Monday, June 30, 2008

Chocolate Whoopies & Homemade Skinny Cows

What recipes do you avoid? I'm sure that just like me, there are recipes you shy away from for big or little reasons: obscure ingredients, exotic spices, homemade pastry, maybe just a fear of the unknown.

As for me, I've always avoided recipes requiring a candy thermometer for no better reason than well...I've never had one. Obviously, a candy thermometer is no big purchase considering they're typically less than $10 or so. Well, I finally learned my lesson when I tried to become a human thermometer and estimate temperature by sight. I found a recipe for Chocolate Sandwiches with Marshallow Cream Filling.

Isn't that quite the title? I'm not sure what exactly constitutes a whoopie pie, but I hearby rename my culinary concotion Chocolate Whoopies, especially because it reminds me of my favorite 80's phrase: "What's the big whoop?!" In any case, because I'm stubborn and refused (or neglected) to buy a candy thermometer before making these, I ended up with a frothy sugary white mess instead of the fluffy white filling you see below:

While I did have to throw away the first batch of filling, a girl needs her nightly sweets fix, so I improvised and made Homemade Skinny Cow sandwiches with the already baked cookies. Skinny Cows are my absolute favorite "healthy" packaged treat, but boy are they expensive. Using free frozen yogurt I had been awarded from my Golden Spoon frequent customer card, I was happy to make myself some economical treats. That's peanut butter frozen yogurt swirled with chocolate peanut butter for those of you drooling. The chocolate cookies were perfectly textured and I will definitely be making these again. They were a little less chocolatey than the originals, so I may experiment with them next time around.

Back to the Chocolate Whoopies. After a lot of heartache (by principle, I try to never throw kitchen mishaps away), I returned to the store the following day and picked myself a trusty thermometer. Start again. Sugar, corn syrup, and water (otherwise known as the holy trinity) with a pinch of salt are allowed to stew together until the thermometer reaches 244 degrees. This process actually takes a long time and it's now clear why I previously ended up with a goopy mess. Once the syrup has thickened up, its added to softened gelatin and blended until fluffy and gooood. Seriously, it took all my adult willpower not to eat up all the marshamallow creme goodness and get sick from all the sugar. It's been known to happen.

Working quickly, the marshmallow filling is sandwiched between two chocolate cookies and voila you have yourself a Chocolate Whoopie Pie! I've frozen these and pull them out when I get a little chocolate craving. Within a few minutes both the cookies & the filling soften up and they're ready for my gobbling.

Chocolate Whoopies
Source: Cooking Light, July 08

1 cup sugar
5 tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour (about 9 ounces)
5 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup fat-free buttermilk (I used reduced fat)
Cooking spray

1 envelope unflavored gelatin (about 2 1/2 teaspoons)
3/4 cup cold water, divided
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup light-colored corn syrup
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 375°.
2. To prepare cookies, combine 1 cup sugar and butter in a large bowl. Beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended (about 2 minutes). Add 1 teaspoon vanilla and eggs; beat until combined. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, cocoa, 1 teaspoon salt, baking powder, and baking soda; stir well with a whisk. Add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture.
3. Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart onto baking sheets coated with cooking spray. Bake at 375° for 10 minutes or until set. Cool on pans 5 minutes. Remove from pans; cool completely on wire racks.
4. To prepare filling, sprinkle gelatin over 1/2 cup cold water in a large bowl; set aside. Combine remaining 1/4 cup water, 1/2 cup sugar, syrup, and 1/8 teaspoon salt in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, without stirring, until a candy thermometer registers 244° (don't try to eyeball this!) Remove from heat. Gradually pour hot sugar syrup into softened gelatin mixture, beating with a mixer at low speed, then at high speed until thick (about 6 minutes per the original took me much longer, maybe 15 -18 minutes), scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla; beat until well blended.
5. Quickly spread about 2 tablespoons filling over bottom side of 1 cookie; top with another cookie. Repeat procedure with remaining filling and cookies.

Homemade Skinny Cow Sandwiches

1. Follow recipe above (steps 1-3) for cookies. Allow cookies to cool completely and place cookies in refrigerator for approximately 1 hr so they aren't too soft to handle.

2. Allow ice cream or frozen yogurt of choice to soften. Scoop ice cream onto cookie and top with another. Return to freezer until ice cream hardens.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Procrastination is Bliss

I have a million things to do today: some of which includes vacuuming, cleaning out my closet and sweeping our porch. It should be no surprise that instead of doing any of the above, I’m sitting in front of my computer typing this post. I figure if I need to be productive to make myself feel better, I can at least take care of some miscellany items for my blog which have been sitting in my to-do list for much too long.

So, without further adieu, I'd like to give a big shout out and thanks to Donald from Mr Orph's Kitchen for passing along the Arte y Pico award. If you're hungry, check out his site and see how long you can last without eating anything! His photography and recipes are to-die-for. This award goes to a site for creativity, design, interesting material, and contribution to the blogger community. So, this is a biggie and obviously very much appreciated!

I'd like to pass this award on to a few blogs that I’ve greatly been enjoying these days. Being as wonderful as they are, I’m sure there’s a chance they’ve received this award before, but it’s like collecting Oscars…or designer purses. Can never have too many, right?

  • Emiline @ Visions of Sugar Plum tempts me with her beautiful photography and divine looking desserts all throughout the week. She definitely posts some amazing creations that I haven't spotted anywhere else!

  • Grace @ A Southern Grace is absolutely hilarious, and a fabulous cook to boot! She makes me hungry everyday.

  • Lori @ The Recipe Girl is a fellow SD Blogger, so of course she deserves a shout out! She has a ridiculously vast collection of recipes and I find myself bookmarking nearly every one of them.

  • Sophie from Flour Arrangements is a blog that I've recently become addicted to. I love her delicious looking baked treats and she throws in some great looking main dishes for good measure.

Also, Prudy from Prudence Pennywise passed along the “E for Excellent” award. Her site truly is excellent! Prudy has a knack for making scandalously good food on a budget. Lord knows, I could use one of these budget things, so thanks, Prudy! I’d like to pass this on to:

  • Diva @ The Sugar Bar who has amazing and inventive recipes, beautiful photography, and a sassy attitude. What more do you need? Head over there! She’s also tagged me for a meme, so its on my to do list!

  • My Cake Wardrobe, a blog which makes me gain 10 pounds just by viewing. Delicious desserts, to die for really.
  • Elle @ Elle’s New England Kitchen whose site is really a great inspiration for me. I often visit when I’m hungry and just don’t know what to cook.

  • Bridgett @ La Bella Cook who always tempts me with her Italian treats. She’s always making something different and inventive. Go check out her Panettone Bread Pudding if you don’t believe me!

Off to go conquer the day! Go visit these blogs if you need a little procrastination yourself.

PS...Tastespotting is back!!!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Taste & Create: Savory Strawberry Risotto

Strawberry Risotto Today's post is part of a very fun blog event, Taste and Create, hosted by For the Love of Food. Nicole randomly pairs food bloggers and we have the fun task of creating a tasty dish from our partner's blog.

Strawberry Risotto

Photo Taken Indoors

For my first adventure, I've been matched with Rosella from Ma che ti sei mangiato, a lovely blog based in Italy. Armed with the wonders of the Internet, Babel Fish provided me with a rough & sometimes confusing translation of Rosella's amazing looking dishes. Technology's not perfect quite yet! Loving Italian food, I enjoyed perusing all of her creations and finally settled upon one that is traditionally Italian though one new to me: Strawberry Risotto.

As a lover of strawberries, I've had them in nearly every form: bread, muffins, pie, shortcakes, and tarts. Could strawberries be savory? Or, would the dish be more like a dessert? I had to know!

Adapting from Rosella's post, here's the steps I followed to create this tasty dish. The risotto is certainly savory with just a hint of the berries. If you weren't told strawberries were hiding in there, you'd probably never know. The risotto would go wonderfully with a big glass of white wine. You might as well finish off the wine bottle you opened to make the risotto!
Thanks Rosella. I had a great time learning some Italian words :)
Strawberry RisottoPhoto taken outdoors...what a color difference!

Risotto Alle Fragole, Strawberry Risotto
2 tablespoons butter or extra virgin olive oil (Olio extra vergine d'oliva)
1 small shallot (scalogno)
1 cup risotto rice (riso)
4 cups vegetable broth (brodo vegetale)
1 glass white wine (vino blanco) - I used a little more than 1/2 cup of white wine
4-8 strawberries (fragole)
cream (panna da cucina) -- I used a few pats of butter

1. Bring the broth to a boil. Turn heat down until its simmering.
2. Wash and hull strawberries. Lightly crush them if you have a mortar & pestle. I don't, so I sent them through the food processor a few times.

3. Saute shallots in olive oil or butter over medium heat. Don't allow to brown.
4. Add rice and toss to ensure all grains are covered by butter or oil.
5. Pour in the wine and let it reduce, meanwhile continue to stir to prevent rice from sticking.
6. Pour 1-2 ladles of the broth onto the rice and allow to reduce (until nearly dry) before adding 2 additional ladles. Allow to reduce and add strawberries.
7. Continue to add ladles of broth until the rice is cooked and liquid is absorbed.
8. If using cream, take pot off the heat and stir in.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Grilled Pizza Adventure

What had meant to be a quick and relaxing celebration of summer turned into a long & exhausting walking tour of our apartment grounds. Out here in California, we’ve settled into a little bit of a retreat for young, former city dwellers. The sprawling joint is equipped with multiple pools and barbeque grills, lest any of us actually have to actually more than 100 feet from our apartments to enjoy the community amenities. Ritz Carlton, it’s not but it’s certainly a far cry from our previous shoebox sized city apartment.

We had been meaning to make grilled pizza for awhile. Both patience (allotting time for the dough to rise) and a warm evening had been eluding us. A few weekends ago, inspiration hit us and we followed all of the many tutorials that strongly suggested having a mise en place – having all the fixin’s ready at the go.

We marched out to the pool, only to find an army of hungry residents and screaming kids waiting in line at the grills. Usually, we’re greeted with one or two other couples, quietly grilling up a hamburger or two. To make a long story short, we spent the next hour and a half hopping from pool to pool, armed with 2 risen pizza dough rounds and a heavy bag full of sauces and toppings. We soon discovered that our lovely management had closed every pool area for the night. That evening, only? What luck! We even tried to sneak into a neighboring complex’s pool. If only we had succeeded and been detained for trespassing, I’d have a much more entertaining pizza story for you all. Instead I have an UGLY yet DELICIOUS pizza to share.

I was constructed in darkness, please pardon my ugliness.

Despite our setbacks, we managed to have a great time making these pizzas. By the time we secured our own functioning grill, it was nearly pitch black outside and almost bedtime for me. Not knowing too much about grilling pizzas, we forged ahead and created these masterpieces in the dark.

Making grilled pizza certainly isn’t as easy as calling up Papa John’s, but the crust was the perfect combination for us: doughy on the inside (for me), crusty on the outside (for hubby).

We went with our favorite flavor combination, Barbeque Chicken Pizza with a Garlic Herb Crust. Follow these tips & the recipe and you’ll be off to another dreamy land – that’s how good these were. Just make sure you have a grill to use :)

Tips for Grilling Pizza

  • Liberally oil the grill grates & pizza dough before grilling
  • After grilling one side of the dough, flip the dough onto a flat plate or pizza paddle and place the sauce & toppings on the grilled side. Pulling the dough off the grill allows you ample time to arrange the toppings as you wish
  • Once the pizza has been “dressed” return the dough to the grill and close the lid to allow the toppings to warm and the cheese to melt.

The recipe below is for the garlic herb crust. Play around with the toppings as you like. For the Barbeque Chicken Pizza, we simply used Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce, grilled chicken (cooked on the grill), sauté mushroom and sweet onion (cooked inside), Monterey jack cheese, and lots and lots of cilantro.

Grilled Garlic Herb Pizza Dough
Adapted from and Cooks Illustrated

Pizza Dough
1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 1/3 cups bread flour
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
Cornmeal for dusting

Garlic Oil for grilling
½ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic

  1. In a bowl, mix yeast with warm water and mix in sugar. Let stand for 10 minutes, or until frothy.
  2. While yeast is proofing, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a small skillet. Add garlic and sauté over low heat until garlic softens, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and allow garlic and oil to cool.
  3. In a mixing bowl, combine yeast mixture, salt, garlic oil, and flour until dough pulls away from sides of bowl. I used a Kitchen Aid Mixer with a dough hook to complete these steps. Knead until smooth, about 8 minutes. If dough is too dry, add 1 tablespoon of water at a time. Place dough in a well oiled bowl and cover with a damp kitchen towel. Set aside until doubled, about 1 hour. Punch down and knead in fresh basil. Cover and set aside to rise for 1 more hour, or until doubled in size.
  4. Heat ½ cup olive oil and garlic for 30 seconds in the microwave and set aside to cool. Punch down dough and divide in half. Roll each into a round shape about 3/8 – ½ inch thick. Sprinkle a plate, cookie sheet or parchment paper with flour & cornmeal. Place dough round on sheet.
  5. Heat grill and brush grill grates with garlic oil. Brush tops of dough with garlic oil and sprinkle with Kosher salt if desired. Grill oil side down until grill marks begin to appear and the crust is lightly browned, about 3-4 minutes. While pizza is grilling, lightly brush the other side of the dough with olive oil.
  6. Carefully remove dough from grill and place onto a flat plate or cookie sheet, grilled side up. Dress pizza dough with sauce and toppings. Return pizza dough to the grill and close the cover to allow the toppings to heat and the cheese to melt, about 2 – 3 minutes.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Mango Crab Salad Wonton Cups (baked & healthy!)

Wife's day off!

I was treated to an absolutely wonderful lunch, courtesy of hubby. It's not often that he gets down and dirty in the kitchen, but when he does, I'm not disappointed. These delightful & crunchy cups pack a flavorful punch: wonton skins are baked in mini muffin tins and filled with a delicious salad of crab, mango, celery, wonton and scallions.

Though the original recipe calls for jumbo lump crabmeat, we did a few quick calculations at the grocery. Splurge on yummy looking crab OR fill our empty gas tank with oh, about 3.5 gallons of gas? Next time, we'll make sure not to drive on empty and go with the lump crab meat as we imagine they'd make this already yummy recipe that much better.

The baked Mango Crab Salad Wontons are courtesy of an Ellie Krieger recipe from her new book, The Food You Crave: Luscious Recipes for a Healthy Life. While I'd sometimes like to give Ellie a swift slap to wake her out of her monotone voice coma, I really do enjoy her recipes. We've had great success with all the ones we have tried so far, and I hope to post more soon. In the meantime, enjoy & have a wonderful weekend. Thanks, hubby for a delicious lunch

Oh, I suppose I should provide an update as well. Our little vegetarian experiment is over. It all ended with a tofu curry dish that may have sent hubby over the edge (a little tofu overload). It was fun while it lasted! :)

Because this dish relies on mango for a sweet contrast to the crab salad, I'm entering it into Meeta's Monthly Mingle which is Mango Mania this month. Visit What's For Lunch, Honey? for more details.

Mango Crab Salad Wonton Cups
Courtesy of Ellie Krieger

For the Wonton Cups:
Cooking spray
18 wonton wrappers, thawed if frozen
(we used potsticker wrappers)
2 teaspoons canola oil
1/4 teaspoon salt

For the dressing:
1 teaspoon lime zest
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoons salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons olive oil

For the salad:
1/2 pound lump crabmeat, picked over (we used flaked crab but I suggest trying with lump)
1 stalk celery, finely diced (we omitted the celery)
1/2 cup finely diced mango
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Sweet Chili Sauce (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Spray 2 mini-muffin tins with cooking spray.
Brush the wonton wrappers with oil, and place each wrapper into a section of a mini-muffin tin. Gently press each wrapper into the tin and arrange so that it forms a cup shape. The wrapper will overlap itself and stick up out of the cup. Sprinkle with salt and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until browned and crisp. Remove from the tin and allow wrappers to cool.

Meanwhile whisk together the zest, lime juice, salt, pepper, and pepper flakes. Add the oil and whisk until well combined.

In a medium bowl, toss together the crabmeat, celery, mango, scallion and cilantro. Add dressing and toss to combine. Fill each cup with the crab salad. Top with a dollop of sweet chili sauce if you like!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Roasted Red Pepper and Edamame Postickers

Since the demise of Tastespotting, many sites have popped up in its place. While I do miss Tastespotting, this game of chasing around new websites has been pleasurable indeed. I must say, I’m in awe of all the talent out there. Besides good photography skills, are these bloggers blessed with both patience and patient food gobblers?

Most of my cooking adventures involve a little spilling of liquids, a splash of flour in my hair (if I’m baking), a little chaos in the kitchen and a lot of heat. Martha Stewart, I am not. Once all the disorder dies down, I’m usually hungry and hubby is ready to get at whatever’s been causing all of the kitchen madness. I like my food HOT and I like it now. Hence, no time for photos unless we have leftovers!

Take for example, today’s vegetarian treat: Roasted Red Pepper and Edamame postickers. Here are the only photos I managed to take-
Edamame Filling: Ready to pop into the steamer/skillet:I decided to do a little taste test comparison and pan fry some as postickers and steam others to make dumplings. Both versions were good, but we (mostly he) gobbled these up so fast, I didn’t have time to snap any 'after' photos. Good thing Tastespotting is gone…the pressure is off! :)

These dumplings were simple & delicious. If you're hankering for some photos of the finished product, Recipe Girl made some similar edamame dumplings you can enjoy.

Roasted Red Pepper & Edamame Dumplings
Adapted from Cooking Light and spotted on Recipe Girl

1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
3/4 cup frozen shelled edamame (green soybeans)
¼ cup chopped roasted red pepper
¼ cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon dark sesame oil
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
¼ teaspoon Kosher salt
15-20 round posticker wrappers (depending on how much filling you use)
cooking spray
½ cup water, divided

Cook edamame according to package directions; drain. Rinse edamame with cold water; drain well. In a food processor, chop garlic until minced. Add edamame, roasted red pepper, cilantro, lemon juice, sesame oil, soy sauce pepper, red pepper flakes and salt in a food processor; process until smooth.

To make postickers, spoon about 1 heaping tsp. edamame mixture in center of each wrapper. Moisten edges of dough with water; bring opposite ends together and pleat edges to seal.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Arrange half of dumplings in a single layer in pan; allow bottoms of postickers to brown; Add ¼ cup water to pan; cover and reduce heat to medium. Cook 30 seconds; uncover. Cook 1 minute or until liquid evaporates. Repeat procedure with remaining dumplings and water.

To make steamed dumplings, place mixture in center of wrapper and bring sides of wrappers up around filling.

Heat water in a large steamer and spray steamer basket with nonstick cooking spray. If using bamboo steamer, line with lettuce leaves. Place dumplings on steamer rack and steam for approximately 8-10 minutes.

**Both versions are delicious served with a soy dipping sauce. I usually combine soy sauce with a dash of rice vinegar and a dash of sesame oil. Tasty!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Cinnamon Crumb Cake aka Not Wearing a Swimsuit Anytime Soon...

That's right. All over the country, bloggers are posting healthy recipes as "It's swimsuit season!" Well, I'm here to sabotage your diet, since I myself may need to shy away from the glorious California sunshine. The culprit? Take a looky here:

Hubby doesn't request many sweets; I'm usually the instigator (and creator) of sweets in our household. However, the other day he simply and randomly requested a crumb cake, and a plain one at that. Having never seen him eat one in my life, I wasn't sure where this request came from but how could I resist a culinary challenge?

If you're going to splurge, you might as well go all out. I toyed with making a 'light' recipe, but wanting to create the best recipe, I went straight to the recipe experts: Cook's Illustrated. If you've never had the treat of enjoying their recipes, check out The New Best Recipe; it's literally a Cook's bible. The Cook's Illustrated recipe testers take a methodical and almost scientific approach to recipe testing, substituting ingredients and cooking methods until a recipe is perfected. Straight out of the oven, I knew America's Test Kitchen wasn't lying when they claimed this recipe had been perfected:

As much as I may drool over Entenmanns in the store, we agreed that this crumb cake is far superior and thankfully minus all the weird chemical ingredients. Using cake flour, this cake has a delicate and moist crumb unlike anything I've ever baked. The cinnamon brown sugar crumb topping piles up high, in almost a 50:50 ratio to the cake. Best of all, the cake is not overly sweet and would be perfect with a cup of coffee and as a very nutritious start to your day ;) I also spotted this recipe on Sugar & Spice where Chelley had cut these bad boys into little bite sized pieces and served them in cupcake liners - very cute!

Oh, and for all you Tastespotting lovers, a couple of sites have gone up in their honor. Go check 'em out:

Cinnamon Crumb Cake
(adapted from Cook's Illustrated)

Crumb Topping
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon table salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and still warm
1 3/4 cups cake flour

1 1/4 cups cake flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 tablespoons unsalted butter (3/4 stick), cut into 6 pieces, softened but still cool
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup buttermilk
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting (I forgot this step!)

1. FOR THE TOPPING: Whisk sugars, cinnamon, cardamom, salt, and butter in medium bowl to combine. Add flour and stir with rubber spatula or wooden spoon until mixture resembles thick, cohesive dough; set aside to cool to room temperature, 10 to 15 minutes.

2. FOR THE CAKE: Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Cut 16-inch length parchment paper or aluminum foil and fold lengthwise to 7-inch width. Spray 8-inch square baking dish with nonstick cooking spray and fit parchment into dish, pushing it into corners and up sides; allow excess to overhang edges of dish.

3. In bowl of standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment, mix flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and cinnamon on low speed to combine. With mixer running at low speed, add butter one piece at a time; continue beating until mixture resembles moist crumbs, with no visible butter chunks remaining, 1 to 2 minutes. Add egg, yolk, vanilla, and buttermilk; beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 1 minute, scraping once if necessary.

4. Transfer batter to baking pan; using rubber spatula, spread batter into even layer. Following photos below, break apart crumb topping into large pea-sized pieces and spread in even layer over batter, beginning with edges and then working toward center. Bake until crumbs are golden and wooden skewer inserted into center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool on wire rack at least 30 minutes. Remove cake from pan by lifting parchment overhang. Dust with confectioners’ sugar just before serving.

Friday, June 13, 2008

RIP Tastespotting....

It dawned on me that it seems like I'm always blogging about something I'm obsessed with.

Well, one of my dearest obsessions, Tastespotting, seems to be playing a cruel Friday the 13th joke. I signed on for my latest viewing of the tastiest culinary creations around the web and saw this message:Say its not so!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Spinach Black Bean Lasagna

Back in the day when hubby and I were glowing and engaged, we had the great joy of planning our wedding and the most fun of all: the reception menu. With the carnivores in charge (our families and hubby) we of course, had Filet Mignon as the main act. For my sake, we added a Lobster Tail as the supporting act. For the sake of our 3-5 vegetarian friends, we decided to offer the option of a vegetarian plate on the RSVP cards.

A ridiculous number of invitations went out (big families all around), and finally, I had a wave of relief after surviving several wedding invitation disasters. After practically dancing and skipping out of the post office, I came home and looked lovingly at one of our extra invitations.


That’s right, ladies and gents. 300+ of these babies went all across the country & over the Pacific Ocean to Asia asking my dearest friends and family if they were “vegeterian.” Ever since then, I’ve had it against vegeterians :)

#2 of the Carnivore’s Vegetarian Menu:
Spinach Black Bean Lasagna

Though I absolutely love black beans, I wasn’t quite sure I wanted them in my lasagna. Where’s all the creamy cheese and ground meat? Well, the cheese is still there. Black beans stand in for the usual ground turkey or beef and make both the sauce and filling hearty with a little dose of protein for good measure. The beans are mashed into the pasta sauce so their taste, while still present, is much more subtle than you’d expect. Spinach, red pepper, mushrooms and onion round out the filling with zesty Mexican cheese topping each lasagna layer. Though it may not look all that appetizing below, I promise it is!

Ricotta/Parm/Spinach/Pepper/Mushroom Goodness:

I usually like to make my own pasta sauce, though it typically simmers for about 2 hours; the lasagna takes 1 hour to bake so unfortunately, I didn’t have 3 hours to dedicate to dinner this go-around. I cheated and used two jars of pasta sauce: 1 Mushroom Marinara and 1 jar of Newman's Own Sockarooni sauce. If you are lucky enough to have a big batch of homemade sauce in the freezer, this would be a perfect time to bring it out!

Kevin from Closet Cooking is hosting Presto Pasta Night this week so hurry up and get your entry in!

Spinach Black Bean Lasagna

Lasagna Filling
½ large red bell pepper, finely chopped
1/4 cup sweet onion, finely chopped
½ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon chili powder
1 tsp olive oil
½ cup sliced mushrooms
2 large eggs, beaten
1 (15 oz) container ricotta cheese (lowfat is OK, but don’t use nonfat)
1 (10 oz) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
¼ cup fresh Parmesan
4 cups shredded Mexican Cheese blend (or Monterey Jack), divided

Black Bean Lasagna Sauce
2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
2 (26 oz) jars pasta sauce or approximately 5 cups homemade pasta sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper (approximate, add more to taste)
9 precooked lasagna noodles (can use no-boil lasagna noodles, if available)

chopped fresh cilantro , for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray a 13 x 9 baking dish with nonstick spray.
Heat olive oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add red pepper, onions, and ½ teaspoon cumin and the chili powder; sauté until tender about 6 minutes. Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, stir together mushroom, eggs, ricotta, spinach, cilantro, salt, Parmesan cheese and 1 cup of the Mexican cheese. Add red pepper / onion mixture. Set aside.

Mash black beans with a potato masher or a hand held immersion blender (I have neither and tried using a fork – not recommended without high levels of patience!) Stir in pasta sauce, cumin and black pepper, to taste. Spread 1/3 of the sauce on the bottom of the baking dish. Layer with 3 noodles, half of spinach filling mixture, and 1 cup Mexican cheese. Repeat next layer with sauce, 3 noodles, remaining filling and cheese. Top with remaining noodles, sauce and cheese.

Bake, covered, at 350° for 1 hour. Uncover and top with remaining cheese. Bake 5 minutes or until cheese melts and is bubbly. Garnish, with chopped cilantro.

Monday, June 9, 2008

The Carnivore's Gone Veg!

sweet potato streusel bread

That's right, folks. The Carnivore and his wife have decided to go vegetarian! Well, for a little bit at least. Before the Poultry farmers of America & the Cattleman's Beef Board begin fretting for their livelihood, this meat-free household is a temporary experiment. One night after much thought & prodding, Hubby couldn't remember the last time he went a day without eating meat:

"Hmm, maybe when I was a baby?!"
Wrong Answer.

As valiant as my meat eating efforts have been, we figured it was prime time to incorporate some more vegetables in our diet and an excellent opportunity for me to experiment with vegetarian cooking. So far, this challenge hasn't been too difficult. I've enjoyed exploring all the great vegetarian blogs (here or here, for example) & cookbooks. I haven't been tempted until I went out with a friend for a bite to eat at Girard Gourmet. Out came our food: a fragrant, hearty lamb stew that smelled like heaven (for her), a Greek salad with limp lettuce and oily cucumbers (for me). I've never lusted for meat quite like that! mmm...well, that sounds wrong, huh?

I'm happy to report back that my first vegetarian dinner was a great success. So much so that I didn't have time to take a photo as we quickly devoured our meal. After being overwhelmed by all the veggie options I had bookmarked, I decided to make the Sweet Potato and Black Bean Enchiladas from Karina's Kitchen.

While I wasn't initially sure about the flavor combination, its hard for me to describe how delicious the recipe turned out. The enchiladas were light and summery & I think they'd be great in the future with a little bit of fruit - maybe pineapple or mango. I gratuitously complimented my vegetarian culinary skills during the entire meal; Hubby enjoyed them, but he also seemed a little bit in shock at what I had somehow committed him to.

Since I had some leftover sweet potato (...or yam, whatever. Don't get me started!), I decided to make a Sweet Potato Streuseled Bread. Ginger, cinnamon, and orange zest add a nice spice, while the walnut brown sugar streusel lends the right amount of sweetness and crunch to this hearty bread. The streusel definitely makes the bread, so don't skip it as I usually do with quick breads! A good quality orange juice as also a must as the orange flavor definitely stands out in the bread.

While I don't think I'll be replacing my favorite banana bread quite yet, the bread was a great way to use up leftover sweet potatoes and sneak in some Vitamin A into our diets (think of it as a multivitamin in dessert bread form, it'll make you feel better!)

Sweet Potato Walnut Streusel Bread
adapted from Southern Living

1 large sweet potato (about 12 ounces)
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
2/3 cup fresh orange juice (you may need a few extra tablespoons to moisten the dough sufficiently)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon fresh orange zest (approximate, about 3-4 swipes of the grater)

Cooking spray
cinnamon finishing sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°.
Cook potato in either microwave or by boiling. Once softened, mash the potato to measure about 1 cup.

Place butter in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 20 seconds or until soft. Stir in walnuts and 2 tablespoons brown sugar.

Lightly spoon flours into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine all-purpose flour and next 6 ingredients (all-purpose flour through ginger) in a large bowl. Add mashed sweet potato, juice, oil, egg, and orange zest. Stir with a spatula until well blended. Add more orange juice by the tablespoon, if dough seems to dry.

Spoon batter into an 8 x 4-inch loaf pan coated with cooking spray. Drop walnut mixture by spoonfuls over top of loaf; gently press into batter. Sprinkle with cinnamon finishing sugar, if using.

Bake at 350° for about 50-55 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pan 5 minutes on a wire rack. Remove from pan; cool completely on wire rack

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Bubba Gump, who? Chipotle Lime Glazed Shrimp Satisfies the Obsession

Chipotle Lime Glazed ShrimpBy nature, my mother is a worrier. To this day, she still worries that I may forget to thank someone when they've done something nice for me, she frets that I forget to lock my doors, and even worries when I leave hubby to go out of town (lest he get lonely & have to cook for himself!). She's a very caring woman, and now that I'm well past my rebellious teenage years, I have a much greater appreciation for her worries.

Among her many worries is my love of shrimp. If you read the blog regularly, you may have noticed that I have a teensy obsession with both shrimp and desserts. Per my worrisome mother, I'm in for a lot of cholesterol problems with my shrimp addiction. I've always taken her concerns to heart, but to be honest have never really looked into the validity myself.
While its true these small yet tasty crustaceans have high cholesterol, they manage to pack a mighty nutritional punch. In a recent study, researchers at Rockefeller University and Harvard tested several different types of low fat diets on 18 people with normal cholesterol levels, including a diet containing more than half a pound of steamed shrimp a day. "The scientists found the shrimp diet did not raise participants' overall cholesterol levels. They're not sure why, however, the scientists say perhaps it's because shrimp is low in fat and contains fish oils that are good for your heart."

Moreover, just a four ounce serving of shrimp, provides as much as 28.2% of the recommended daily value for vitamin B12 and and around 20 grams of protein. As mentioned, shrimp are full of the "good fats," providing the much sought after omega 3 fatty acids in a low mercury form.
Ahh, now with the guilt out of the way and a rather clear conscience, I bring you Chipotle Lime Glazed Shrimp. Though I've seen them in countless recipes, I've never cooked with chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. The adobo adds a nice, smoky flavor while the peppers add quite a kick so be cautious if you're a spicy foods wimp like me. Brown sugar is used to counteract the heat and helps create the 'glaze' that coats the shrimp. I served these plump and juicy shrimp with Coconut Cilantro Rice.
*Source: World's Healthiest Foods

Chipotle Lime Glazed Shrimp
adapted from The Best Light Recipe

shrimp seasoning:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 - 1 1/2 pounds of jumbo shrimp, peeled & deveined
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon sugar

chipotle lime glaze:
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce from can, chopped
2 teaspoons of adobo sauce from can
4 teaspoons brown sugar

1. Create the glaze by combining lime juice, cilantro, chile, adobo sauce and brown sugar in a small bowl. Set aside.

2. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over high heat. Toss the shrimp with the salt, pepper, and sugar. Once skillet is preheated add half the shrimp to the pan in a single layer and cook until the edges are pink, about 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat and using tongs, flip the shrimp and let stand until the shrimp is opaque, about 45 seconds. Transfer the shrimp to a large plate. Repeat with remaining shrimp.

3. After the second batch has turned opaque, add the first batch of shrimp along with the Chipotle glaze to the pan. Toss until combined and shrimp are fully cooked through.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Mexican Chocolate Crunch Brownies!

Bakers everywhere have been singing the praises for these brownies for quite some time. I have been meaning to bake them for an equally long period of time. Recently, a friend asked if I could bring dessert to a lunch gathering, nearly as I was walking out the door. I quickly scoured my ridiculously messy pile of recipe printouts to think of an easy and quick treat I could whip up at the last minute. A finalist in the Pillsbury Bake Off, these Mexican Crunch Brownies utilize ingredients that most of us already have in the pantry. I stress most of us, as not many adults sans children have a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch in their pantry. We on the other hand, are cereal freaks.Ok, on to the recipe. These delicious brownies start with a Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal layer topped with fudgy brownie batter, and finished with a sprinkling of cinnamon sugar. The cinnamon chocolate combination may seem a little odd at first, though it seems to compliment the chocolate and brings out a subtle sweetness. I guess it also helps that I love cinnamon in almost anything.

The recipe did come together quite quickly, though using a mini food processor to grind up nearly an entire box of cereal is no quick feat. According to Valerie, the recipe's author, ensuring the cereal is finely ground is quite important, so don't get lazy out there! Some other thoughts:
  • I also used cinnamon finishing sugar which I thought was quite pretty. If you don't have any, a combination of Turbinado sugar with cinnamon would be equally as nice.
  • Since there was already enough fudge chocolate goodness going around, I only sprinkled 1/3 cup (half the amount called for) on top of the brownies.
  • I try as much as possible to bake from scratch- who knows what they put in those boxed mixes! In the future, I may try combining the Cinnamon Toast Crunch base with a homemade brownie recipe I have.
  • Lastly, the recipe requests that you allow the brownies to cool for 2 hours(!) before slicing and eating. I'm not sure what your house is like, but waiting to dive in is nearly impossible as getting a man to go see the new Sex and the City. We did end up waiting and it was worth it. These brownies are even better the next day! Which means, yes I had one for breakfast :)
Click here for the recipe. Enjoy!