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'The Chew' chef Hall offers worldwide faves in new cookbook

| Tuesday, April 1, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Carla Hall of 'The Chew.'
Carla Hall of 'The Chew.'
'Carla's Comfort Foods,' by Carla Hall
Atria Books
'Carla's Comfort Foods,' by Carla Hall
Poppyseed Pork Tenderloin
Frances Janisch
Poppyseed Pork Tenderloin
Carla Hall
Frances Janisch
Carla Hall
Spicy Sweet Chicken Stew
Frances Janisch
Spicy Sweet Chicken Stew
Black Bean Empanadas
Frances Janisch
Black Bean Empanadas
Carla Hall
Frances Janisch
Carla Hall

Carla Hall can spice up most any meal.

The popular co-host of ABC-TV's daytime lifestyle and cooking series “The Chew” can turn a simple pound of fish into a variety of creative variations — a Southeast Asian-inspired cilantro fish stew, a Brazilian coconut fish stew or an all-American cod and potato chowder� – just by swapping the seasonings.

Even the basic weeknight standby, chicken, takes on an international flair with the addition of serrano chiles and paprika in one of her favorite Hungarian dishes, Chicken With Sour Cream. Fresh thyme and tarragon create a French entree, Chicken in Dijon Cream. And habanero chile, dried bay leaves and thyme flavor her West African Spicy-Sweet Chicken Stew.

In “Carla's Comfort Foods: Favorite Dishes From Around the World,” (Atria Books, $29.99), the celebrity chef shares memorable meals and menus for global takes on everyday foods. She will demonstrate a few recipes from her new cookbook at two Pittsburgh area Market District appearances and book signings April 5.

Hall's inspiration for her latest collection of recipes – and many of her happy family memories – originated in large part with Southern comfort food prepared by her two grandmothers while she was growing up in Nashville. It was her fraternal Grandma Thelma who made the Chicken With Milk Gravy featured in her book; her maternal Granny Freddie Mae baked her favorite peach cobbler dessert, also included in “Carla's Comfort Foods.”

Chicken With Milk Gravy was the jumping-off point for Hall's culinary creativity.

“I asked myself, ‘How can I take a comforting dish I love, and change it to represent another flavor?” she says. Replacing the milk with sour cream and paprika gave the dish a Hungarian twist. Substituting heavy cream, Dijon mustard and wine reminded her of her days in Paris, where she had worked as a model, in addition to London and Milan, before returning to the states and embarking on culinary training at L'Academie de Cuisine in Maryland.

Hall settled in Washington, D.C., and had jobs as sous chef at the Henley Park Hotel, as executive chef at The State Plaza Hotel and The Washington Club, and as executive chef of Alchemy Caterers before landing a “Top Chef” opportunity that led to her current position with Mario Batali, Clinton Kelly, Michael Symon and Daphne Oz on “The Chew.”

For her cookbook, she kept experimenting with her technique using other foundation ingredients, such as short ribs. The caramelized onion version she remembered from Sunday suppers as a kid was adapted to an Italian short ribs entree with red wine and tomato accents, and a Korean dish with a soy sauce-cider vinegar marinade.

Writing her book helped Hall to realize that comfort food is universal and “people all over the world are making the same dishes and just using other ingredients,” she says.

Her technique works with side dishes, too, including peas, one of her favorite vegetables. Hall offers a French recipe for buttered tarragon peas that she made as a contestant on “Top Chef,” and another variation that adds fresh chopped mint leaves to a very British dish, mushy peas.

To help others with their journey through global seasonings, she provides an international spice chart in her book that pairs various cultures with their familiar herbs, spices and aromatics.

“It's your road map to trying something new,” she says.

Hall saves the best for last in “Carla's Comfort Foods,” offering some dessert recipes that incorporate different flavors of loose-leaf tea — herbal lemon, chocolate chai and mint — into three variations of tea cookies.

“I love tea,” she says. “The more I was drinking it, the more I thought, ‘It's actually a leaf and it's edible. Why can't I use it as spices?' ” And, so, she did, in recipes for Lemon Citrus Tea Cookies, Chocolate Chai Sandwich Cookies and Chocolate Mint Crinkle Cookies.

Hall says she's already at work on her next book, which will focus exclusively on desserts.

Candy Williams is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

Spicy-Sweet Chicken Stew

“My ancestors are from Nigeria, and my brother-in-law is from Liberia,” Carla Hall writes. “If there's one key lesson I've taken from him and my extended family, it's that the triumvirate of tomatoes, green peppers and onions is the foundation of West African cooking.

“In this quick stew, I start with a whole chicken, including the bones, which add such big flavor that you can simply use water to create a tasty sauce. If you want, you can use chicken stock instead for a super-rich stew. I love the sweetness of tomatoes, banana and mango with the fruity heat and spice of habanero chile in this hearty one-dish dinner.”

1 habanero chile

1 can (28 ounces) whole San Marzano tomatoes

Extra-virgin olive oil, for frying

One 3-pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces (2 wings, 2 breasts, 2 drumsticks, 2 thighs)

Kosher salt

1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped

1 medium sweet green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

Freshly ground black pepper

2 fresh or dried bay leaves

1 / 2 teaspoon dried thyme

3 1 / 2 cups water

1 ripe banana, peeled

1 ripe mango, peeled and pitted

Perfect Baked Rice (see recipe )

Cut a small slit in the chile. This will prevent the seeds from spilling into the stew and making it incredibly hot. Set it aside. Empty the can of tomatoes into a large bowl. Gently squeeze the tomatoes with your hands to crush them into large chunks. Set the tomatoes aside.

Fill a large Dutch oven or flameproof casserole with oil to a depth of 1 / 8 inch, and heat it over medium-high heat until the oil is hot but not smoking. The oil should dimple and have wavy lines. Season the chicken generously with salt and add it to the hot oil, skin side down, spacing the pieces apart. Don't crowd the pan; work in batches if you have to.

Reduce the heat to medium. When the skin is dark-golden brown, turn the pieces over. Continue cooking until the bottom of the chicken is dark-golden brown. Transfer the chicken to a plate.

Add the onion, bell pepper, garlic, 1/ 4 teaspoon salt and a pinch of black pepper to the skillet. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is nice and soft, for about 7 minutes.

Stir in the bay leaves, thyme and habanero chile. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Stir in the water and tomatoes. Heat to a boil, then adjust the heat to maintain a steady simmer.

Nestle the chicken pieces in the sauce, skin side up, and add any accumulated juices from the plate. The sauce shouldn't cover the skin. Partially cover the pan and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, for about 30 minutes. If some pieces are done before others, remove them first and place them on a plate.

While the chicken cooks, puree the banana and mango in a food processor or blender until it is smooth. Stir the mixture into the sauce when the chicken is done.

Remove and discard the chile and bay leaves from the stew, and serve hot.

Serve with Perfect Baked Rice — lots of it if you make the stew extra spicy.

Makes 4 servings.

Perfect Baked Rice

1 1 / 2 cups water or chicken or vegetable stock homemade or store-bought unsalted broth

1 tablespoon butter or oil, optional

1 cup rice, well rinsed and drained

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large ovenproof saucepan with a lid, bring the water and butter, if using, to a boil over high heat. Stir in the rice, remove from the heat, cover, and pop into the oven.

Bake until the water is absorbed and the rice is perfectly tender, for 17 1/ 2 minutes.

“Really: 17 1/ 2 exactly. I did this for years when I was catering and that was the magic number,” Carla Hall writes. “Of course, ovens are different, so yours may take a little more or less time.”

Makes 4 servings.

Poppy-Seed Pork Tenderloin With Fresh Herb Crust

Chef Curtis Stone went on “The Chew” as a guest and did this quirky thing to his roast: He finished cooking it, then he coated it with minced fresh herbs.

“I had used that technique on goat cheese before, but never thought to try it with meat,” Carla Hall writes. “That hit of freshness over the rich meat was amazing. I said to him, ‘Oh, child, that's worth stealing.'

“I wasn't kidding! Here, I've decided to add another layer of flavor by spice-rubbing the meat before cooking it and then coating it with the herb mix after. It tastes so complex, but it's so easy! Thank you, Curtis.”

1 tablespoon canola oil

1 teaspoon sweet paprika

1 teaspoon poppy seeds

1 / 2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 / 2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 / 4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

1 whole pork tenderloin (12 to 14 ounces)

1 / 4 cup finely chopped fresh dill leaves

1 / 4 cup finely chopped fresh flatleaf pParsley leaves

Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Meanwhile, combine the oil, paprika, poppy seeds, cinnamon, salt and white pepper in a small bowl. Rub this all over the pork and let stand on a rimmed baking sheet at room temperature until the oven is ready.

Roast the pork until it registers 135 degrees for medium, for about 15 minutes.

While the pork is roasting, tear a sheet of parchment paper the length of the tenderloin. Sprinkle the dill and parsley in an even layer on the paper.

Roll the cooked pork in its pan juices, then transfer it to the fresh herbs and roll it in the herbs to coat it evenly. Let the pork stand for 5 minutes, then cut it into slices at an angle and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

Black Bean Empanadas

“Moving to Washington, D.C., for college was a great way for me to experience a lot of firsts — especially in food,” Carla Hall writes. “I had my first empanadas when my friends took me on a late-night run to Julia's Empanadas. I kept going back after that and, eventually, made my own when I was catering.

“Julia made a bunch of fillings, but I stuck to black beans — they're so silky and creamy and they can take flavors so well. Th­at's important in an empanada, because anything you put in the shell needs to be extra flavorful. Th­e dough is delicious, but you need a filling that can stand up to it. That's why I use sweet-savory picadillo mixed with cheese.

“These make a filling main dish, but you can also make them small to serve as appetizers.”

Flour, for rolling

Cream-Cheese Dough (see recipe )

1 cup Black Bean Picadillo, preferably chilled (see recipe )

Tangy Hot Cabbage Slaw (see recipe )

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

On a lightly floured surface and using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough to 1 / 8 -inch thickness. Use a lightly floured 5-inch round cookie cutter to cut out 5 rounds. Gather the scraps, reroll, and cut out 3 more rounds.

To form an empanada: Put 2 tablespoons of the picadillo in the center of a dough round. Fold the dough over to enclose the filling and form a half-moon. Pinch the edges together to seal them, and create a 1 / 2 -inch rim. Pinch one corner between your thumb and forefinger and fold it over the rim. Pinch the dough next to the fold and fold again. Continue pinching and folding to create a decorative rope rim. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling.

Transfer the empanadas to the baking sheet, spacing them 2 inches apart. Bake until they are golden brown and heated through, for about 30 minutes. Let cool on the pan and serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

Serve with Tangy Hot Cabbage Slaw.

Makes 4 servings (8 empanadas).

Cream-Cheese Dough

Talk about a workhorse. ­This super-easy dough is a tender, not flaky, pastry. You basically can't overwork it, which would make it tough; it tastes great with sweet and savory fillings; and it rolls out like a dream. If you've been scared to try making your own pastry, start here.

1 cup flour

1 / 2 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons ( 3 / 4 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1 / 2 -inch dice

4 ounces cold cream cheese, cut into 1-inch dice

In the bowl of an electric mixer, mix the flour and salt. With your hands, toss the butter and cream cheese in the flour mixture until each piece is lightly coated.

With the paddle, beat on low speed until the dough forms a loose mass around the paddle.

Gently pat the dough into a 1-inch-thick rectangle on a large sheet of plastic wrap. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until it is firm, for about 3 hours, before rolling. You can refrigerate the dough for up to 1 day or freeze it for up to 3 months.

Makes enough for 8 large empanadas or samosas.

Black Bean Picadillo

Often made with meat, a picadillo combines sweet raisins and tomato with savory garlic and chiles. Those bold, well-balanced flavors taste just as good without meat. Th­e key is to find a really great chile powder that's ground from whole chiles. Check the labels to make sure there are no added seasonings — you want the pure thing. This is also great over rice or in tortillas.

1 / 2 cup golden raisins

2 / 3 cup hot water

1 tablespoon canola oil

1 1 / 2 cups diced yellow onion

2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon ground Mexican chiles, such as ancho

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 can (15 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained

1 / 2 cup fresh or thawed frozen corn kernels

1 / 2 cup shredded sharp cheddar, Monterey Jack or a blend

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves, optional

In a small bowl, cover the raisins with the hot water. Let them soak.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, 1 / 2 teaspoon salt and 1 / 4 teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion just starts to turn translucent, for about 3 minutes. Add the ground chiles and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.

Stir in the beans, corn and raisins with their soaking liquid. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

If serving alone or with tortillas or rice, top with the cheese and the cilantro, if using. If using as empanada filling, cool completely, then stir in the cheese and the cilantro, if using.

Makes 4 servings.

Tangy Hot Cabbage Slaw

1 / 2 cup white vinegar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 / 2 teaspoon sugar

1 / 4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

8 cups very thinly sliced cabbage

1 / 2 cup very thinly sliced red onion

1 / 2 cup shredded carrot

1 jalapeño chile, stemmed, seeded and minced

1 / 2 teaspoon dried oregano

In a large bowl, whisk the vinegar, salt, sugar and pepper until the sugar dissolves.

Add the cabbage, onion, carrot, jalapeño and oregano, and toss well. You can cover the slaw and refrigerate it overnight, but it's best fresh.

Makes 8 servings.

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