Friday, April 29, 2011

Roasted Garlic and Pepperoni Pasta

I'm excited about this one! I'm excited because I made it without a recipe, and I was trying something for purely experimental purposes, and it totally worked! I wasn't even sure it would work, but I was willing to allow my family to be the guinea pigs in this particular experiment. You see, I had several heads of garlic, and I really wanted to roast some up. With that as my starting point, this whole meal was born.

I decided to build upon my roasted garlic idea with things I had around the house that I wanted to use up. I was feeling like creating a roasted garlic sauce, but I wanted it to be creamy and not fattening. A tall order, right? Well, wait a minute. Get this: if you put ricotta cheese in the food processor with a touch of olive oil, the whole head of roasted garlic, and some reserved pasta cooking liquid, you get a nice, healthier, creamy sauce! I'm sure somebody out there has already thought of this, and I just caught on to it late. But I was pretty proud of myself, considering I just came up with it on the fly.

I sauteed a red onion, added a huge pile of spinach and a huge pile of Swiss chard to the skillet, and wilted the greens down. Next, I added some turkey pepperoni. Now, this is the part of the recipe where I would have done it differently if I had to go back and redo it. But lucky for you, I have learned from my mistake and I wrote out the instructions to include the change. Why, you may ask? Well, because the pepperoni just ended up getting a bit droopy and limp as a result of adding it in after the veggies. It was still okay, but just a bit tasteless. Next time, I would cook the pepperoni first, until it became crispy, and then I would take it out and reserve it to throw on top of the pasta at the end. Oh well, I'm learning!

Since the sauce I created did turn out a bit thin, I thought fast and added it to the skillet that contained the veggies. By simmering it for just a few minutes, I was able to thicken it up and turn it into a nice, alfredo-y sauce. If you wanted to, you could add some Parmesan cheese to the sauce and really take it over the top. I liked it as is. Best of all, the family liked it too! My husband was none the wiser about me creating this dish, and he started raving about it over dinner. When I told him that I hadn't even used a recipe, he was pretty impressed. That made me feel good; I find that some of my favorite moments in the kitchen come when I am able to "invent." So it's great when the invention works out well!

Roasted Garlic and Pepperoni Pasta
recipe by Bri
makes 6-8 servings

5 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 whole head of garlic, outer papery skin removed and top 1/4 cut off
1 lb. pasta, any shape will do
1 medium red onion, sliced
4 cups fresh baby spinach
3-4 cups Swiss chard, stemmed and chopped
1/2 cup (it's actually 34 slices, but in case you don't feel like counting!) turkey pepperoni, halved
1/2 cup ricotta cheese (I used part-skim)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Drizzle about 1/2 tsp. olive oil over the head of garlic, wrap it tightly in foil, and roast in the oven for about 45-50 minutes. Remove from oven and allow it to cool slightly.

2. Heat a large pot of water to a boil on the stove. Add the pasta to the pot and cook according to the package directions. Reserve at least 1 cup of the cooking liquid to make the sauce.

3. In a medium nonstick skillet, heat 1 1/2 tsp. oil over a medium heat. Add the pepperoni and cook until just heated through and slightly crispy, about 5 minutes or so. Remove the pepperoni to a plate. To the skillet, add the red onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add in the spinach and Swiss chard gradually, allowing it to wilt some before adding more.

4. Meanwhile, in the bowl of a food processor, add the head of roasted garlic, the 1 cup reserved cooking liquid, the remaining 1 Tbsp. olive oil, and the 1/2 cup ricotta cheese. Puree the mixture until it is smoth and resembles a thin sauce. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

5. Pour the sauce into the wilted greens and allow the mixture to come to a simmer. Turn the heat back and continue to cook at a low simmer until the sauce has thickened some, about 3-4 minutes. Turn off the heat and combine the sauce with the pasta and pepperoni (I added everything back into the pasta pot after the pasta had been drained), tossing well to coat the pasta with sauce. Divide into shallow bowls and serve.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

CEIMB: Asian Noodle Bowl

This week we had the pleasure of making Ellie's Asian Noodle Bowl for Craving Ellie in My Belly. This was chosen by Margaret of Tea and Scones, and it was the absolute perfect weeknight meal for my family. I'm not sure how this recipe escaped my notice for so long, but I'm sure glad Margaret put it on my radar!

I love the ease and freshness of a stir fry. This is one of the first things I ever learned how to make, and we never seem to tire of them. This one, while similar to others I've made in the past, was different and delicious. I realized, this may be the first stir fry I've ever prepared without garlic! I have to say, we didn't really miss it all that much, but it would have been good in there, too.

The ingredients list included fresh broccoli florets, shiitake mushrooms (my first time using them), red bell pepper, canned baby corn, scallions, chicken, and soba noodles. Once everything is stir-frying away, you pour in some low-sodium soy sauce and chicken broth and let it all absorb. The dish is finished with a bit of sesame oil and a few reserved scallions on top.

I was faithful to this recipe, for the most part. I did add one jalapeno pepper to the ginger and scallions that are added to the skillet at the beginning of the recipe, and I was glad I did. It gave the dish just the right amount of heat. Also, I had just 5 oz. of mushrooms, instead of the 8 oz. that were called for, but I just added in extra broccoli and it all worked out okay. My husband called this dish "extra delightful," which I can only take to mean that this one was a big winner!

Thank you to Margaret for choosing this one; it's simple but so delicious! To view the recipe, you can click here. And to see the CEIMB blogroll, you can click here.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Black Bean Falafel

I thought it would be fun to make falafel again; I believe this is my third time now! Since I've already done the more traditional type of falafel, as well as a creative, fun pea-lafel, I thought this time I'd try a variation with black beans. I found a pretty cool recipe that was pretty much exactly what I was looking for. It worked out so well that I already want to make these again, and I'm eager to share it with you.

It's very, very easy to assemble the falafel. You basically throw all your ingredients in the food processor and blend it up, and then you add the black beans in last so that they are not quite as ground up as everything else. You toss your falafel balls in some cornmeal, which really gives them a nice, crunchy exterior. I thought that was a great touch; it really contrasted well with the softer interior of the falafel. The flavors were great, although I think the recommended 1 jalapeno could have been increased by one or two. I improvised just slightly (the original recipe called for fresh cilantro; I didn't have any, so I used ground coriander and ground fenugreek) but otherwise stayed pretty true to the recipe. I think it's a great "starter" falafel, because it lends itself to so many different uses. These would be equally delicious in a pita pocket, or tossed with salsa and served in a Mexican salad. I think I'm turning into a falafel-holic!

Black Bean Falafel
adapted from Everything's Eventful
makes 12 patties

1 (15 oz.) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15 oz.) can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
4 scallions, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/2 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. ground fenugreek
1 egg
1 jalapeno pepper, stemmed, seeded, and coarsely chopped (I think I could have used 2)
2 Tbsp. plus 1/2 cup cornmeal, divided
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the garbanzo beans, scallions, garlic, cumin, coriander, fenugreek, the egg, jalapeno, 2 Tbsp. of cornmeal, and salt and pepper. Process the mixture until nearly smooth, then add the black beans. Pulse the mixture until the black beans are chopped pretty fine, but not completely blended in. You want it to be slightly chunky.

2. Pour the remaining 1/2 cup cornmeal into a shallow bowl. Using a scoop or your hands, form falafel balls by using 1/3 cup of the mixture at a time. Slightly flatten the balls, and then roll each in the cornmeal, gently shaking off any excess. Transfer the balls to a plate as you go. You should be able to get 12 balls.

3. Spray a nonstick skillet with cooking spray and heat it to medium heat (you can also bake these, or use a bit of canola oil to shallow-fry the balls). Working in batches, add three or four falafel balls at a time to the skillet. Fry for about 3-4 minutes per side, until nice and brown on both sides. Remove the balls from the skillet and serve. Some serving suggestions: over a bed of spinach, stuffed in a pita pocket with some hummus, cucumber, and sprouts, or inside an English muffin.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Baked Sunday Mornings: New York Style Crumb Cake

Happy Easter! I hope everyone is having a great day. I'm going to talk about a coffee cake that would actually be very appropriate for a holiday, especially if you're having houseguests over. Unfortunately, my coffee cake is long, long gone and will not be served this Easter. But who knows, maybe next year!

So for this week's Baked Sunday Mornings assignment, we made the New York Style Crumb Cake, which I've been drooling over ever since I first purchased this book. You see, this cake reminds me of the good ol' days, when I used to work at Starbucks. The New York Style Crumb Cake was so good there, but so evil. The crumb portion was thicker than the cake portion, which I quickly learned was why people loved it so much. But me? No, I actually preferred the cake to the crumb. I always wound up with a stomachache if I attempted to eat the entire piece of cake.

Well, after trying the Baked version of this cake, I can see why people love the crumbs so much. This coffee cake puts the Starbucks cake to shame. The cake is so moist and light, while somehow also being hefty enough to pass for breakfast food. The crumb topping is nothing short of amazing. It smells of heaven: cinnamon, brown sugar, and butter. I pretty much swooned when I finally took this thing out of the oven. I was originally going to cut this into squares, try a little piece, and send it in to work with my husband. However, once I started cutting, little crumbs started to fall off the cake. I tried one. Then another. Then another. So only a few pieces made it to the office; the rest were thoroughly enjoyed by myself and my two sons.

I have to say that it really is so worth the effort, the way you assemble the crumb top. I did what the book advised, and let the crumbs lay out after the ingredients had all been mixed in. By slightly drying them out, they were very easy to break off into chunks and scatter across the cake batter. After being baked, those crumbs were decadent, sinful, and addictive. I'm definitely a New York Crumb Cake convert!

I can't wait to see how the other Baked Sunday Morning members' cakes turned out! We have such great photographers in the group; I know that looking through all the pictures will just make me crave this cake all over again! You can check them out by clicking here for the blogroll.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

CEIMB: Wheat Berry Salad

This week's Craving Ellie in My Belly recipe was her Wheat Berry Salad, chosen by Leslie of Lethally Delicious. I have to admit, although I was excited to make this recipe and use wheat berries for the first time, I ended up taking a lot of liberties with it. I think in the end, it was probably not even Ellie's salad anymore; it was more my derivative take on it. But I loved it!

I made this as a last-second side dish with a meal I made last week, so I hadn't fully checked the ingredients list before I dove in. Turns out, I didn't really have everything I needed to make it, but I did have close approximations! So, instead of dried cherries, I used dried cranberries. Instead of walnuts, I used some hazelnuts (yum!). I had no lemon juice, so in went a bit of fresh key lime juice and a splash of pomegranate red wine vinegar instead. I didn't even have celery, but I had cucumbers, so I just used some of those. Like I said, it's not really even the original recipe anymore, but it's the same general idea.

Since I have never cooked wheat berries before, I was really unsure about when they were supposed to be done. I followed Ellie's instructions and submerged them in water, and let it come to a boil. However, by the time all the liquid evaporated, the wheat berries were still a little too hard for our tastes. So, I kept dumping more water into the pot and letting it cook off. I probably had the heat turned up way too high; at times I would raise or lower it, but the directions were really unspecific as to whether you should just simmer the mixture, or let it continue to boil. After about two (!) hours, I finally just decided they tasted good, and I took them off the heat. They still had a fair amount of crunchy pop to them, so I was happy with how it all turned out.

Well, obviously I can't speak for Ellie's full, unaltered recipe here, but my version was wonderful! I'm really starting to dig the whole grain/dried fruit/nut combo in a cold salad, and this one was a real winner. The wheat berries were delicious, I thought. I was happy with their texture, and they really felt hearty, bulkier than rice or barley and possibly more filling. I am definitely going to be making this again really soon, but this time I'll have the correct components and I'll do it right!

Thanks very much to Leslie for choosing this! It was one of the best cold side salad-type dishes I've had in a long while. If you'd like the recipe, click on over to Food Network's website, here. And to see the CEIMB blogroll, click here.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Cranberry Mustard-Maple Pork Chops

This recipe was born because I made an impulse purchase, and then realized I didn't quite know what to do with that impulse purchase. The purchase in question was Cranberry Mustard. I know, sounds intriguing, right? I thought so, too. It came in one of those little round, fancy-looking jars, and it was such a pretty, mauve/maroon color. I just could not resist it. Plus, I didn't know if/when I'd ever see it again, so I wanted to grab it while I could!

The mustard is delicious, by the way. It has a distinctly fruity flavor, while still having that tang that mustard has. It did not look like grainy mustard upon my initial inspection, but as soon as I started to spoon it out of the jar, I could see the little grains inside. So, so good! I found a place online to purchase it, too, so when I run out I can still find it there.

So, back to the chops. I bought some boneless, country-style ribs recently, and I wanted to cook them low and slow in the oven. I also have been wanting to try a maple-mustard combination on meat, so I took a chance and did a little bit of experimentation.

I checked out how to bake boneless ribs online, and then I played with a couple different things I'd seen or read about, and came up with this recipe. And guess what? It was good! The glaze on the ribs was so sticky-sweet, tart, and yummy, and it really paired well with the pork. By roasting the ribs with some onions, I was able to retain their moisture and also add extra flavor. I definitely recommend giving this a try, with your own favorite spices or mustard. Oh, and note that the side dish you can just barely see in the background will be blogged about tomorrow, when I tell you about this week's CEIMB!

Cranberry Mustard-Maple Pork Chops
recipe by Bri
makes about 5 boneless ribs

1 1/4 lbs. boneless, country-style ribs (or boneless pork chops)
1 Tbsp. cajun seasoning
1/2 tsp. cumin
3 Tbsp. cranberry mustard
2 Tbsp. pure maple syrup
1 Tbsp. agave nectar (you can also just use 3 Tbsp. maple syrup and omit the agave)
1/2 red or yellow onion, sliced into half-moons

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Combine the cajun seasoning and cumin in a small bowl. Rinse and pat the ribs dry, and them rub the seasonings all over each. Place the ribs on a baking sheet with sides, or in a shallow baking dish lined with foil.

2. Gently place the onion slices on top of the ribs, then cover the sheet or pan with foil. Bake, covered, for an hour and fifteen minutes. During the last fifteen minutes, combine the mustard, syrup, and agave in a small saucepan. Bring to a gentle boil, then remove from heat.

3. Remove the foil from the pan and baste the ribs with the mustard/syrup glaze. Switch the oven to broil, and put the ribs back in the oven for about 3-5 minutes, until the glaze has bubbled slightly. Allow to rest for several minutes before serving.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Meatless Mondays: Potato Gratin with Duxelles

It was not until I sat down here and got ready to blog all about this lovely Potato Gratin that I realized I had not photographed one of the most essential, and unique, components of the dish. You see, this week's Meatless Mondays offering is cool and different, and I wanted to tell you all about it. I can still tell you all about it, but I can't show you the innards of this gratin, as it is long, long gone and eaten. Sigh.

As you can see from the title, this is a Potato Gratin with Duxelles. Duxelles, I have learned, is a rich, meaty-tasting mushroom reduction. A long, slow simmer of a large amount of mushrooms cooks them way, way down and reduces them to little more than mushroom....well, mush. But this mush is pure, concentrated mushroom flavor, and it is very, very tasty. Once you have made your Duxelles, you can add it to almost any dish your imagination can dream up. I'm sure it will be fabulous in soups, amazing in omelettes, and delightful mixed into a pan gravy. Here, it was used as a layer of flavor in the Potato Gratin.

Making the Duxelles was quite simple; the hardest part is the waiting. It took me over an hour before all the liquid had evaporated from the pan; that is how you know it is ready. The Potato Gratin, from Cooking Light, was surprisingly decadent for such a light dish. It made me feel like I was being bad when I really wasn't! I love fake-outs like that. Be sure to allow plenty of time to make this whole ensemble, or make the Duxelles ahead of time and stick them in the fridge until you are ready to assemble the Gratin. Oh, and the Duxelles recipe makes a ton! I split up the remainder of my Duxelles in the cups of my muffin tin, flash froze the whole thing, and then popped them out and threw them in a freezer bag. Now I'll have the ability to Duxelle-ify any meal I please!

Potato Gratin with Duxelles
from Cooking Light
makes 10 servings

4 1/2 cups (1/8-inch thick) sliced, peeled baking potato (about 2 pounds)
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. minced garlic
3/4 tsp. chopped, fresh thyme
1/4 tsp. black pepper
Cooking spray
3/4 cup Duxelles (recipe follows)
1/2 cup (2 oz.) grated Parmesan cheese, divided

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Combine the first 6 ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium heat; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Drain potatoes through a sieve over a bowl; reserve potatoes and liquid.

2. Arrange half the potatoes in an 11x7 glass or ceramic baking dish that is coated with cooking spray. Spread Duxelles evenly over potatoes; sprinkle with 1/4 cup cheese. Top with remaining potatoes. Pour the reserved cooking liquid over potatoes; sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup cheese. Bake at 375 degrees for 50 minutes, or until cheese begins to brown. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Mushroom Duxelles
from Cooking Light
makes 4 cups

10 3/4 cups sliced mushrooms (about 3 pounds)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
3/4 cup minced onion
1/2 cup minced leek (about 1 small)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
3 Tbsp. fresh minced chives
3/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1. Place about 2 cups mushrooms in a food processor, and pulse 12 times or until finely chopped, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Place chopped mushrooms in a large bowl. Repeat procedure in batches with the remaining mushrooms.

2. Heat a large, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add onion, leek, and garlic to pan; saute 3 minutes or until tender. Stir in mushrooms; saute 30 minutes (mine took about an hour) or until liquid evaporates, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; stir in parsley, chives, salt, and pepper. Cool completely before using or freezing.

Friday, April 15, 2011

MSC: Chai Tea Cupcakes

This month, for the Martha Stewart Cupcakes Club, our assignment was to make the Chai Tea Mini Cupcakes with Condensed Milk Glaze. This month's cupcake is being hosted by Rachel of Simple Girl, since the blogger who originally chose for us to make these had to take some time off from her blog. I decided to make half mini cupcakes, and half regular-sized cupcakes this time. I just wanted to have both options available, and my first plan had been to do two different frostings (although that ended up changing).

So my husband loves to drink chai lattes from Starbucks, but he adds a twist to his. He orders them with two shots of espresso added in, and the slang for this is a "dirty chai." So in the spirit of experimentation, I thought it would be fun to make a frosting that sort of paid homage to his "dirty chai" habit. Plus, it was a great excuse to use up some heavy whipping cream I had hanging out in my fridge! So, I threw together some Espresso Whipped Cream to top my cupcakes.

I gotta say, this stuff was outstanding! I found it over on Epicurious; it's super easy and takes only minutes to make. You whip your cream to soft peaks, add in a touch of powdered sugar and 1 teaspoon of instant espresso powder, and continue whipping until stiff peaks form. There you go! I was so impressed with the whipped cream frosting that I wound up abandoning the condensed milk frosting that accompanies these cupcakes in Martha's book. I know it was probably delicious, but I don't think we really missed it. I topped the frosted cupcakes with just a dash of ground cinnamon, which I thought made the cupcakes look more latte-ish.

These ended up being loved by everybody who tried them; the pairing of cupcake and frosting worked very well! I loved the method of steeping the tea bags in milk and then using that milk as the liquid in the cake recipe. This would really be a fun thing to experiment a little bit more with. I dug the spices in the cake, as well. It truly was reminiscent of chai, but a little bit like a pumpkin-spiced cake, too. Not that I'm complaining!

Be sure to see what the other MSCers did with this month's cupcake recipe, by checking out the blogroll, here. Oh, and there's a bonus cupcake recipe this month, Martha's Easter Egg Cupcakes, but I made and blogged about those last year! So if you'd like to see how they turned out, you can see them here.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

CEIMB Rewind: Portobello Lasagna Rollups with Easy Tomato Sauce

This week's Craving Ellie in my Belly recipe is going to be a rewind. Peggy from Pantry Revisited chose Tuna Noodle Casserole, which I am still not quite brave enough to attempt just yet. I don't know; there's just something about tuna that just repels me. Any time I try to eat it (usually after years of not eating it) I still feel the same way, so I just don't see that changing anytime soon. I'm sorry, Peggy! I'll make sure to cook along with you next time!

So, I wound up making Portobello Lasagna Rollups with Easy Tomato Sauce, which the group originally made all the way back in mid-November of 2008. I was not yet a member back then (in fact, that same week in November was the week before I gave birth to my second son), and honestly if I had the choice of making this two years ago I probably would have declined. Mushrooms are fine for me now, but they definitely have not always been my friend. I've come around on the mushroom thing in recent months, so I've been wanting to find ways to incorporate them into more dinners since my husband is such a fan of them.

Although you do have to set aside some time to prepare these lasagna rolls, they are very simple to prepare. The easy tomato sauce is just that; easy! It comes together in no time, with very little effort. After cooking lasagna noodles until just al dente, you lay them out flat and fill them with a mixture of vegetables (mushrooms, spinach) and cheese (ricotta, mozzarella) and some of the tomato sauce. You repeat this with all of the noodles, then you roll them up so that the filling remains inside. You place them in a baking dish, standing up, and top with even more cheese and sauce. They bake until bubbly and golden, and that's it!

Reviews were kinda mixed on this one. They tasted just fine, and the concept is a great one. It's lasagna without the labor intensive prep work! However, they did seem a bit lackluster; a bit more flavor, or perhaps some spice, would have helped greatly. My hubby threw a bunch of salt on his; I try to steer away from doing that, so I just settled for some crushed red pepper on top. Still, I would make this again. I think it would be great with some lean ground turkey or turkey sausage in the filling!

For this full recipe, click on over to Food Network's website, here. And to see how the CEIMBers liked the Tuna Noodle Casserole, check out the blogroll, here.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Shrimp and Grits

In my never-ending list of things I've either never tried or never liked, I have always placed grits somewhere firmly at the top. I'm not a mush kind of gal; I dislike mashed potatoes, do not care for oatmeal, etc. So it should come as no surprise that I never even attempted eating or making grits before in my life. But then, a funny thing happened. I asked my husband what meal he would like me to prepare for his birthday dinner, and I was fully expecting him to say Chicken and Dumplings. Well, he didn't. Instead, he asked me to make Shrimp and Grits. He's never actually had Shrimp and Grits as a meal before, but he loves shrimp and he loves grits separately. Turns out, he's always wanted to try it together. Determined to make him proud, I figured I would make this for him, and then make up my mind when I was serving it about whether I would give it a taste.

It's actually super simple to make. Now, admittedly, I did cheat a little bit, and I used quick-cooking grits rather than making my own from scratch, with cornmeal. Other than that, I was pretty faithful to the recipe. I found this recipe in my Bobby Flay's Throwdown cookbook, and although Bobby did not take home the crown in the Shrimp and Grits battle, I was still drawn to his version above the other one. The grits are simmered in shrimp stock, which you make from scratch using shrimp shells and tails and assorted vegetables. Then, they're finished with a heaping pile of white cheddar cheese and a touch of heavy cream. The shrimp is sauteed in bacon fat infused with garlic, then piled on top of the cheesy, creamy grits. The bacon (which of course is the source of that bacon fat) and some green onion is scattered over the top. Not including the time it took to make the homemade shrimp stock, this whole meal can be on the table in half an hour, so you can't beat it for its fast prep.

So, the verdict? Hubby was actually pretty underwhelmed by it, and I actually really liked it! Totally not the two reactions I was expecting, to be sure! It's not that my hubby hated it, but he kept saying it just was not what he thought it would be. I think because the recipe had Bobby Flay's name attached to it, he was anticipating some spice or heat to the shrimp. He also said it was his first time eating cheesy grits that were so creamy, and that it was just okay. I was a bit disappointed about his reaction, since it was his special dinner. He still ate two huge helpings, though, so it wasn't a complete loss!

I had a really small portion, since I didn't know how I would feel about it, but I could have eaten more. The shrimp was juicy and crisp, and of course bacon fat always makes things better. The grits were definitely creamy, but I didn't mind the texture nearly as much as I thought I would. The cheesiness and the shrimp stock really enhanced the grits for me; it gave it great flavor, as opposed to reducing the grits to a flavorless pile in the bowl. So, I survived my first helping of Shrimp and Grits, and I would even be so bold as to say I might even eat it again!

Bobby Flay's Gulf Shrimp and Grits
adapted from Bobby Flay's Throwdown
makes 4 servings

4 cups shrimp stock (recipe follows)
Kosher salt
1 cup stome-ground yellow cornmeal
8 oz. thick-cut, double-smoked bacon, cut into 1-inch-long matchsticks
20 large (21- to 24-count) shrimp, shelled and deveined
Freshly ground black pepper
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
1 1/2 cups (6 oz.) grated white cheddar cheese
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 green onions, thinly sliced, for garnish

1. Bring the shrimp stock and 2 tsp. salt to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Slowly whisk in the cornmeal and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, whisking every few minutes, until the grits are soft and have lost their gritty texture, 25 to 30 minutes. If the mixture becomes too thick, add a little more stock.

2. Meanwhile, cook the bacon in a medium skillet over medium heat until it is golden brown and crisp and the fat has rendered, about 8 minutes. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with paper towels.

3. Remove all but 3 Tbsp. of the bacon fat from the skillet, and return it to high heat. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper. Add the shrimp, garlic, and thyme, in batches, if necessary, to the skillet and saute until the shrimp are light golden brown on both sides and just cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Remove the shrimp to a plate. Reserve the garlic oil left in the skillet.

4. Stir the cheese and heavy cream into the cooked grits, and whisk until smooth; season with salt and pepper. Divide the grits among 4 bowls, and top each with 5 shrimp. Drizzle with some of the garlic oil from the skillet, and sprinkle with the green onions.

Shrimp Stock
from Bobby Flay's Throwdown
makes about 8 cups

2 Tbsp. canola oil
4 cups raw shrimp shells and tails
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 small carrot, coarsely chopped
1/2 medium celery stalk, coarsely chopped
1 cup dry white wine
1 medium tomato, chopped, or 1/2 cup chopped canned plum tomatoes
1 bay leaf
8 black peppercorns

1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over high heat until almost smoking. Add the shrimp shells and tails, onion, carrot, and celery, and saute, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add the wine and boil until reduced by half. Add 8 cups cold water, the tomato, bay leaf, and peppercorns.

2. Reduce the heat to medium, cover partially, and simmer for 40 minutes. Strain the stock through cheesecloth or a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Baked Sunday Mornings: Carrot Coconut Scones

This weekend's Baked Sunday Mornings goodie was Carrot Coconut Scones with Citrus Glaze. What a perfect Sunday morning treat! I'm going to keep this post short today, as my husband is running the St. Louis half-marathon this morning and I need to go get the kids ready so we can all be downtown in time for him to finish. He's been working so hard; I'm really proud of him and I can't wait to see him cross the finish line!

But back to the scones. These are delicious. They're slightly crusty on the outside, but pillowy soft on the inside. The carrot flavor is there, but you don't get small bits or shreds of carrot when you bite down. That's because this recipe has you puree some orange juice with the carrots after cooking and softening them. Almost like baby food, the carrot puree is mixed into the dry ingredients and blends into the finished product beautifully.

I was running low on coconut when I made these, but since I was going to be feeding the scones to various people and didn't know who loved or hated coconut, I thought maybe a reduced amount was a good solution. So, in the end, my scones only contained 1/4 cup of coconut, rather than the full 1 cup called for. As it turns out, many thought this was the perfect amount. There were unanimous rave reviews for these; everybody loved them.

The glaze really enhanced the scones with its citrusy sweetness, but I tried a scone warm from the oven the day they were made, and didn't have any glaze at the time. In my opinion, they were still amazing even without it! But either way you choose to enjoy them, give them a try. Nothing like carrot cake, but still wonderful in their own right.

Be sure to check out how the other members of the group liked their scones by clicking over to the blogroll, which is here. Enjoy your Sunday!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Key Lime Pie

Boy, do I love me some Key Lime Pie! I always have, as far back as I can remember. It may just be the only type of dessert that can sway me, at a restaurant, from ordering a chocolatey confection. And that is no small feat! I just love the puckery tang, the sweet, crumby graham cracker crust, and the perfect fluff of browned meringue on top.

So imagine my delight when I happened to stumble across a big package of fresh key limes in my local international foods market last weekend! I don't know if I've ever truly realized that key limes are so much tinier than regular Persian limes. I got about 2 lbs. of key limes for under 2 bucks, which I believe is a fair price although I wouldn't really know. It seemed good! I was eager to test them out. I've never made a from-scratch Key Lime Pie before, let alone with authentic key limes. But I set out to change that.

I debated for a bit about what type of crust I should do, and what type of topping I should do. I love the graham cracker crust, but I've also had Key Lime Pies with a more standard, not-too-sweet pie dough that I think is really good. I also considered a fresh whipped cream topping on this. In the end, the graham cracker/meringue combo won. I wasn't disappointed; it was a good choice!

One minor note I thought I would mention: it's very important to chill the finished pie after about an hour of cooling on the counter. I learned this the hard way! We had to leave the house right after this came out of the oven, and we didn't get back for about 4-5 hours. When we arrived home, the meringue had shriveled up and pulled away from the sides of the pan! It still tasted awesome, it just didn't look nearly as pretty as it did when it first came out of the oven (and fortunately many of my pictures were taken while it was still attractive!). So if you're serving this to company or just want your pie to remain beautiful, chill it for several hours before you enjoy it.

Key Lime Pie
adapted from United Cakes of America
makes one 9-inch pie

Nonstick cooking spray
10 full sheets (5 oz.) graham crackers
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
6 Tbsp. granulated sugar, divided
1 (14-oz.) can fat-free sweetened condensed milk
3 eggs, yolks and whites separated (whites at room temperature)
2/3 cup fresh key lime juice
1/8 tsp. cream of tartar

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Using a food processor or a Ziploc bag and a rolling pin, crush the graham crackers until they are fine crumbs. Add 2 Tbsp. granulated sugar and the melted butter to the graham crackers, tossing to coat crumbs with butter.

2. Line a 9-inch round cake pan with parchment paper, spraying the pan with nonstick cooking spray both under and on top of the parchment. Press the graham cracker mixture into the prepared pan, making sure it is even. Bake on the center rack in the oven for 8-10 minutes, or until lightly browned and fragrant. Set on a rack to cool.

3. Make the filling by whisking the egg yolks until well combined. Add in the condensed milk slowly, whisking the whole time. Slowly drizzle in the lime juice; the mixture will thicken as you whisk it. Pour the filling into the cooled pie crust.

4. Return the pie pan to the oven, and bake for about 20 minutes, or until the filling is just set and no longer jiggly. Remove the pan from the oven, return it to the rack, and allow it to cool.

5. Make the meringue by setting the egg whites and the cream of tartar in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk the whites at a medium speed until they form soft peaks. Slowly add the remaining 4 Tbsp. sugar, one Tbsp. at a time, and continue whisking the whites at medium-high speed. Once the whites have formed stiff peaks, stop the mixer.

6. Crank up the oven to 400 degrees F. Spread the meringue onto the cooled pie, ensuring the entire surface is covered and the meringue seals the edges. If desired, fluff the meringue into little peaks or other designs on top. Return the pie to the oven and bake for an additional 5-6 minutes, just until the meringue is browned on top, making sure not to over-brown. Allow the pie to cool at room temperature for about 1 hour, then put it in the refrigerator for at least another 3 hours before serving.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

CEIMB: Crispy Chicken Fingers

This week's Craving Ellie in My Belly recipe comes from Jen of The Rookie Baker. We made Crispy Chicken Fingers, from Ellie's first cookbook, The Food You Crave. I was pretty sure I had made this recipe before, a long time ago, but of course that wasn't about to stop me from making it again with the group! My family loves chicken fingers, and the preparation for this was so simple, I did not mind mind putting this one together at all.

The last time I had made this, I think I must have used Corn Flakes, because this time it tasted totally different. That's because this time around I used some of the Corn Chex that I still have lying around the house from the holidays, when we like to make several (hundred!) batches of Chex Mix. It's such an easy breading process, thanks to Ellie's tip of throwing the cereal crumbs in a Ziploc bag and sealing the chicken in there with them. Just shake, shake, shake, and you have breaded chicken! My chicken did stick together some after all the shaking, so I had little bits of the chicken which remained uncoated. I used my fingers and some excess crumbs to reapply cereal to the naked parts, and for the most part this worked out fine.

I stuck the chicken pieces on a baking sheet lined with nonstick aluminum foil, and everything baked up great and didn't stick at all. I did not follow Ellie's instructions completely; I took the chicken off the baking sheet immediately out of the oven. She tells you to leave the chicken on there longer to allow the chicken to crisp up even more. I'm sure that's why my chicken wasn't as crispy as I would have liked. That's my fault though; we were too impatient to eat that night!

For a quick, healthier way to enjoy breaded chicken, this recipe is a no-brainer. Thanks to Jen for allowing me to revisit this one! To see the full recipe, click here. To see the CEIMB blogroll, click here.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Burnt Sugar Bundt Cake

I decided to whip up an easy bundt cake to take to my in-laws' house not too long ago. My hubby's birthday is today (Happy Birthday, darling!), and so I figured it would be nice to have a cake that everybody could eat together, since he wouldn't be seeing any extended family on the actual day of. I knew I could turn to my Baked Explorations book for something that would be tasty and easy, but would still appear elegant and fancy enough to qualify as birthday cake.

This one is a real gem. It's listed in the book as Burnt Sugar Bundt Cake with Caramel Rum Frosting, but since I left out the rum mine is simply a caramel frosting. The cake is a simple one, but it is dressed up with the addition of a burnt sugar mixture, which is divided in half and added to both the cake batter and the frosting. A basic hard caramel candy topping is made on the stovetop, broken into pieces, and arranged on top of the frosted cake, dressing it up nicely. The book lists the topping as optional, but I totally think it's a must here.

I think I may have made my burnt sugar liquid a little, well, less burnt than I was supposed to. You're instructed to heat sugar in a saucepan until it melts and turns a dark caramel color. I thought I did that, but the resulting liquid (which is a blend of the melted sugar, heavy cream, coconut milk, and lemon juice) turned out an off-white color. The cake, which contains half the liquid, is a pale yellow color, while the picture in the book clearly shows a dark brown, almost chocolate-looking cake. However, I honestly don't think it mattered to anybody because the cake was positively scrumptious.

One little note about the frosting, though: I think it needs extra confectioners' sugar. The recipe calls for 2 1/3 cups, but I would venture to say that closer to 3 cups is called for here. When I attempted to apply the frosting to the cooled cake, I encountered a problem. The frosting ran, avalanche-style, down the sides of the cake! Because it's a liquid/confectioners' sugar blend, it eventually did set up for me, like a glaze, although I had to refrigerate it overnight to make sure everything stayed put. After that, it was firm and it stayed that way. The hole in the center of the cake was filled with extra frosting, since it had pooled down there before settling. Again, it did not affect the taste at all, but I just thought I'd issue a warning in case anybody tried to make this! It's worth the steps, and it's not complicated at all. Just perfect to take along to a party!

Burnt Sugar Bundt Cake with Caramel Frosting
adapted from Baked Explorations
makes 1 (10-inch) bundt cake

For the burnt sugar liquid:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
Approximately 3/4 cup coconut milk
1 1/2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

For the bundt cake:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 1/4 cups unsalted butter
(2 1/2 sticks) cut into 1-inch cubes, at room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Burnt Sugar Liquid (see above)

For the caramel shard topping:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
About 1 tsp. water

For the caramel frosting:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract
2 1/3 cups confectioners' sugar (or more, as needed)
Burnt Sugar Liquid (see above)

Make the burnt sugar liquid: 1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, slowly melt the sugar. Use a wooden spoon to stir it continuously to ensure even melting. When the sugar turns a dark caramel color, remove the pan from the heat and slowly stream in the cream while continuing to stir (don't worry if mixture starts to clump). Return the pan to medium heat and stir until completely combined; cook for 2 minutes longer, stirring.

2. Transfer the burnt caramel mixture to at least a 2-cup heatproof liquid measuring cup (like Pyrex) and add enough coconut milk to make 1 1/4 cups liquid. Add the lemon juice. Whisk to combine, divide the mixture in half, and set both portions aside.

Make the bundt cake: 1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Generously spray the inside of a 10-inch Bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray; alternatively, butter it thoroughly, dust it with flour, and knock out the excess flour.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Scrape down the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated. Add the vanilla and beat for 5 more seconds.

3. Retrieve one of the reserved portions of burnt sugar liquid. Add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the burnt sugar, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and beat again for 10 seconds. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until a small sharp knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool completely. Gently loosen the sides of the cake from the pan and turn it out onto the rack.

Make the caramel shard topping: 1. Place the sugar in a small saucepan. Add enough water - it takes approximately 1 tsp. - to make it the texture of wet sand. Cook on high heat until the sugar turns amber. Pour the caramel onto a half-sheet pan lined with nonstick aluminum foil. Let cool. Break the cooled caramel into small shards and use them to decorate the frosted cake.

Make the caramel frosting: 1. Put the butter, vanilla, confectioners' sugar, and remaining portion of burnt sugar liquid in a food processor. Pulse in short bursts until the frosting is shiny and smooth.

Assemble the burnt sugar bundt cake: 1. Use an offset spatula to spread the frosting over the crown of the Bundt in a thick layer. Top with caramel shards. Let the frosting set before serving. The cake will keep in an airtight container, at room temperature, for up to 3 days.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Meatless Mondays: Green Curry with Bok Choy

This past week, I prepared yet another "first" in the kitchen. I cooked tofu, something I'd never done before. In fact, I've only eaten tofu about three times total; this Green Curry with Bok Choy was the third. It's definitely not as scary as I thought it would be; in fact, it's actually pretty pleasant! It's especially good in dishes like this curry, since it just assumes the flavor of whatever it is in. This curry is packed with great, exotic flavor.

The "green" parts of this curry are plentiful. There's fresh broccoli and bok choy in this recipe, along with a heaping helping of fresh cilantro and a couple of serrano peppers. The cilantro and peppers are added to a few other ingredients and processed until they form a smooth paste. This paste becomes the base for the sauce of the dish. More green components, such as Kaffir lime leaves, basil, and mint are added as aromatics, making the dish smell heavenly and taste just as great. I wish that I had Kaffir lime at the time that I made this; I can see how it would have enhanced the dish so much more. It was still wonderful, but the lime leaves would probably have taken it over the top.

The tofu is cut into cubes and added to the sauce to simmer. A can of coconut milk (light, since this is a Cooking Light dish), fresh lime juice, soy sauce, sugar, and sesame oil round out the sauce, and after a brief thickening period, the pre-cooked veggies are thrown in to warm through. The curry is served on top of rice, and garnished with the basil and mint. I loved the ease of preparation here; the whole thing maybe took me half an hour. I couldn't tell you for sure, since I made this in different steps throughout the day, but each step was quick and simple. The dish tasted fresh, flavorful, slightly spicy, and just interesting enough to be deemed fancy. We really loved it. It just goes to show you that a fast dinner with a global flair really can be thrown together in the comfort of your own home!

Green Curry with Bok Choy
adapted from Cooking Light
makes 4 servings

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 Tbsp. chopped, peeled fresh ginger
2 tsp. ground coriander
2 tsp. ground cumin
8 garlic cloves, peeled
3 small serrano chiles, stemmed and seeded
2 large shallots, coarsely chopped (I used 1/2 an onion)
4 cups coarsely chopped broccoli florets (about 1 head)
2 cups (1/2-inch-thick) slices baby bok choy
2 tsp. dark sesame oil
4 tsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. lower-sodium soy sauce
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
3 Kaffir lime leaves (I omitted)
1 (13.5-ounce) can light coconut milk
1 (14-ounce) package water-packed organic firm tofu, drained and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 cups hot, cooked, long-grain white rice (I used brown jasmine rice)
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint (I omitted)

1. Combine the first 7 ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth. Set aside.

2. Cook broccoli florets in boiling water in a Dutch oven for 3 minutes, or until crisp-tender. Remove broccoli from water with a slotted spoon; drain and rinse with cold water. Return water to a boil. Add baby bok choy to Dutch oven; cook 1 minute. Drain and rinse with cold water; set aside.

3. Drain water from Dutch oven and heat over medium-high heat. Add sesame oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add cilantro mixture to pan; saute 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add sugar and next 4 ingredients (through coconut milk) to pan; bring to a boil. Add tofu; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 6 minutes or until slightly thick. Add broccoli, bok choy, and juice; cook 1 minute or until heated through, tossing to combine. Discard lime leaves (if using). Place 1/2 cup rice in each of four bowls; spoon 1 1/2 cups tofu mixture over each serving. Sprinkle 1 Tbsp. basil and 1 1/2 tsp. mint over each serving.