Saturday, April 30, 2011

Quick Strawberry Balsamic Vinaigrette over Spinach Salad

Homemade salad dressing doesn't get much easier, or tastier, than this sweet and tangy vinaigrette.  Usually, I make the dressing with raspberry preserves (and you should try doing that sometime, too!), but strawberries and balsamic vinegar are a classic combination and make for a fresh, seasonal dressing.  Shake it up in a glass jar for an instant salad topper and to keep the leftovers (if there are any).
 Strawberry Balsamic Vinaigrette
1 teaspoon Dijon or brown grainy mustard
2 tablespoons seedless strawberry preserves or all fruit preserves (try raspberry or apricot for a twist)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

In a small jar with a lid, stir together mustard and preserves until smooth.  Pour in balsamic vinegar.  Top with olive oil.  Fit lid of jar securely and shake vigorously until vinaigrette is well-combined and is thick and smooth.  Season to taste with salt and pepper as needed, shake again to combine.  If you make the dressing ahead of time, shake the jar just before serving.  Pour over prepared salad as desired.

Suggested Salad:
Fresh baby spinach leaves
walnut pieces (toasted, optional, sliced almonds would be good too!)
fresh sliced strawberries
crumbled goat cheese (or blue or feta)
fresh ground pepper to taste
thinly sliced red onion (optional)

Toss together all salad ingredients in a large or individual bowls.  Drizzle with salad dressings. Serve immediately.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Turkey Brie Panini

Alright, we probably ought to get something straight here.  Apparently, according to Wikipedia (which is ALWAYS right) Americans have a tendency to think that a panini refers only to a grilled sandwich.  Feeling a responsibility to not contribute to misconceptions I feel it's best to go on record that in Italy, a panini can refer to any form of sandwich (and if you want to get really technical, you'd really call one sandwich a "panino").  As for this sandwich, however, it falls right into the grilled panini stereotype.  But that is alright.  In fact, in my book, gooey melted brie layered with roasted deli turkey, crisp apple slices, tangy honey mustard and fresh spinach all grilled up in toasty French is a very good thing indeed!  In honor of my parents enjoying their time in France right now, I whipped up a French-inspired lunch.  Bon Appetit!

Turkey Brie Panini

For each sandwich (panino : ):
1 4-6 inch section of baguette, split (or two slices rustic-style bread)
1/2 teaspoon grainy mustard
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/2-1 oz brie cheese, thinly sliced
thinly sliced apple (I used Braeburn)
fresh spinach leaves
softened butter

Stir together mustard and honey.  Spread on inside of bread.  Layer turkey, apple slices, spinach leaves and brie.  Smoosh the sandwich together.  Spread a thin layer of butter on the outside of the sandwich.  Grill in a panini press until golden brown.

note: If I was at home and did not have my parents' fancy Griddler Gourmet at my disposal, I would've probably just grilled my sandwich in a skillet, flipping to brown on both sides.  Or, I may have dusted off the good ol' George Foreman grill (when he was "Knocking out the fat" was he thinking of making grilled cheese?). Or, if I was feeling really wild, I might've used the skillet,  loosely covered the sandwich with a layer of aluminum foil and then topped the sandwich with another skillet weighed down with some heavy cans to weigh it down and flatten the sandwich, flipping halfway through to brown both sides.  Panini press?  Who needs a stinkin' panini press?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Moroccan Cauliflower and Chickpea Curry

I confess, I can not attest to how authentically "Moroccan" this dish actually is.  I just thought with the the bold flavors and colors and being served over couscous and all, it sounded a lot better than "Curried Cauliflower with Tomatoes, Sweet Potatoes and Chickpeas over Couscous."  That would've been a mouth full. Phew!

Anyway, last week, Good Friday and Earth Day fell on the same day.  In honor of my Catholic, Lent-observing roots and in attempt to reduce our Carbon Footprint for the day, we had this delightful Vegetarian meal.  I'd had a head of cauliflower in the fridge and for some reason had really been wanting to pair it with curry.  Now curry can be a bit of an acquired taste, but once you like it, it's hard to stay away.  Coming from someone who took awhile to appreciate curry, if you don't think it's for you, keep trying.  One of these times I think you'll end up pleasantly surprised! 

Finally, this is one of those magical recipes that tastes even better the next day.  Make extra (or leave some leftovers) and pack into individual servings for lunch over the week.  You'll feel prepared and exotic!

Moroccan Cauliflower and Chickpea Currymakes about four large servings
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 head cauliflower (about 1 pound), cut into bite-sized pieces
1 small sweet potato, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks
kosher salt
2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 piece fresh ginger (about 1 inch chunk) peeled and minced
2 tablespoons curry powder 
2 small tomatoes chopped, or 1/2 15.5oz can of petite diced tomatoes
1 15.5 oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
salt and pepper to taste
fresh chopped cilantro leaves (about a 1/4 cup or more to taste)
hot cooked couscous or rice (a gluten-free option!) for serving

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  On a baking sheet, toss cauliflower and sweet potato pieces with olive oil and sprinkle with Kosher salt.  Spread in a single layer (using two baking sheets if necessary) and  roast, tossing occasionally, until sweet potato chunks are tender but still firm and the edges of the cauliflower pieces are browned (about 20-25 minutes).  Remove from oven and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, melt butter over medium high heat.  Saute onion, ginger and curry powder stirring frequently until onion is softened and the curry and ginger are fragrant, about 2-3 minutes.  Add tomatoes and cook, stirring to break down the tomatoes.  Add 1/2 cup water, chick peas, cauliflower and sweet potato and raise heat to high.  Cook, stirring frequently for a couple minutes until sauce is reduced and thickened.  Season to taste with additional salt and pepper, if needed.  Stir in about 2 tablespoons of chopped cilantro, reserving the rest for garnishing individual servings.  Serve over hot cooked rice or couscous.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Steak Fajitas

I am currently sitting in rainy Minnesota, starting a week+ worth of "Brother-Sitting."  Dropped my parents off at the airport an hour ago ("Bring me back something French!") and since then, have 1) tried on my mom's shoes, 2) found lots of potential treats/pitfalls (I've eaten a spoonful of Ben and Jerry's, a piece of leftover Easter chocolate and some almonds from a fancy tin), 3) perused the magazine collection and 4) had my fill of sattellite tv (we got rid of ours last Fall and I thought I would be glad to catch up on the Food Network and others, but the magic seems to be lost--probably just as well).  I thought that before I go do something useful (like read a book?), I'd post a dinner-worthy recipe.  Even though it's gray and drizzly here today, we have definitely entered the grilling season.  Let's celebrate with a classic, Steak Fajitas (of course, you can also substitute chicken breast or all veggies if you prefer, I just happened to get a screaming deal on skirt steak last week).  Also, these might be the perfect way to celebrate Cinco de Mayo next week...

 Steak Fajitas
Marinated Skirt Steak
1 pound skirt steak
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup soy sauce
4 scallions (green onions), white and green parts, washed and cut into big chunks
2 cloves garlic, peeled
juice of 1 lime
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons brown sugar

Fajita Veggies
1 large onion, thinly sliced length-wise
1 large green bell pepper, thinly sliced into strips
1/2-1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced into strips
4 oz. mushrooms, thinly sliced (optional)
1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil, divided
lime wedges (optional)

tortillas (click on link for homemade, if you like!)
Fajita fixings: sour cream, shredded cheese, guacamole, etc...

To prepare the steak, remove skirt steak, rinse and place in a gallon sized freezer bag.  In a blender pitcher, combine oil, soy sauce, scallions, garlic, lime juice, vinegar, red pepper flakes, cumin and brown sugar.  Blend until smooth and thoroughly combined.  Pour into bag over steak, seal up and marinate for about one hour in the fridge.  Remove steak from bag, pat with paper towels and allow to come to room temperature while you prepare the grill (I just used our gas grill, but you can use charcoal or an indoor grill pan as well). 

Grill steak for 1-2 minutes on each side (you just want to sear the outside, flank steak is thin!).  Remove from the grill, cover with aluminum foil and allow to rest for about 10 minutes while you're cooking the vegetables.

Preheat a large skillet over high heat.  Add half the oil and saute vegetables in two batches, paying attention not to crowd the pan (so you don't steam them).  Cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are browned and crisp tender.  Remove from heat and keep warm.

After steak has rested, cut across the grain into very thin slices.  Serve in warmed tortillas with the pepper and onion mixture and topping with your desired fixings.

Skirt Steak inspired by Alton Brown's recipe 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Grapefruit Drop Scones

A couple weeks ago, I thought myself very lucky to have been gifted a very giant bag of citrus fruit fresh from Arizona.  Does it strike anyone else as ironic that there are a ton of grapefruit grown in a state where there is a large, ahem, "mature" population who uses medication prone to dangerous reactions with grapefruit?  Apparently, there are RV parks down there where people can not even give  grapefruit away.  So many grapefruit left sad...

Anyway, now that a couple of weeks have passed, we ran out of steam using the grapefruit and until this morning, a couple were still languishing in my fruit bowl.  I am such a hypocrite.  Determined to use them and needing to bake up something for my Bible study this morning, I came across a recipe for Grapefruit Scones and was intrigued.  They ended up light and tender, and had just a hint of grapefruit flavor hidden in their flakey, biscuit-y goodness.  I made drop scones (instead of the recognizable triangular shape) because the dough ended up pretty sticky, and what can I say, I'm lazy like that.

Grapefruit Drop Scones
2 small-ish grapefruit or 1 large beast of a grapefruit
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup plain yogurt

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Remove zest from grapefruit and place in a small bowl.  Add sugar and stir together to make really lovely, fragrant grapefruit sugar.  Set aside.  Cut the remaining peel off of the grapefruit and lop off the top and bottom to show a nice, naked grapefruit.  Using a small paring knife, cut out segments by running your knife along the lines of the membrane out of the grapefruit.  It's okay if some of them fall apart.  Sometimes grapefruit are even so cooperative that you can just peel the membrane off with your fingers.  However you do it, just remove the flesh of the grapefruit and set it aside as well.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and half of grapefruit sugar mixture.  Cut in butter with a pastry blender or two knives (or your fingers if you work fast and not too much) until flour mixture is crumbly and there are still tiny chunks of butter (about the size of small peas) in your flour mixture.  Fold in honey, yogurt and grapefruit segments just until the mixture is combined and comes together.  Drop by large tablespoonfuls a couple inches apart onto a greased cookie sheet (or if you want pretty, shaped scones, you can turn dough onto a floured surface, pat it out into a dish and cut wedges a la a pizza pie, then place evenly spaced apart onto greased cookie sheet).  Sprinkle remaining grapefruit sugar evenly on top of scones, pressing lightly if needed.  Bake at 425 degrees for 15-17 minutes or until golden brown on top.  Allow to cool for about 10 minutes on baking sheet. 

Recipe adapted from: Grapefruit, Honey and Yogurt Scones by Joy the Baker

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Carrot Cake

Last week was my Father-in-Law's Birthday.  He loves carrot cake and for the last several years, this is the recipe for the cake I've made for him.  It's a purist's carrot cake: no nuts, no raisins, no pineapple, no coconut.  Carrot cake, pure and simple.  And, after trying a lot of carrot cakes over the years, I have to say this one is my favorite.  Another plus is that it is the only carrot cake I've ever tried that doesn't feel greasy or heavy.  Thank you, Alton Brown, your cake recipe is a winner!  This would make a really lovely addition to your Easter (or another Springtime celebration).  Also, for a really impressive presentation (and serious, cake-eating crowd), double your cake and frosting recipes for a two-layered mammoth of a carrot cake. 

Carrot Cake
makes one 9 inch cake
12 oz carrots, peeled and grated, medium grate (approx. 6 medium carrots)
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (freshly grated, if possible)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 large eggs
6 ounces (2/3 cup) plain yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 ounces (2/3 cup) vegetable oil
cream cheese frosting, recipe follows

Butter and flour a 9 inch cake or spring form pan and line with parchment or waxed paper cut to fit in the bottom.  Set aside.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a food processor (which by the way is a lovely way to grate the carrots if you happen to have one), combine flour, spices, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Pulse for about 5 seconds to combine thoroughly.  If you do not have a food processor (and had to painstakingly grate those carrots by hand), just stir together the dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Add the carrots and toss flour mixture and carrots together until carrots are coated with the flour mixture.

In the bowl of the food processor (or in a blender if you didn't have the food processor--they really are great kitchen tools, though!), combine the sugars, eggs, yogurt and vanilla extract.  With the processor or blender running, slowly drizzle in oil.  If you are really unfortunate and have neither food processor nor blender, combine all the wet ingredients in a bowl, mixing well.  Then, slowly drizzle in oil mixing continuously.  The important thing here is to get a good emulsion (where the oil is incorporated into the other ingredients--think like shaking up a salad dressing).  That will get you an ungreasy carrot cake.  Pour this mixture into the carrot mixture and stir just until combined.  Pour into prepared pan and bake at 350 degrees F. for 45 minutes.  Then, lower oven temperature to 325 degrees for another 20 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

Remove the pan from the oven and allow to cool in the pan for about 15 minutes.  Turn cake out onto a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.  Frost with cream cheese frosting after cake is completely cooled.

Cream Cheese Frosting:
1 8 oz. package Reduced Fat cream cheese (or regular, I just was trying to cut back where I could), softened to room temperature
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) butter, softened to room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar

With an electric mixer, beat together cream cheese and butter in a large bowl until well combined.  Mix in vanilla extract.  Slowly add powdered sugar in small increments (about 1/2 cup at a time), beating after each addition.  Beat until smooth and fluffy.  Allow frosting to chill in the fridge for about 10 minutes before frosting the cake.

*Also, some helpful frosting tips: a cold cake is easier to frost than a room temperature one.  Wrap your cake in plastic wrap and freeze overnight or chill in the fridge beforehand.

If desired, you can just generously frost the top of a carrot cake for a rustic appearance.  For a more polished look, frost the entire cake.  For easiest results, frost a chilled cake with a very thin layer of the frosting (a "Crumb Coat") to ensure you don't get all kinds of crumbs in your frosting.  Chill crumb coated cake in the fridge for at least 10 minutes and then cover with additional, thicker layer of frosting for a finished cake. 

Recipe heavily adapted from Alton Brown's Carrot Cake

Monday, April 18, 2011

Spinach and Goat Cheese Baked Risotto

I think most people when they think of risotto (and that's if they think of it at all...) would consider it a "restaurant food."  I know that I always loved to order the creamy rice dish (preferably with lots of shrimp and scallops in it) when I'm eating at Italian restaurants that are not the Olive Garden (nothing against the OG and its amazing salad and breadsticks, I just can't remember it ever being on the menu...).  I guess risotto is intimidating because it's supposed to be so hands on in its preparation (read: constant stirring for long periods of time).  Enter: baked risotto.  All of the yummy, creamy, heart-warming goodness and none of the arm-cramp-inducing stirring.  And, when you add garlicky, sauteed spinach and tangy goat cheese to the mix, you end up with something glorious.  Thank you to Martha Stewart and Jamie Oliver for your recipes, when I married them together, they made quite a delicious baby!

Spinach and Goat Cheese Baked Risotto
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided (plus more for serving)
4 tablespoons butter, divided
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
3/4 cup Arborio rice
1/4 cup dry white wine (optional)
2-2 1/4 cups hot water
1/2 cup homemade or low sodium canned chicken stock
kosher salt and pepper
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
5 1/2 oz fresh spinach, washed and dried
ground nutmeg, preferably fresh
a big handful or two of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 lemon, zest removed and reserved
7 oz. soft goat's cheese, crumbled 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a large skillet, heat one tablespoon each of oil and butter over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until translucent, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring to coat the grains with oil, about 1 minute. Stir in the wine and cook until it has completely evaporated, about 1 minute. Stir in 1 1/2 cups water, the stock, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil.  Pour rice mixture into an ovenproof baking dish and cover.  Transfer to the oven, and bake, covered, until most of the liquid has been absorbed by the rice, 20 to 25 minutes. 

Meanwhile, place an additional tablespoon each of olive oil and butter along with garlic in a large skillet over medium heat.  When butter is melted, add spinach.  Cook, stirring constantly, until spinach is wilted down.  Season with salt, pepper and grated nutmeg to taste.  Chop finely or blend up in a food processor.  Cover and set aside to keep warm.
When rice is cooked through, remove from oven and stir in spinach mixture, 2 additional tablespoons butter, a good squeeze of lemon juice, Parmesan and half of the goat cheese.  Stir until butter and goat cheese is melted and rice is creamy.  Season with additional salt and pepper to taste, if needed.  Spoon into bowls and top with additional crumbled goat cheese, a sprinkle of lemon zest and a drizzle of olive oil.  Serve immediately as a main dish or hearty side.  

Recipe adapted from: Martha Stewart's Oven-Baked Risotto and Jamie Oliver's Spinach and Goat Cheese Risotto from Cook with Jamie

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Brooklyn Blackout Cupcakes

I get it.  I realize that dessert is more exciting than broccoli or salad (seriously more exciting than when you pair the two together!).  Therefore, let me share a mother of desserts (seriously, I don't know of a mother who wouldn't like this cupcake--granted, I haven't done any formal research...), a serious chocolate fix, Brooklyn Blackout Cupcakes.  The story goes that there used to be a famous bakery in Brooklyn that served "Blackout Cake," an intense chocolate cake that was filled and frosted with rich chocolate pudding and topped with crumbled chocolate cake crumbs.  Yummy!  The bakery closed long ago, but the memory of the cake lives on, has been introduced to new generations of chocolate lovers and is now being passed on to you in a personal-sized cupcake form.  Enjoy!

Brooklyn Blackout Cupcakes
1 recipe Darn Good Chocolate Cake, baked into cupcakes (see below)
1 recipe filling and frosting (see below)

Once cupcakes and frosting are fully cooled, remove paper from and crumble 4+ (more as needed) cupcakes onto a plate or in a wide, shallow bowl.  Set aside.  Using an offset spatula or butter knife, spread a generous amount of the frosting (about 1-2 tablespoons) onto each cupcake.  Sprinkle with crumbled cake crumbs to decorate.  Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Note: you can use an injector or pastry bag fitted with a pointed tip to add some of the frosting inside the cupcake as filling.  I have done this before and have decided that it's more work than it's worth and would rather just have extra filling on top of my cupcake but I thought I would throw it out there as an option if you feel more Martha Stewart than I usually do!

"Darn Good Chocolate Cake," adapted from "The Cake Mix Doctor"
1 box Devil's food chocolate cake mix
1/2 cup warm water
4 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sour cream
1 small package instant chocolate pudding
1 cup milk chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except for chocolate chips. With an electric mixer on low speed, mix to combine. Raise speed to medium and blend for about 2 minutes, stopping to scrape down the bowl. Stir in chocolate chips. To bake into cupcakes, spoon batter into paper lined muffin cups and bake at 350 degrees for 18-23 minutes or until cupcakes spring back when touched lightly.  Remove from oven.  Allow cupcakes to fully cool before frosting.

note: for a more intense, deep chocolate flavor, substitute miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips.

Chocolate Pudding Frosting:
1 package (3.4 ounces) "cook and serve" chocolate pudding mix
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

Whisk together pudding mix and milk in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat.  Stir constantly over medium heat until mixture comes to a boil.  Boil for one minute, still stirring constantly.  Remove from heat.  Stir in butter, vanilla extract and chocolate chips.  Stir until chocolate melts and mixture is smooth.  Pour into a wide flat dish (like a pie pan) and immediately cover with plastic wrap placed directly against the surface of the pudding so that a skin doesn't form.  Allow to cool completely in the refrigerator.

-or, if you don't have cook and serve pudding mix-

1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup baking cocoa
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, cocoa, corn starch and salt.  Whisk to combine.  Slowly add milk, whisking constantly to fully dissolve cocoa mixture into milk.  Stir constantly over medium heat until mixture comes to a boil.  Boil for one minute, still stirring constantly.  Remove from heat.  Stir in butter, vanilla extract and chocolate chips.  Stir until chocolate melts and mixture is smooth.  Pour into a wide flat dish (like a pie pan) and immediately cover with plastic wrap placed directly against the surface of the pudding so that a skin doesn't form.  Allow to cool completely in the refrigerator.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Broccoli Madness Salad

We are fortunate enough to live in a state that has the salad bar restaurant, "Sweet Tomatoes" (aka "Soup Plantation" in some states).  There, they have this magnificent salad known as "Joan's Broccoli Madness" that is comprised of crunchy, raw broccoli studded with raisins, bacon and cashews all tossed in a creamy dressing.  I will tell you in all honesty (and this is coming from a true vegetable-loving person) this is one of the very few ways I'll even eat raw broccoli.  It's so good.  My husband and I like it so much that he and I ate the entire batch in one sitting and because it's a lightened version, didn't feel too guilty.  This recipe is a great addition to showers (I think I first tried a version of this salad at my sweet friend, Helen's classy, Southern-style, Bridal luncheon and it forever holds a dear place in my heart because of it), cook outs and pot lucks. Getting your serving of veggies never tasted so good.

Broccoli Madness Salad
1 pound raw broccoli florets, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup cashew pieces or sunflower seeds (for a just as delicious, more budget-friendly option)
1/4 cup finely diced red onion
1/2-3/4 cup extra crispy bacon pieces
1/2 cup light mayonnaise
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 tablespoons white sugar
1-2 tablespoons milk
fresh ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

In a large bowl, toss together broccoli florets, raisins, cashews and red onion.  Reserve bacon pieces until after adding dressing so that they stay crispy (I can't stand wiggly bacon, yuck!).  Set aside.  In a small bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, vinegar and sugar.  Add milk, as needed, until it reaches a thick, pourable consistency.  Season to taste with pepper, garlic powder and any additional sugar or vinegar, if needed.  Pour over broccoli mixture, tossing to combine.  Add bacon pieces and allow salad to sit for about 10 minutes to allow flavors to meld.

Variation: substitute 1/2 cup dried sweetened cranberries (Craisins) for raisins.  I have also heard of adding shredded sharp cheddar cheese to the mix but I guess I'm a purist and leave it out, but feel free to add it to the party if you feel so inclined! 
Inspired by Joan's Broccoli Madness Salad by Sweet Tomatoes restaurant 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Easy Fried Rice

I know I have mentioned this before, but growing up, my very few experiences with restaurant food was almost entirely relegated to Asian take out.  What can I say, my Dad hasn't met an egg roll he didn't like.  Fried rice was always a staple of our order and it always seemed like a real crowd-pleaser.  I have just realized that I imagine Chinese restaurants are very happy when people order fried rice.  Why, you ask?  Because it's best made with LEFTOVER rice!  What a great way to cut down on product waste!  That said, it's a delicious use of leftovers and so unbelievably simple to recreate at home, it makes me think twice about ordering it in a little paper box again.  

Easy Fried Rice
(makes two large meal sized portions or four sides)
2 cups leftover cold cooked rice
3 eggs
cooking spray
salt and pepper
1/2 cup diced carrots
1/2 cup pea pods (optional)
1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1-2+ tablespoons light soy sauce
1/2 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup bean sprouts (optional)
3 green onions, green and white parts, thinly sliced
1/2 cup leftover cooked meat of your choosing, cut into bite-sized pieces *see note*
Lightly beat the eggs and scramble with salt and pepper in a wok or large frying pan coated with cooking spray.  Once eggs are scrambled, break up into bite-sized chunks (if they aren't already), remove from pan and set aside.  Return pan to stove and over high heat, add diced carrots and pea pods (if using) and 1/3 cup water.  Boil vegetables uncovered until water evaporates and vegetable are crisp-tender (watch closely so they don't burn, the water will be gone quickly).  Remove from pan and set aside with the eggs.   Return the pan to high heat, add 1-2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and sesame oil so you have a decent film over the bottom of the pan.  Add the rice and stir fry for a couple minutes, stirring frequently to break up any chunks of rice.  Once rice is heated through, add soy sauce to taste.  Return eggs and vegetables to rice mixture.  Add frozen (the heat of the rice will thaw them quickly) peas, bean sprouts (if using) and any diced, cooked, meat desired to the pan and cook an additional minute, stirring frequently, until mixture is heated through.  Serve immediately, chopsticks optional. 

*Note: If you like meat in your fried rice you have a lot of potential options.  I used leftover chicken from a chicken and broccoli stir fry I had made the night before but pork chops basted with hoisin sauce is a really delicious addition and brings back happy memories of when my mom would make "Young Jewel Fried Rice" from the LeeAnn Chin Chinese Cookbook--was that just a Minnesota think?).  Really, just about anything works--you could even use leftover Thanksgiving turkey (I have done it and it turns out great!).

*You could even make fried rice from leftover restaurant take out (if you have any left--we always seem to have leftover white rice that starts to petrify in its little paper box).  And, you can use some remaining meat from an entree to turn your fried rice from side to main dish.  

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Lemon Curd and Lemon-Yogurt Brunch Parfait

Lemon-Yogurt Brunch Parfait
 I feel like I've been on a bit of a lemon kick lately and as long as I am, I might as well share with you this yummy recipe for lemon curd.  Lemon curd is a thick spread made from lemon, sugar, eggs and butter (think of the filling in a lemon meringue pie) and is really a delicious addition to a wide number of foods.  Traditionally, it is served with scones (kind of like biscuits) for brunch or teatime, but it can be used to top slices of pound cake or pieces of shortbread, used as a filling in between layers of  cake, spread on toast or even stirred into plain yogurt (one of my favorite uses!).  To buy a jar at the store can be crazy expensive (and I've found I don't really like the taste of the jarred stuff that much anyway), but you can make your own in about 15 minutes and with mostly ingredients you probably already have on hand. This recipe makes about 2 cups, so there's plenty to share--turn it into a sweet gift by putting some in a jar tied with a pretty ribbon!

Lemon Curd
2/3 cup sugar
6 tablespoons butter, softened to room temperature
4 egg yolks
1 whole egg
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from about 4 small lemons)
1 tablespoon lemon zest

In a medium mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.  Add egg yolks and egg and beat together over medium speed until mixture is smooth.  Add lemon juice and mix thoroughly (the mixture may look a bit curdled but it will smooth out during cooking).  Transfer mixture to a heavy sauce pan.  Stir mixture constantly over medium-low heat until it is thick and coats the back of a spoon (about 8-10 minutes).  Do not let it boil.  Stir in lemon zest and transfer to a bowl to cool.  Cover surface of lemon curd with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator.  Store in the fridge for up to 2 weeks or you can freeze it as well.  Makes about 2 cups. You can also substitute lime juice and zest for a lovely lime flavored spread!
Recipe adapted from Fine Cooking

Lemon-Yogurt Brunch Parfait 
Even though this is more of a concept than an actual recipe, I felt like this use for lemon curd has to be included.  Layers of lemon curd, plain yogurt, berries and lady fingers, combine for a refreshing treat. It would make a lovely finale to an Easter brunch, a light dessert or just relatively guilt-free snack.  These are really just suggestions, please feel free to improvise.

plain yogurt 
lemon curd
some kind of cookie: lady fingers, graham crackers, vanilla wafers, lemon wafers, shortbread, etc.
berries, fresh or frozen, any kind (I used blackberries, but raspberries, strawberries or blueberries would all be beautiful and tasty)

Layer all ingredients in either individual wine glasses or all together in a trifle bowl (or some other clear glass serving dish, preferably clear so you can see all the layers), repeating layers until you run out.  Serve immediately or can be made ahead (for softer cookie layers).  Store pre-made parfaits in the refrigerator. 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Black Bean Burgers and Chili-Cumin Sweet Potato Fries

I don't know what took me so long to try this.  I have always loved veggie burgers and you can often find a box of Boca Burgers or some Morningstar Farms in my freezer.  That was until Christmas when my sister gave me the cookbook, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, by Mark Bittman (thanks, Elise!).  After realizing how easy (and insanely cheap--the most expensive thing in them is a can of beans and a handful of shredded cheese) it is to make my own veggie burgers, I will be hard pressed to shell out for pre-made ones again (and will not be able to bring myself to order another one at Chili's restaurant the rare time I find myself there!).  Also, you probably have everything on hand to make some variation of bean burgers right now.  How is that for a healthy desperation dinner?  See this recipe as just a starting off point and feel free to come up with your own variations using different beans and seasonings. 

Black Bean Burgers
2 cups well-cooked black beans (or 1 14oz can, drained)
1 medium onion, quartered
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4-1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, optional
1/2 cup rolled oats (or cooked brown rice or dry breadcrumbs)
1 egg
1/2-1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (or both! They each act as binders to help form the patties and cheese adds great flavor)
liquid as needed (water, milk, stock, wine, etc. if necessary--not likely)
olive oil or vegetable oil as needed

Burger Fixings: (we used toasted buns and dressed them with shredded lettuce, sliced tomatoes, sliced avocado and crumbled goat cheese)

Directions: Combine beans, onion, oats, seasonings, egg and cheese in a food processor or blender and pulse until chunky but not pureed, adding a little liquid if needed to produce a moist but not wet mixture (if yours is too wet, you can add some more oats or breadcrumbs.  Let the mixture rest for a few minutes.  With wet hands, shape into whatever size patties you want and allow to rest again if time allows.  You can also make the mixture and refrigerate up to a day ahead (just bring to room temperature before cooking).  Pour a couple tablespoons of oil into a large nonstick or cast iron skillet.  Turn the heat to medium and allow to heat for about a minute.  Add patties and cook until browned on one side (about 5 minutes).  Turn carefully and cook on the other side until firm and browned.  Melt additional cheese on top if desired.

Suggestions: Add up to 1/2 cup veggies (more and they'll be too wet or have a hard time staying together).  Spinach, carrots, bell peppers, corn, cooked potato or sweet potato, etc. are great.  Cut into chunks and add with the onion.

Variation: Use a can of white beans, omit chili powder and cumin.  Substitute 1 teaspoon rosemary or Italian seasoning.  Add 1 cup cooked spinach (or 2 cups fresh), 1/2 cup quartered mushrooms and 1/2-1 cup shredded mozzarella, Parmesan, crumbled feta or goat cheese (or any combination).  Mix and cook as directed.

Also, you can use your bean to form into smaller "meatball" shapes and serve with sauce and pasta or cook into crumbles to use as a filling for tacos, burritos, sandwiches, topping for pizza.  You are only limited by your imagination!

Recipe Source: How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman

p.s. We served these with Chili-Cumin Sweet Potato Fries.  To make, toss cut sweet potatoes in a couple tablespoons of olive oil until evenly coated.  Spread in a single layer on a cookie sheet and sprinkle with kosher salt.  Roast in a 425 degree oven flipping occasionally until browned on the outside and tender inside (25-45 minutes, depending on size of the fries).  Sprinkle with ground cumin, chili powder and additional salt to taste.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Lemon Butter Muffins

Mmmmm....muffins!  Especially sunny lemon muffins topped with a tangy lemon glaze.  These are simple to prepare and are the perfect balance of sweet and tart.  And there's something about lemons that makes me think of Springtime.  It must be the cheerful lemon yellow color.  Bake up a batch to have with a lazy weekend breakfast or serve with brunch.  They're sure to be such a hit that perhaps the saying should go, "When life hands you lemons, make lemon butter muffins."

Lemon Butter Muffins
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 cup milk
1 large lemon, zested and juiced
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup powdered sugar
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice or milk
1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Prepare 12 muffin cups with paper liners.  Prepare the muffin batter.  Place the butter and sugar in a medium sized mixing bowl.  Blend with an electric mixer until mixture is fluffy, about 30 seconds.  Add the egg, milk, 3 tablespoons lemon juice and 1 teaspoon lemon zest (reserve the rest for the glaze) and blend on low speed just until combined.  Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.  Combine flour, baking powder and salt and fold into wet ingredients, stirring just until combined.  The batter will be a little lumpy.  Spoon batter into muffin cups (each about 2/3 full).  Bake at 400 degrees until the muffins are lightly golden and spring back when lightly pressed, 18-20 minute (you can also do miniature muffins just bake for 8-10 minutes).  Remove from oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes in the pan.  Remove muffins from pan and allow to cool another 15 minutes before glazing.

While the muffins are cooling, prepare the glaze.  In a small bowl, stir together powdered sugar and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or milk.  Add more juice or milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, if needed, to make mixture pourable from a spoon.  Stir in lemon zest.  When muffins have cooled, spoon a teaspoon of glaze over each muffin and let them rest a few minutes to allow the glaze to set.

Recipe adapted from: "Cupcakes! By the Cake Mix Doctor," Anne Byrn (I really like her books and the chapter on muffins is one of my favorites--check it out!)