I was of 2 minds about whether to post about this past Friday night’s dinner. After all, a lot of you are experienced cooks and this is isn’t exactly what I would call a recipe or anything particularly difficult. However, then I figured everyone needs easy, weekday meals (you know, for days when a stray dog disrupts your life).
I grew up on slow cooked beef, i.e., braised chuck. So I have been cooking it for a while. But for whatever reason my mom never made other braised meat dishes and so I have only just recently been experimenting with them. (It’s weird how you can master something really exotic, like Thai curries, and then realize you have never made a basic braised chicken). Anyway, the basic idea is this: find a salsa you like, combine it with chicken, liquid and dried beans, and let it cook all day. Easy taco filling right there. This is the one I made on Friday:
4 chicken breasts, bone-in and skin on (if you use dark meat, feel free to skin it but I think a braise benefits from some fat in the dish and you can discard the skin after it is cooked)
1 large sweet onion, sliced
1 sweet bell pepper, sliced (i.e., not green)
1 jar, 15 oz, of your favorite salsa (I used a tomato AND tomatillo one, so the final color was a little muddied but quite tasty)
1 bottle of your favorite lighter beer (i.e., not stout) (I used
8 oz dried beans*
2 ½ tablespoons of flour
1-? Chipotles in adobo, minced, optional (this is to taste and if cooking for children you may just want to leave out. Alex is going through an anti-spicy phase so I left it out this time)
drizzle of vegetable oil
This dish could easily be made in a slow cooker. I own 2 Dutch ovens and they are my method of choice. Likewise, you could skip the browning, but I really like the depth of flavor that browning gives the dish.
Except I ended up getting the recipe off of the internet. I think it is because I just made those brownies. They were delectable and rich and oh-so-chocolatey. I felt like every recipe I looked at had too much chocolate in it, I wanted a break. You may never read the phrase on my blog again—it must be a post-holiday binge thing. Or something. So I was scanning my computer files where I keep all recipes I come upon when I found this Vanilla Bean Loaf recipe. Perfect!
Since then I have been reading in these various new baking books I got over the holidays, and a lot of the authors do indeed prefer Tahitian beans. The general consensus seems to be that Bourbon is fine if it is all you can get, Bourbon is preferred when the vanilla is a backnote, and Tahitian is preferred when you really want to make vanilla the star. I can tell you from regular side by side sniffings of my steeping homemade extracts that the Tahitian is fruitier and sharper while the Bourbon is more mellow and caramel-like. And that I really prefer the Tahitian, much to my surprise. Well I wanted to make vanilla the star and I wanted an excuse to dabble with my Tahitian beans, so out they came. My extract is not really as aged as I want it yet, so I used extra extract and I used a lot of beans. The results were really striking so even if my extract is at full strength next time I might still use all the extra beans. Josie and I were talking about it and we both figured there is no such thing as too much vanilla, there is only such thing as too much money spent on vanilla. But I had bought in bulk and I already had them so that was not an issue.
Adapted from Cooking for Mr. Latte, by Amanda Hesser & the recipe as posted on the CLBB (discussed here)
1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
2 1/8 cups granulated sugar
4 Tahitian vanilla beans*
1 T Tahitian vanilla extract (2 if using weaker homemade)
4 large eggs
1 ½ cups AP flour
¾ t baking powder
¼ t salt
Heavily butter a 4 X 8 loaf pan. Preheat the oven to 325 F. Cream the butter and 1 ¼ cups vanilla sugar until pale and fluffy. Split the 4th vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the batter. Reserve the bean for steeping in the syrup. Add the vanilla extract and eggs and beat to combine.