January 30, 2013

Sliding into the Super Bowl: Chicken and Apple Sliders

Growing up in Windsor, a small Canadian city in southwestern Ontario just across the border from Detroit, you could not help but be immersed in American culture, no matter what your passport said.  Mega American malls, with their low prices, huge selection and a Target at every corner, were just 30 minutes away.  Grocery stores beckoned with seemingly endless aisles, full of exotic foods we couldn't get at home (marshmallow Fluff! Vernor's gingerale! Swiss Miss cocoa mix!). 

The American food culture wasn’t just confined to those US shores.  Windsor was the perfect test market for fast food, American style, of every kind.  The city could boast of Canada’s first Arby’s and Taco Bell, and Domino’s Pizza was as familiar – if not as good – as our own hometown choices. 
But perhaps my favourite guilty pleasure was something that never did find its way across the river into Windsor.  White Castle burgers, with their thin distinctive square shape, holes for faster frying, and bite sized proportions, could be eaten by the bagful, and they were.  The strangely quaint stores, with their faux turrets, somehow didn’t seem out of place in the urban sprawl of the Motor City. 

It's been many years since I've had a White Castle, and, I confess, quite some time since I've craved one.  But I still love a flavourful bite-sized treat, and these chicken and apple sliders are a grown-up take on a snack that you can eat by the handful.  So, in honour of that most decidely American annual tradition, the Super Bowl, make a dozen or three of these, adapted from another American classic, The Joy of Cooking.  They may not conjure up nostalgia, but they'll be a winning addition to your Super Bowl feast.

Chicken and Apple Sliders
makes approx. three dozen small patties
(adapted from The Joy of Cooking)

¾ c apple cider
¼ c Calvados
2¼ lb bone-in chicken thighs with skin
2 oz dried apple rings
1 scant tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
1 tsp rubbed sage
⅛ tsp cinnamon
⅛ tsp ground ginger
To finish and garnish:
3 dozen mini hamburger or ciabatta buns, toasted
Lettuce of your choice (I used micro arugula greens)
Carmelised onions (make your own or use a good quality store bought brand)

1. Preheat oven to 350˚F.
2. In a small saucepan, bring apple cider and Calvados to a boil and then simmer, reducing liquid to 3 tbsps. Let cool.
3. Bone the chicken thighs, reserving the skin. Cut the meat and skin into strips. Coarsely chop the dried apple rings. Grind the meat, chicken skin and dried apple pieces together in a meat grinder. (If using a food processor, cut the meat, skin and apples into small cubes).

Using a meat grinder ensures a uniform texture and a good blending of the dried apple and chicken
 4. In a large bowl, combine the ground meat mixture with the reserved apple syrup and the remaining spice ingredients. Blend the mixture thoroughly with your hands until all of the ingredients are well combined. Form the meat into small patties, big enough to fit on a mini hamburger or mini ciabatta bun. *
5. Place on an ungreased baking sheet and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until cooked through.
6. To serve, place a piece of lettuce on each bun, top with a slider and finish with a generous dollop of carmelised onions.
*NB. The uncooked patties can be frozen at this stage for up to two months. To serve, bake from frozen on an ungreased baking sheet at 350˚F for 20-25 minutes, or until cooked through.


January 22, 2013

Taking the Chill out of Winter: Apple-Ginger Hot Toddy with Calvados

Brew me a cup for a winter's night.
For the wind howls loud and the furies fight;
Spice it with love and stir it with care,
And I'll toast our bright eyes,
my sweetheart fair
                                             Minna Thomas Antrim
There is much to love, I think, about winter. Blazing hot logs in the fireplace; the crunch of snow on a blinding bright sunny winter’s day; the brilliant flash of cardinals lingering at the bird feeder, their song calling to the more timid house finches and chickadees. Cosy thick sweaters; cashmere scarves soft as a baby’s cheek. The days inching longer and with them, the promise of spring.

But winter has its dark underbelly too.  Dreary naked branches longing for green; slushy wet snow that seeps into your boots and between your toes.  The monotony of root vegetables and wooden tomatoes.  And worst of all...the dreaded spectre of colds and flu.  My usual stamina and boundless energy often get caught unawares, a cold creeping in on cat’s feet and settling in for a long winter’s nap. 
As I try and shake off the vestiges of a lingering cough, I do the sensible thing and make a steaming hot toddy full of natural goodness and a little bit of something stiffer.  By the time I’ve drained the last spicy dregs, I feel the warmth seeping down to my toes and my eyes drooping.  Winter may not be over, but my cold, on its last shaky legs, totters out the door.

Apple-Ginger Hot Toddy with Calvados 
Makes one serving 

This toddy uses a generous amount of cayenne pepper, rich in capsaicin.  An ancient remedy for all sorts of ills, cayenne is also known to have anti-irritant properties, easing sore throats and lingering coughs.  If you prefer a milder version either reduce the amount or eliminate the cayenne entirely.
1 c apple cider, heated
1 oz Calvados, or more to taste* 
Three thick slices fresh ginger, cut in slivers
Generous pinch cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 cinnamon stick
1 lemon wedge, spiked with three whole cloves
The juice of ½ lemon
1 tsp honey (more to taste)
1 ginger teabag (I use Pukka Three Ginger Tea

*Calvados, a French brandy from Normandy, adds an extra glow to this toddy

Combine all of the ingredients in a large mug and top with boiling water. Let steep for at least five minutes. Scoop out the solids and the teabag, leaving just the lemon wedge. Wrap up in your favourite blanket, sit back and enjoy.

Piercing the lemon with cloves is a practical way to avoid swallowing
one whole...

Magical natural ingredients: lemon, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, cayenne and honey combine with calvados, apple cider and tea to fight the worst of winter's chills