Stuff and Nonsense: February 2016


Easy-Peasy Barbecue Chicken Naan Pizza

Too lazy to run any of the errands I'd planned, I instead frittered away the day reading webcomics ... but, eventually, the growling of my stomach began to distract from even the most thrilling adventures of Far to the North and Blindsprings. Food must be acquired. Easy food. Food that definitely didn't involve putting on pants and leaving the house.

Naan pizza to the rescue!

I readily admit all the amounts in the following recipe are approximate as I was hungry and not measuring as I went. I'm also dead cert you could use buffalo wing sauce and blue cheese to create a delicious buffalo chicken version.

Barbecue Chicken Naan Pizza

Serves: 4


  • 2 garlic naan [Stonefire]
  • 4 Tbsp barbecue sauce [Stubb's]
  • ½ cup chopped cooked chicken (leftover rotisserie)
  • ½ cup shredded reduced-fat shredded "Mexican" cheese blend
  • ¼ cup very thinly sliced red onion
  • 2 Tbsp chopped cilantro


  1. Pop your pizza stone in the cold oven and preheat the oven to 450°F.
  2. Spread 1 tablespoon barbecue sauce over one side of each naan.
  3. Toss chicken with remaining 2 tablespoons barbecue sauce, and spread chicken over naan.
  4. Sprinkle with cheese, and top with red onion and cilantro.
  5. Slide naan onto hot pizza stone and bake for 8 minutes or until crust is lightly browned and cheese is all melty.
  6. Quarter each naan pizza and serve.

If you don't have a pizza stone, just prepare and bake the naan pizzas on a baking sheet.


Whisky-Glazed Chai Shortbread

Before I decided a chai-spiced honey cake would be just the thing for February's Improv Challenge, I briefly flirted with a tea-flavored shortbread. I tried an Earl Grey-infused shortbread first and it was fine, but not quite what I was looking for, so I tried it again with a chai tea blend and it was better -- richer and more aromatic than the subtle Earl Grey version. Either version is easy enough to make -- essentially you're just taking a basic shortbread recipe and adding tea.

These are good cookies ... crumbly and buttery, as shortbread is wont to be, with the distinct aromatic flavors of chai spices and the gentler, more subtle taste of whisky. If you wanted to, you could easily make these "Irish" for next month's Saint Patrick's Day shenanigans by using a good Irish strong tea, like Barry's Classic, and Irish whisky.

Whisky-Glazed Chai Shortbread

Yield: 16 squares


  • 2 Tbsp chai tea (contents of about 5 tea bags) [Tazo]
  • 2½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup white granulated sugar [Imperial Sugar]
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 4 Tbsp honey whisky [Wild Turkey]


  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Spritz a 9-inch square baking pan with a little baking spray.
  3. Pulse the tea and flour in your food processor until the tea is in small pieces evenly distributed throughout the flour. Then add the sugar and butter and process until a crumbly dough begins to form.
  4. Pour dough out into the prepared baking pan and smoosh dough down with your fingers (or the bottom of a small glass) until it is spread evenly across the bottom of the pan. Using a serrated knife, score dough deeply to make sixteen squares.
  5. Bake the shortbread at 375° for 20 minutes, or until it's firm and golden brown. Remove pan from the oven, and after 5 minutes, turn the shortbread out of the pan onto a clean cutting board. Cut all the way through the score marks. Place shortbread pieces on a rack to cool completely.
  6. Meanwhile, whisk together the powdered sugar and honey whisky. Brush glaze over cooled cookies and allow to dry completely on racks. Will keep in a tightly covered container for a week or so.

Wordless Wednesday: Puh-Puh-Puh-Penguins

Part of the penguin piece mounted in front of the New Britain Museum of American Art


Improv Challenge: Tea & Honey

This month for Improv Challenge, our ingredients were tea and honey. Part of me wanted to find a savory recipe, because baking with honey scared me a little ... but this is a challenge, after all, and so I knew I should push myself to cook outside my comfort zone.

The original recipe for this cake, called "English Honey Cake," came from The Best Ever Encyclopedia of British Cooking (Lorenz Books, 2011). I've added tea to it, obviously, and tweaked the amounts a little because, honestly, the amounts of honey and sugar going into the original seemed a touch inordinate. While I wanted a sweet, moist cake I didn't want to create something that would taste overwhelmingly SWEET -- the kind of hummingbird-crack cake where you take a bite and you're done.

I used linden (basswood) honey in this recipe, but clover or orange blossom honey should also yield good results. Linden, which I find rather herbal-tasting when compared to clover or orange blossom, is just what I happened to have on hand. The Polish grocery I shop at stocks an astonishing variety of honey and I am slowly working my way through them (with some help from Google Translate).

Honestly, I wasn't sure how much tea to use in this cake. I knew I wanted a strong tea flavor so I ... basically just dumped in tea until the butter mixture looked "right." Turned out that was five teabags or about two tablespoons. The flavor was good -- think chai gingerbread.

You could probably use any spicy tea blend with this cake. For this particular bake I used Tazo's Chai Organic which is a yummy blend of black tea, cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper, and other spices and it worked out really well -- richly aromatic and flavorful. However, a blend like Tazo's Pumpkin Spice -- black tea, cardamom, black pepper, cinnamon, ginger, & pumpkin -- or Harney & Sons Hot Cinnamon Spice tea blend -- "an assertive blend of black teas, three types of cinnamon, orange peel, and sweet cloves" -- might also be quite fun to try.

Chai-Spiced Honey Cake

Yield: 16 pieces


  • ¾ unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ cup + 2 Tbsp runny honey
  • ½ cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp chai tea blend (about 5 teabags worth)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 Tbsp milk
  • 8 oz self-rising flour


  1. Grease and line a 9-inch square cake pan with parchment paper.
  2. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  3. Heat butter, ½ cup honey, sugar, and 2 Tbsp tea in a saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring regular, until butter is melted and everything is well mixed. Remove from heat and let rest for 20 minutes.
  4. Beat the eggs and milk into the cooled mixture. Sift the flour over the top and then beat in until smooth.
  5. Pour into the prepared pan and bake in the 350°F oven for 30 minutes or until cake is risen, golden brown, and firm to the touch.
  6. Leave cake to cool in pan on a cookie rack for 20 min. Firmly grasp the parchment and use it to gently lift the cake out onto the rack. Allow to cool completely in the parchment.
  7. Put remaining 2 Tbsp honey in a small microwave-safe bowl and heat until honey is very liquidy. Brush over cake and allow to sit until needed.
  8. Remove parchment and cut into 16 squares.

Overall, I'm quite pleased with how this cake turned out. It's a light, spicy cake with a beautiful, rich, honey-brown color speckled with lots of attractive flecks from the tea -- almost looks like a seed cake -- and it smells wonderful. Pairs well with a big mug of unsweetened black tea and reminds me quite strongly of something The Husband's Grandmother Winnie would have kept on hand for "just in case." Definitely worth baking again. Thanks, Camilla, for suggesting February's Improv Challenge theme!



Fig, Blue Cheese, & Turkey Grilled Sandwich

I can't see to get warm this week. While it's no surprise it's cold outside -- it's early February in New England, after all -- I am internally cold and no amount of hot tea seems to warm me up. Neither does the whisky. Nor, even the grilled cheese sandwiches! (I know ... I must be dying). The inefficacy of my attempted cures has not stopped me from continuously ingesting them and I've now fallen completely and irretrievably in love with my nonstick grill pan. (Also quite besotted with Fireball Cinnamon Whisky).

It's a Calphalon Contemporary Nonstick Panini Pan and Press and is so amazingly nonstick that I expect some kind of witchery is involved. It heats up easily and with perfect uniformity on my smooth surface cooktop and makes the most beautiful toasted sandwiches. It's also dishwasher safe, but I've never tried putting it in the dishwasher because it's so superbly nonstick that it needs the least amount of sponging to clean, anyway. I bought my pan with at Bed, Bath, & Beyond with one of those expired-but-still-honored 20% off coupons and feel so darn smug every time I take out of the drawer. Next to my Le Crueset French ovens, it's the best expenditure in pans I ever made.

Understandably, I've been making toasted sandwiches (or grilled cheese or panini or whatever you want to call bread+ingredients+grill) every day (sometimes even twice a day) this week. I've used varying combinations of ciabatta, multigrain bread, naan, muenster, cheddar, gruyere, gouda, blue, ham, turkey, egg, spinach, arugula, mustard, and jam with yummy results. One of my favorite combinations has been turkey on Dakota bread with fig preserves, spicy mustard, arugula, and blue cheese so that's what I've giving you a recipe for today.

The internet tells me Price Chopper's Dakota bread has been around for yonks, but I only discovered it earlier this week while wandering through the bakery section, looking for garlic naan. While it looks like an average crusty, oatmeal-and-seed flecked multigrain, those looks are deceiving. Slice it open and you see it's full of poppy seeds and smells like dilly rye bread. It's fabulous. And toasts like a dream.

Fig, Blue Cheese, & Turkey Grilled Sandwich

Yield: 1 sandwich


  • 2 slices hearty multigrain bread
  • 1 Tbsp fig spread
  • 2 tsp spicy mustard
  • 2 oz thinly sliced smoked turkey breast
  • 1 small handful arugula
  • 2 Tbsp crumbled blue cheese
  • Cooking spray


  1. Preheat your nonstick panini pan over medium low.
  2. Spread one slice of bread with fig preserves and the other with mustard.
  3. Layer turkey, arugula, and blue cheese on bread. Smoosh the slices together and spritz the outside of the sandwich with a little baking spray.
  4. Put the sandwich in the pan and cover with the panini press, squashing down on the sandwich to flatten it a little. Flip over after 3-4 mins or when golden, then grill on the other side.

Any spicy mustard will do in this grilled sandwich, but you do want it to be spicy to balance the sweetness of the figs. I used Gulden's Spicy Brown Mustard, because that's the bog standard spicy mustard I grew up with and still smear on my sandwiches when I run out of the fancy-pants Stonewall Kitchen mustards. A good quality whole-grain pub-style mustard would probably be yum, too.

I don't know what other jams would work, if you don't like fig ... you'd have to experiment and report back. I used to think fig was a hard-to-find flavor and would hoard any jars I could find, but now I seem to see it everywhere so either it's become popular or I've just been blind. (Blind, probably). I bought my jar of The Gracious Gourmet Fig Almond Spread at Price Chopper (find it on the fancy cheese island near the deli) and it's really delightful -- a pleasing blend of fresh and dried figs and sliced almonds. Pairs really well with blue cheese in this sandwich.


Buffalo Chicken Stuffed Potato

If you hadn't noticed, this past Sunday was the annual championship game of the National Football League. I don't follow football, but I do enjoy chicken wings and Pinterest has been wall-to-wall with chicken wing recipes in the weeks leading up to the game. So, Sunday I really wanted wings for dinner but I hadn't picked any up when grocery shopping and knew that ordering delivery on Super Bowl Sunday would have been an act of madness. However, I did have a leftover baked potato, rotisserie chicken, and a bottle of sriracha wing sauce so...

Buffalo Chicken Stuffed Potato

Yield: 1


  • 1 6-oz baking potato, well scrubbed and dried
  • ½ tsp (or so) olive oil
  • ½ cup shredded rotisserie chicken
  • 2 Tbsp wing sauce
  • ¼ tsp garlic powder
  • ½ Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbsp crumbled blue cheese
  • 1 scallion, white & green parts coarsely chopped


  1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
  2. Prick the potato all over with a fork, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and lay it directly on the middle oven rack.
  3. Bake the potato for 45-60 minutes or until the skin is crispy and the potato gives a little when you squeeze it.
  4. Meanwhile, combine chicken, buffalo wing sauce, garlic powder, and butter in a microwave-safe bowl and warm for 1-2 minutes or until the butter is melted.
  5. Cut a cross on top of the potato and squeeze the sides open.
  6. Top potato with chicken mixture. Garnish with blue cheese and scallions. Eat.

Well, while it wasn't wings, but it was a pretty decent substitute ... and not just because I've recently become totally infatuated with baked potatoes. It's an easy dish to throw together and the flavors can be easily adjusted to suit your particular tastes. I used Sweet Baby Ray's Sriracha Wings Sauce and Glaze, which I'd bought on a whim a while ago when I needed barbecue sauce for something else and thought, I don't know why, that I might make my own wings someday. The sauce starts off sweet and smoky like barbecue and then the tongue begins to tingle and there's a delicious bloom of heat. Mind you, I'm pretty much a lightweight when it comes to hot sauces, so ymmv.


Mellow Red Lentil Soup

I'd picked up a bag of red split lentils around Christmas, because winter is Soup Season, but then the weather kept being so mild and spring-like that, while I still wanted soup, the thick rib-stickingness of lentil soup did not appeal. But then it starting snowing and now it looks as if it will never stop snowing. Hooray. Winter is finally here ... and now it can just go away already.

This soup is based on Chobani's "Red Lentil Soup" but I've mixed it up a little to create, imho, deeper flavors. I really don't know why the original recipe doesn't call for blooming the spices or sweating the onions in the butter first -- doing either (or both) creates a soup with deeper, more integrated flavors and a superior aroma.

I also used low-sodium fat-free chicken broth instead of water, doubled the amount of pepper, and threw in some sweet curry powder for extra flavor. Swapping the butter out for olive oil and omitting the pepper-infused butter drizzle was just because 1) I have lots of olive oil and 2) I didn't want a buttery soup.

Making this soup was also a great excuse for busting out the jar of Aleppo (halaby) pepper I'd picked up at Penzeys after I'd run out of crushed red pepper flakes. I wanted something a bit less brash and generic than red pepper flakes and the sales associate recommended Aleppo. It has a lovely smoky aroma and the heat is about on par with an ancho chile.

Mellow Lentil Soup

Yield: 6


  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • ½ tsp Aleppo pepper
  • 1 Tbsp sweet curry powder [Penzeys Maharajah Style]
  • 1 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 1 cup finely chopped peeled carrot
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 16 oz bag red split lentils, rinsed and picked over
  • 2 qts low-sodium fat-free chicken broth [Pacific Organic]
  • 4 oz cup plain Greek yoghurt
  • Salt and black pepper, as desired


  1. Heat olive oil, Aleppo pepper, and curry powder in a large Dutch/French oven. Add carrots, onions, and garlic. Cook, stirring regularly, until onion is translucent and everything is very fragrant.
  2. Add lentils and broth. Bring pot to boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for 20 minutes.
  3. Remove pot from heat. Stir in yoghurt and process with an immersion blender until desired level of smoothness is reached. Season to taste.
  4. Serve immediately or refrigerate until needed. Soup will thicken as it sits. If desired, add a bit more broth when reheating to loosen it.

When I make this again, I think I'll cut out the yogurt and replace some of the broth with coconut milk. The yogurt adds a welcome creaminess, yes, but the coconut milk would do the same while eliminating a step. Also, I just like the idea of red lentils, curry, and coconut.

Wordless Wednesday: Dancing Light, Reflection, & Shadow

Small section of Soo Sunny Park's installation Boundary Conditions at the New Britain Museum of American Art


Barbecue Chicken Stuffed Potato

The Husband has been away at a conference and proper cooking for one seemed an ... onerous ... obligation when I'd rather be catching up with my giant backlog of graphic novels or reorganizing The Dread Cupboards of Random Storage under the bay window. So I've been eating a lot of fancy-ish grilled cheese and baked potatoes. Also, some salad ... but mostly cheese and carbs. And red wine to wash it down, because red wine's heart-healthy, you know ...

This baked potato is a stuffed with a very simple combination of shredded rotisserie chicken and barbecue sauce with cheese and scallions to bling it out a bit. I bought the rotisserie chicken at the fried chicken place down the street. They keep their rotisserie -- always full of plump, golden chickens -- in their side window so it's in front of you, tempting you with promises of juicy poultry goodness, as you walk across the parking lot. Cunning fried chicken peddlers. Tricksy.

I actually baked three potatoes in one go, as well as a tray of broccoli florets and sliced carrots, because heating the oven for one potato simply seemed too decadent. However, I'm giving the directions for one, because I only made one barbecue chicken stuffed potato. The others were topped later in the week, with random toppings, as I needed them.

Yes, that means I ate three baked potatoes in one week. It. Was. Fabulous.

Barbecue Chicken Stuffed Potato

Yield: 1


  • 1 6-oz baking potato, well scrubbed and dried
  • ½ tsp (or so) olive oil
  • ½ cup shredded rotisserie chicken
  • ¼ cup barbecue sauce
  • 2 Tbsp shredded reduced-fat four-cheese Mexican cheese blend
  • 1 scallion, white & green parts coarsely chopped
  • Black pepper, as desired


  1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
  2. Prick the potato all over with a fork, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and lay it directly on the middle oven rack.
  3. Bake the potato for 45-60 minutes or until the skin is crispy and the potato gives a little when you squeeze it.
  4. Meanwhile, combine the chicken and barbecue sauce in a microwave-safe bowl and warm for 1-2 minutes or until evenly heated all the way through when stirred.
  5. Cut a cross on top of the potato and squeeze the sides open.
  6. Top potato with chicken mixture and cheese. Garnish with scallions and black pepper. Eat.

I'd meant to serve the potato with a dollop of plain 0% Greek yoghurt on top, but forgot and didn't end up missing it, anyway.


Slow Cooker Sausage & Bean Soup

I had half a pound of raw sweet Italian sausage in the fridge, leftover from the "Tomatoey Macaroni & Bean Soup," and while at first I was all "I'll make a slow cooker Italian sausage pasta sauce all chunky with vegetables and heavy on the garlic" I actually ended up making a soup, because soup is definitely in season now ... and I'm not done experimenting with grilled cheese. The Husband picked up a lovely hearty loaf at Brooklyn Baking Company and it toasts up just wonderfully. Vastly superior to the "farmhouse" white I'd picked up in the Stop & Shop bread aisle.

Anyway, this soup tastes pretty great, is easy to prepare, and reheats well. To make it even easier, I did most of the prep -- chopping, browning, etc -- the night before and just dumped everything into the slow cooker the following morning. I had originally intended to throw the zucchini in with everything else at the start of cooking, but then I thought it might go a bit squishy and no-one wants squishy zucchini. Twenty minutes at the end was just enough time to soften (but not squishify) the zucchini.

Slow Cooker Sausage & Bean Soup

Yield:4-6, depending on appetite


  • ½ lb ground sweet Italian sausage
  • ½ finely chopped onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 15.5 oz can Great Northern Beans, drained and rinsed
  • 14.5 oz can crushed tomatoes [Muir Glen]
  • 1 cup finely chopped carrots
  • 1 cup finely chopped celery
  • ½ Tbsp salt-free Italian seasoning
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cups low-sodium fat-free chicken broth [Pacific Foods]
  • 1 cup chopped zucchini
  • Salt & pepper, as desired


  1. Brown sausage in a hot skillet. Transfer sausage to slow cooker. Drain oil from skillet. Add onions and garlic and cook, stirring regularly, until onion is translucent.
  2. Put onions, garlic, beans, tomatoes, carrots, celery, seasoning blend, bay leaf, and broth in with the sausage. Cover and cook on Low for 8-10 hours.
  3. Add zucchini, stir, and cook for another 20 min or until zucchini is desired tenderness.
  4. Remove bay leaf, season to taste, and serve.

Wordless Wednesday: Coloring!

Coloring! My eight-year-old self strongly approves.