in the sauce, so buttering them or not is personal preference (I butter.) This is a job that nearly any age can help with, so I often enlist the kids to help toast the muffins. They can be popped into the oven to keep warm, but not too long as they can get hard and dried out.

Prepare the muffins with a piece of ham on each during the few minutes it takes for the eggs to poach. Stir the hollandaise sauce.

Step 4:  Egg
Once the water in the skillet (set on high at the end of step 2) comes to a simmer, lower the heat just a bit to reduce the number of vapor bubbles. Ideally the water should be around 175-degrees Fahrenheit for poaching eggs. Water simmers at around 195-degrees so reducing heat just below simmer is close enough.
  1. Add 1-2 tablespoons of vinegar and 1 tsp salt to the almost simmering water. 
  2. Break eggs into individual ramekins to ensure that no shell is included and to make dropping them into the water without breaking the yolk a bit easier. 
  3. Swirl the water and carefully slide in the eggs.
  4. Cook for approximately 3 minutes. Remove eggs from water with slotted spoon, leaving behind the undesirable white threads that float in the water. 
  5. If the eggs seem particularly 'wet' they can be tipped onto a plate with paper towels and then back into the spoon to place on the muffins with ham. 
Stir the hollandaise one last time, ladle over the egg and serve immediately. Cayenne pepper can be added as garnish and a hit of heat if desired. 
Microwaving hollandaise will cause it to curdle, it does however reheat perfectly in a double boiler and is superb on steamed vegetables like asparagus, cauliflower, or broccoli. 
Recipe serves 8-10 (2 eggs, 2 muffins each)


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Ham'N Cheese Rolls

Ham'N Cheese rolls are a favorite at our house. Friends ask me for this recipe often and I normally just give an oral version (because they really are so easy) without giving exact measurements. I have finally taken the time to measure the ingredients and even went as far as to make a video (the one I did for bacon was so much fun.) I thought it might further convince you to try them if you saw the process in action.  

These rolls make terrific breakfast or brunch rolls, but they are equally as tasty for snacking events like Superbowl parties, tailgating, or holiday gatherings. The only difference in preparation between events is to adjust their size. For breakfast I make them larger, which means instead of cutting each rolled log into 16 slices, I cut it into 12. The thinner slices are more appropriate for finger food events. Notice in the video when slicing, I start by dividing the log into 4 equal sections; slice the remaining sections either into 3 or 4 to get the number of rolls you are after.

Ham'N Cheese rolls have a terrific balance of honey sweetness with just a touch of tang from the mayo, cheese, and spicy mustard toppings. The mustard really sets these rolls apart, I don't recommend skipping it. These are an unexpected change from cinnamon rolls and rather addictive, I'd plan on at least two per person when serving, and have the recipe on hand; you'll be asked for it, I guarantee! 

Ham'N Cheese Rolls

1 recipe Bread Dough by Hand (feel free to substitute milk for the water, and butter for the oil)
   Friends tell me that frozen bread dough also works, two thawed loaves ought to do it. 

1/2 cup melted butter
2-3 tablespoons, plus 1/2 cup honey
3/4 pound ham, thin sliced
1 cup mayonnaise
3/4 cups cheddar cheese, shredded (you can use Swiss, or any blend you like)
1 1/2 Tablespoons spicy brown mustard (I prefer Gulden's) 
Roll the dough after the initial rise into two 18" x 5" rectangles. Brush with melted butter. Apply approximately 1- 1 1/2 Tablespoons of honey to each, layer with ham, and roll up. Seal the seam by folding the dough on itself a second time to ensure they won't break apart while baking. Slice the logs into rolls and press flat on baking sheet. Brush with butter and cover to rise. 
TIP: I often make these the night ahead and put them into the refrigerator at this point. Then in the morning I let them come back to room temperature (about an hour) and then apply the filling. You can quicken this step further by turning the oven on and letting it heat up to about 200, then turning it off, place the pans in and about 20 minutes later the rolls will have proofed and be ready for filling and baking.
Add honey to the previously melted butter. When the rolls appear nearly doubled in size brush them again gently with the honey butter. Mix together the filling ingredients. Press a well into the middle of each roll and distribute the filling evenly amongst the rolls. Bake in a 400-degree oven for approximately 17-20 minutes or until golden brown. If baking two pans at the same time, rotate and switch them on the racks halfway through to encourage even browning. Remove to cooling rack.

Serve warm or at room temperature. Recipe makes 24-32 rolls.

Roll dough into two 18" x  5" rectangles.
Brush with butter.
Add honey.
Then apply ham. 
Roll it up.

Press flat and let rise.

Add filling and bake.
Bake until golden brown.